New Mexico. Land of Enchantment. Red rock cliffs, wide open deserts, UFO sightings, and more are all found here. But those aren’t what draws me to the state. No, I am here in the tiny village of Hatch for the annual Hatch Chile Festival, the ultimate celebration of everyone’s favorite spice-bearing ingredient.

Arriving in Hatch, the smell is intoxicating. Roasting chiles are everywhere, surrounded by their fresh and dried cousins, and hundreds of items made of their delicious flesh. My friend and companion for this trip, Dan, and I walk up to the first tent we see in the festival grounds. Quesadillas are sizzling on a flattop, and salsas and chips are available for tasting. “Red or green?” we are asked. Red or green. In New Mexico, I found this was the ubiquitous question, as natural to a conversation as “hi” or “how are you.” It means do you want red or green chile-based sauce. “Yes,” I mumble, and proceed to try both.

A simple geeen chile quesadilla. So delicious!

The Hatch Chile Festival is small in comparison to other major food festivals I have attended, like the Gilroy Garlic Festival. However, it packs a punch. Incredible delicacies are made from red and green Hatch chiles as well as their relatives like the habanero or jalapeño. Ever tried peach habanero jam? This is the place. What about green chile pecan brittle? It is here and it is incredible! Fresh red and green chile powder? Yep. Jalapeño lemonade? Why thank you! The list goes on.

This was seriously the best thing I ate at the festival.

Ristras, strings of chiles, are up everywhere, and I am tempted to purchase a few for decoration, but I settle for watching a demonstration on how they are made. Not especially exciting, but it gave me a chance to decide what else to eat.

Ristras, strings of chiles, are awesome

The festival isn’t the only way to experience the magic of New Mexico’s state question. New Mexico has a cuisine all its own, a bewitching combination of native Pueblo, Mexican, and Tex-Mex. From the ever-present green chile cheeseburger at any stand anywhere (worth trying), to the best tamales I have ever had at Posa’s in Santa Fe, to the scary concept of Frito pie – a bag of Fritos with chili, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes poured in – this state begs you to try its famous chiles. Want dessert? Head to Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe (the food capital of New Mexico in addition to the actual capital) for green chile caramels.

Pictured first is a plate of green chile tamales and red chile posole from Posa’s. Second is a few chocolates, including a green chile caramel on the left from Kakawa. Both are in Santa Fe.

So what happens if – when – you can’t decide? Get both, and live life as a local gastronome!

My plate with both red and green looks amazing!

So my question for all of you who have ever been to New Mexico: red or green? (Green for me.)

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