I was still feeling pretty full when I woke up on the morning of my second full day in New Mexico, but I am nothing if not professional when it comes to upholding my solemnly sworn duty to keep eating. Lini and I went light on breakfast, knowing we were heading out to Santa Fe where we would undoubtedly be eating a big lunch. But before leaving town we went with Torte on a specially arranged tour of The Storehouse, a unique food pantry in Albuquerque.
Torte works for the New Mexico Collaboration to End Hunger, a nonprofit group that coordinates resources and operations among the cityâ€™s food pantries and soup kitchens. The Storehouse’s food sourcing and receiving manager met us when we arrived and took us through the aisles of the supermarket-like food pantry where those in need are able to stock up with their familyâ€™s allotment of items like rice, beans, bread, milk, fresh fruit and even clothing at no charge once a month. The place was very well run, especially considering the limited resources it has and the depth of Albuquerqueâ€™s hunger problem. As someone who writes about the pleasures of eating, it’s good to remember that food is what keeps us alive and many are struggling with just that.
After that sobering, but inspiring, start to the day, Lini and I got into her car and drove to Santa Fe. We planned to visit the Museum of International Folk Art, whose displays of dolls and figurines we had both loved as kids, but first it was time for lunch. Lini had consulted with a friend from Santa Fe about a good restaurant that would serve sopapillas, chewy hollow pockets of fried dough that are quintessentially New Mexican. The recommendation was La Choza, which means “the shed” in Spanish. (The restaurant has a more touristy sibling called The Shed in another location in the city.)
Let me first say that the sopapillas were delicious. I drizzled some honey into the interior of mine and ate it as a sweet, fried side dish to my meal. To go with that, I ordered a combination plate, including a chile relleno and carne adovada, chunks of pork, slow roasted in a marinade of red chile, garlic and oregano. On the side were pinto beans and posole. I asked for extra sides of red and green chile, known as “Christmas” to douse my food. (I could swim in the stuff!) Lini ordered the tacos (see above), three hard shells (haven’t eaten one of those for a decade or so) filled with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, ground beef marinated in red chile and salsa. This is the food of my childhood!
I’m going to skip ahead to the final day of my trip, only glossing over a tasty dinner of pupusas at a character-filled pupuseria once we got back to Albuquerque. It was good food, but Salvadoran, a cuisine I can much more easily obtain in New York than green chile and sopapillas. But on Sunday before I headed out to the airport, Torte and Lini arranged an outing with their uncles and some friends to Pro’s Ranch Market, a Mexican and New Mexican food emporium with endless isles of specialty groceries, awesome meat and cheese counters and a full service food court, complete with a fresh juice bar and a tortilla making station.
We all ordered different items from the various stations. One of Lini and Torte’s uncles got the beautiful coctel de camarones (shrimp cocktail) pictured above with some housemade chips to go along side it. Lini got an impressive Cuban sandwich. I opted for three tacosâ€”carnitas, buche (butt) and carne asadaâ€” served in fresh corn tortillas. These were delicious, but very different from the tacos I typically ate in Chicago or the few good ones I’ve found in New York. First of all, chorizo is usually more common than carnitas, and I had never tried buche. Even the carne asada tasted like it was seasoned differently than I was used to. It’s probably because the food at Pro’s is influenced by a different part of Mexico or even by New Mexican cuisine. I also ordered some hibiscus juice, which was interesting and far less sweet than I had expected based on its deep red color.
All there was time for after our visit to Pro’s was a quick trip to Costco to pick up frozen individually wrapped packets of green chile to bring home with me. I took a chance and left them in my suitcase when I went through security. The TSA agent manning the scanner asked what the 10 individually wrapped packages were. I said: “frozen green chile,” expecting her to say I would need to check them under the liquids and gels ban. Instead she said: “Well, take them out so I can see that’s what it is.” I did, and she let me go through without any hassle. Only in Albuquerque, I thought; only in Albuquerque.
905 Alarid St.
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Pro’s Ranch Market
4201 Central Ave.
Albuquerque, NM 87105
(and various locations throughout the Southwest)