Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Is There a Difference…

between Mexican food and New Mexican food?

Talk to a native New Mexican and he/she will swear that New Mexican food is in a class of its own. I am in total agreement with this view.

One Facebook member asserts that “New Mexican cuisine (from the state of New Mexico) is very different from Mexican cuisine (from Mexico, the country). New Mexican cuisine is the happy marriage of Native American foods—like blue corn and squash—with chile peppers, wheat flour, pork and other ingredients the Spanish settlers brought with them from Europe and Mexico. As a rule, New Mexican food uses a lot of cheese, beans and chile, while Mexican food tends to use a lot of spices, salsas, grilled meats and seafood…”

Other explanations of the differences include the caloric content—shrimp tacos and lots of fruit in Mexico and stuffed sopapillas drenched in cheese in New Mexico—and you can pick up Mexican food with your hand, but New Mexican food must be eaten with a fork. But everyone agrees that it is red and green chile that sets New Mexican food apart.

Following our photo session in the El Rancho Hotel lobby, we wandered into the hotel’s restaurant looking for lunch.
It was just before 1:00 p.m. and most of the lunch crowd had dispersed. All the better for discrete photo taking. Like the lobby, the restaurant evokes the Old West with its dark wood ceiling and wood accents emphasizing the white walls.

The menu is very short with a selection of salads, hamburgers, sandwiches, and Southwest options. Having been gone from New Mexico for three months on our Arizona sojourn, I wanted chile and I wanted it now!! So, I chose the three chicken enchilada plate with both red and green chile (known in these parts as ordering the dish “Christmas” style), which came with rice and beans. Chuck also went local with the three ground beef taco plate with green chile and the same rice and beans.

Ordering Southwestern meant that we got a basket of tortilla chips and a dish of salsa. The chips were thin and crisp and only lightly salted, and the salsa was thick with good sized tomato chunks and plenty of jalapeño and cilantro. I would consider this to be an above average salsa – due I am sure to my love of both jalapeños and cilantro.

Chuck’s tacos came in very thin and crisp shells. As with most tacos in New Mexico, the flavor comes from the accompanying chile and this was a decent medium hot green chile that contained small bits of ground pork. Adding pork to the green chile is fairly standard and some restaurants offer the choice of meat green chile or vegetarian green chile. Personally, I think the meat tempers the heat of the chile and would rather it not be present.

My enchiladas were good corn tortillas encasing a combination of somewhat dry white and dark shredded chicken meat. Thank heaven for the chile to give some moisture. The red chile was good, but not as good as the green. The portion of rice and beans on both of our plates was on the small side, but both were tasty.

Certainly not the greatest New Mexican food we have been served, but the lunch still earns a 3.5 Addie rating.

When we left the restaurant, this beautiful piece of furniture in the lobby caught our eyes. Chuck asked the people at the front desk if they could tell us anything about what seemed to be a "grown-up version" of the player piano.
"We really don't know much about it, but would you like us to play if for you?" was their response. Using a remote control device, the staff member turned the machine on.

The clear, distinctive sounds of a piano, a xylophone, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, a tambourine, and bells was overwhelming. So much so that we focused on identifying the instruments rather than identifying the song being played.

We have tried to collect some information on this type of mechanical music machine designed to sound like an orchestra or band.

Our best guess is that this machine, manufactured by Story & Clark, is an orchestrion. "These are automated instruments typically intended from use in a coin-operated commercial setting rather than any domestic one. Various manufacturers made numerous ranges of instruments featuring different combinations of pianos, organ pipework, percussion and other fittings."

The music from this instrument fit perfectly with the grandeur of the lobby of the 1937 El Rancho Hotel (Gallup, NM).

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