Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hatch Chiles

"Made with Hatch chiles." Those words have appeared on menus featuring Mexican, New Mexican, and Southwestern favorites. Clearly, these were special chiles.

So, since Hatch was only 39 miles from Las Cruces (NM), we had to take a trip to visit the "Chile Capital of the World." As we drove into the town of about 1600 chile lovers, we were welcomed by this rather large feathered creature.

Now I have often been accused of being easily distracted, and I guess what followed was an example of this trait.

Right across the street from the welcoming bird was Uncle Sam. Standing in front of the village municipal building, this gentleman seemed to present a more formal welcome to travelers.

Thinking that there may be more figures around town to meet, we drove through town to search for other giants. Our search turned up this pink pig, which was the center of a recent controversy, sporting a "Sparky's" banner.

A "Save the Pig" campaign succeeded when Hatch’s governing body granted an exemption allowing the figurine to serve as an off-premises billboard.

However, Teako Nunn, owner of Sparky's, has received letters from the state Department of Transportation, noting that advertising can’t be attached or placed on “mobile vehicles or trailers.” The pig, which sports a “Sparky’s” banner, sits on a trailer.

Another letter indicates that this hot dog sign at the other end of town doesn’t have a permit.

According to Diana M. Alba of the Sun-News, whose reports we followed: "Mayor Judd Nordyke said he was aware of the letter from state officials. He said the situation is “getting a little bit ridiculous.”

Sparky's itself presented all the features that draw us to off-beat eateries: whimsy, claims of being "World Famous," an array of signs, and figures on the roof.

What's not to like about these two characters? The words "I'll have the green chile cheeseburger" were already on our lips--then we read the sign. Sparky's was closed that day.

Then we saw this poor forlorn fellow seated nearby and wondered if he, too, was disappointed with Sparky's being closed.

Seeing this sign jolted me into remembering the reason for visting Hatch. Stated in somewhat strong language, the message was clear. We had come for chiles.

As Alex Chadwick, host of National Public Radio News observed: "A lot of states have a state bird or a state flower or a song. Only New Mexico has a state question: Red or green? Meaning, `What color chili sauce do you want on your burritos?' New Mexicans are very serious about chile, and the world capital for green chile peppers, as far as they are concerned, is the fields surrounding the southern New Mexican town of Hatch.

Jo and Jim Lytle run a Hatch family farm stand called Hatch Chile Express. They get orders from as far away as England and South Africa. Filling an order for a couple from Pennsylvania may not have been as exotic, but the customers were just a satisfied as those from around the globe.

Next stop: Lunch in the Chile Capital of the World.

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