After all these years of craving them every day of every week, looking forward to each late summer harvest, and getting them into as many recipes as possible, we paid our respects to the world renowned Hatch chile and the community and farmers who grow them. We headed for southern New Mexico to this year’s Hatch Chile Festival … The Chile Mothership … Chile Capital Of The World!
(Note: this article is from the September 2016 Hatch Festival)
Hatch is located approx. 4 hours south of Albuquerque. The half-way point to chile mecca is San Antonio, NM, and in the spirit of seeking out famous landmarks, it is home of the Owl Bar and Cafe where legend has it that the infamous green chile cheeseburger was invented. It is totally worth your time to stop in for the burger that goes without saying but we’ll say it anyway … it’s fantastic! As well as the timeless decor with the famous ‘wall of dollars,’ owl art and statue collection, and to take in the unique history of the place.
As you drive closer to Hatch, the desert landscape becomes more lush and green as you are surrounded by chile fields. A rural agricultural region, the town is tiny (population 1,673) and is descended upon by over 30,000 chile fans (proud pepper heads!) each year to celebrate New Mexico’s number one crop. The unmistakeable aroma of roasting chiles hits before you reach the town.
Chiles are picked fresh from the fields and brought in on flatbeds, loaded into metal mesh drums that rotate as propane flames flash roast them. Then they pour them into plastic bags to steam so the skins peel away from the flesh and you can cook with them. You can also buy them fresh, un-roasted to prepare at home.
For us, that was excitement enough. To witness the mothership production of our beloved capsicum. So special that only those grown in Hatch can bear the authentic, prized seal of “Made In Hatch.” But wait … there’s so much more!
We recommend stopping in every little shop including those on the road leading to the downtown. Most have a unique line of chile branded products, from fresh ristras (green chiles ripened to red) to cook with, shellacked ristras for decoration, every chile spice or mix you could ever want, chile jam, chile honey; not to mention the chile cups and wine glasses, chile tiles for your kitchen walls, chile baseball caps, aprons, chile adorned boots, boot tacks, and t-shirts — the most popular being “We Got Roasted In Hatch, New Mexico.”
Travel tip: speaking of roasted because the chiles aren’t the only thing that’s hot, southern NM temperatures can reach the 90s and at times triple digits, so be sure to bring lots of water with you.
We thought all of the action was is in town, then followed the signs a short drive to the west where there was a lively carnival with rides, game booths, food carts and dining areas, chile tastings, entertainment, music, the crowning of the festival queen, how to braid ristra demonstrations, a gallery tent exhibiting local artists (lots of chile paintings), and more booths offering all things … yep that’s right … chiles.
As you taste, browse and nibble along the way, you may find that you become hungry again, sooner than expected. And that’s perfectly understandable given that herby fresh roasted chiles are in the air. Everywhere. It gets into your nose, your hair, clothes, and subconscious for future sense memory daydreaming.
Months back while making our plans, every one of our friends who’d been to the fest advised “You have got to eat at Sparky’s, you have got to have their Oinker burger.” Ready for this? It’s a thick juicy burger with green chile, melted cheese and mound of smoky pulled pork.
Back in town, there was no “Geez, I cannot find this place. What’s the address again?” because it is seriously surrounded with huge vintage Route 66 statuary and signage. And apparently everyone else’s friends recommended the very same lunch spot because the line was around the block, an hour and a half long. (We’ll definitely see you on our next trip for sure, Sparky’s!)
So we meandered (there’s no fast way of getting around, the roads and sidewalks are packed with happy lollygagging chile worshippers) down the street and found the Valley Cafe. A no frills mom-n-pop owned place with a menu of authentic Mexican dishes, some American options, and a green chile cheeseburger that is juicy, seasoned, with mild/hot green chiles and a good flavorful cheddar cheese. Chiles as fresh as they get, in fact, they were drum roasting right in front of the cafe. No fuss perfection. We were in chile burger bliss.
Hatch is so tiny there are no hotels, so we drove 30 minutes north to the most quirky small town hot springs spot called Truth or Consequences, that happens to be undergoing a food and arts renaissance (look for photos and a colorful article on TorC coming up.) Most hotels / motels there have soaking tubs and jacuzzis, and we soaked in the healing waters before heading out for dinner at the new Latitude 33 asian fusion restaurant. We also recommend Ted Turner’s Sierra Grande Lodge for dining and lodging. The spa treatments are top of the line, and the food is a delicious modern spin on New Mexican cuisine.
Pictured is our bounty from the fest.
Just kidding but we can dream, right?!
The festival lasts 2 days, so we were up the next morning for a second round of shopping and talking with people about chiles, swapping recipes and yes, eating more chile smothered anythings.
Most important tip: don’t forget to buy your bushel(s) for your winter stockpile. From the source. How special is that!
Wishing you Buen Provecho and Great Discoveries!
xo Amy & Mr.D
Hatch Chile Festival link with event calendar and dates
Where to Stay and Eat in Truth or Consequences (30 minutes from Hatch)
Southern Arizona, The Arizona Inn (4 hours west of Hatch)