Monday, October 10, 2011

Travelogue: Santa Fe and Its Respect for Food and Sustainability

I was visiting Santa Fe in mid-September just in time for the annual roasting of the chile peppers.  

I never thought about chile peppers, nor did I ever buy them because of their picante kick.  So it was puzzling to see people go crazy over them to the point of stringing them up and displaying them in their houses or patios!  After tasting these amazing Capsicum, however, I understood both their appeal and the unsatiated desire to get more of them. 

The Saturday farmers market provided the best venue for obtaining the peppers and learning how they are roasted.  The chef puts them in a round, wire basket that he cranks over gas-powered flames in order to mix them.  Shoppers have a choice between the spicy hot ones chile peppers and the sweet ones.  I tried both where various market vendors provided plenty of samples.  

The Santa Fe Farmers Market, considered one of the country’s most distinguished and successful markets, began in the late 1960's with only a few farmers selling off the backs of their trucks. Today, over 170 vendors participate to meet the city's demand for fresh, local produce.  The market moved from various locations until it came to the Railyard area in 1986 and to its present location in the renovated and restored Railyard in 1999.  In 2002 it began operating year-round as farmers learned and used extended-season growing techniques.

Festive white tents shade the outdoor vendors who have just about everything imaginable to sell.  The range of what grows in this desert climate is truly remarkable—and the market requires that it’s all locally grown.  Farmers produce many fruit and vegetable crops like beautiful purple Vidalia onions, tomatoes, greens, beans, eggplants, peppers, potatoes, sunflowers and apples and a lot of it is organic.  Also on sale were a variety of ornamental flowers, chile pepper bouquets, herbs and herb products and a bread stand offered delicious combinations of foccacio such as olive, rhubarb-apple, chocolate nut, apricot peach.  Wonderful!  There was even a vendor who sold composting worms. 

The market also has a good-sized pavilion that features a deli counter that had a variety of baked goods (including gluten free), omelets, burritos and sandwiches.  A bean vendor offered a mix of peas, mung beans, lentils and garbanzo beans, which I found to make delicious salad.  Then there was the pasta lady who makes her own whole-grain pasta and tops it off with a homemade curry.  Certified organic meat (lamb, beef and yak) was available as well as churro yarn and homemade soaps.  

People here are very health conscious and the area specializes in alternative medicine.  Consequently, farmers produce a lot of organic food.

As I wandered around the market pavilion I noticed there were six different publications on the subjects of healthy food and sustainable living available for distribution.  The Santa Fe Permaculture Institute, founded in 1996 as the sister organization to the Permaculture Institute of Australia, promotes sustainable living skills through education, networking and demonstration projects in New Mexico/Southwestern region.  This is a city that is serious about preparing for the future!

Poster in the Farmer's Market pavilion
Santa Fe prides itself on its food and for good reason.  Quite simply, it’s good to eat.  And, if you tire of the region's specialty, Mexican food, there are a variety of other venues like French, Italian, Spanish, Mediterranean, European, Latin, Salvadoran, Indian, African, Caribbean, Asian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, New Mexican, American (Joe’s Dinner is owned and operated by a German) and other things they call eclectic, contemporary, continental, seafood, steakhouse.  Health-conscious patrons also have easy access to restaurants that are specifically vegetarian and serve organic foods.  Of course, there are the requisite number of cafés and ice cream shops of any city.

One of my most memorable restaurant meals occurred during our first full day in the city when my companions and I thought it appropriate to go to a Mexican restaurant for lunch.  We went to Maria’s.  Maria Lopez began her restaurant as a take-out business in 1950 and located it on an 1880s building whose space has since been expanded.

New Mexico Combination Plate
I chose the New Mexico combination plate, which was very different in taste from other Mexican restaurants I've visited.  For example, the taco was served with guacamole and I didn’t have the heart to add salsa.  The chili relienos (roasted and peeled green chili peppers stuffed with cheeses and coated in a special batter and deep fried and then covered with green chili) was an outstanding new taste treat.  Tamales and refried beans just don’t make it for me so I skipped them and saved myself from eating too much anyway.

I loved the sopapillas (fried puffy dough that goes well with honey), which was a first time for me.  Although not much of a drinker, I couldn't resist trying one of the restaurant's 180 margaritas—the basic, simple blend—but felt no compulsion to order any of the 125 tequilas.  Maybe some other time.  Of course, the homemade tortilla chips and salsa (on the spicy hot side) were served immediately. 
While we waited for our lunch, our waiter invited to watch Anna make tortillas.  She worked in an enclosed booth surrounded by windows.  I tried to communicate with her in my terrible, broken, unpracticed Spanish, and she good-heartedly laughed.  I think she understood me when I said that my camera would make her famous.  All in all, eating at Maria’s was a very pleasant experience and I highly recommend it!

For incredible food experiences in all its forms, Santa Fe beats them all!

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