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Mexican, Asked

Gustavo Arellano on Hispanics, chile and panocha

November 6, 2013, 12:00 am


How’d it go?

I went in and I asked, ‘Can I have some, um, panocha please?’ I didn’t even trust myself, and it ends up being this really amazing pudding. Now I know why they call panocha, panocha because that was some good shit.


Any dish in particular you’re looking to try while in Santa Fe?

Obviously, I have to make a pilgrimage to the Five and Dime for the Frito pie that Bourdain trashed. You know, I’m not the biggest fan of Frito pie, but I pay my respect where it’s due.


Say that we’re staging a cage match between one food representative from Mexico and one from New Mexico. What should the two items be?

The taco for Mexican food; the legendary taco de carne asada. For New Mexico, everyone will say Hatch chile, of course, but I’ll go with the panocha because it’s unique to New Mexico.


Who would win?

Of course panocha would beat the taco…panocha always wins. You don’t argue with panocha. Ever.


What can people attending your FUZE.SW presentation expect? 

I’m gonna be on two panels. One of them talking about this idea of the mongrelization of food and another about Frito pie. My actual keynote is going to be about—obviously New Mexico is proud of its food—but there are a lot of misconceptions about what New Mexican cuisine is in the rest of the country. The way I see it, it’s a rallying cry for all the people there to be proud of your food and also start exporting your cuisine to the rest of the United States.

"The reason why Mexican food is so magnificent is because it’s anything but pure."


Why hasn’t that happened?

There was a movement partially based in Santa Fe during the 1980s to export New Mexican-style cuisine but it failed miserably. Let’s not make it a fad, let’s make it something that’s long-lasting and sustainable so that Southwestern cuisine is in the same conversation, as say, Southern cuisine or New England food—clam chowder and all that shit.


What piece of New Mexico-centric food do you think could cause a nationwide, cronut-worthy phenomenon? 

If you really want to create a new style of New Mexican insanity, gosh, sopaipillas. There is so much to be done with sopaipillas; stuff them with Korean barbeque, or mac ‘n’ cheese or God knows what. It takes time though. New Mexican food is still not considered to be hipster food and I think that’s a good thing. I think, especially now with Breaking Bad making anything New Mexico popular, there’s an opening there.


Talk to me about the relation between our green chile and Anaheim, your home turf.

The reason why green chile is so popular is partly because of New Mexico but mostly because of the Ortega chile, more commonly referred to as the Anaheim chile. The Anaheim chile was originally a New Mexico chile. A guy from California named Emilio Ortega lived in New Mexico in the 1890s and while he was there discovered chile culture. He decided to take some seeds back to California with him and grow them, and that’s where the Ortega Chile Packing Company came from. It’s bland. My New Mexican friends say, ‘We let you Californians steal our worst chile so that’s what you get for stealing our culture, you get the worst ones.’


Sort of how the Spain let us have the worst Spaniards to populate New Mexico? 

Exactly. Of course, when I say ‘the worst Spaniards’ I mean it partly in jest, but these so-called ‘mighty conquistadors’ who came to the New World and that these people like to claim heritage from, they were the rejects of Spain. The son that wasn’t gonna get any inheritance; the Jews or Muslims that just needed to get the hell out of Dodge because the Catholics were killing all of them; or just bastard children, or whatever. Listen, it’s perfectly fine to be descended from the scum of the earth. It’s the scum of the earth that always wins, not the pure. The pure people die.


Explain the importance of food in Mexican culture.

Food is important in all cultures, of course. Food is the transmitter of life, of tradition. Food is political. Food is economics. Food is religion, really. One time Jesus did appear on a grilled cheese sandwich, but that was an anomaly. He’s always appearing in tortillas, guacamole, menudo and that just shows how important Mexican food is, really. It is who we are. Without Mexican food, we’re as boring as Americans, I guess.


Out of the endless array of Mexican food in the US you’ve tried, what has been the best? 

There are so many different styles of Mexican food. If I’m in Northern New Mexico, I’ll go to Angelina’s in Española—they serve these amazing chicharrones de borrego that are spectacular. In my book, I say the greatest meal in the United States is something called ‘the Mexican hamburger’ I had in Denver. The only reason I wrote this book was to celebrate Mexican food in the US, not a particular region, and give the people that deserve love, some love.


Talk a little about the Colorado-Mexico connection. 

People always forget Colorado when it comes to this conversation of the Chicanos of the old generation. Everyone remembers California and Texas, of course, Arizona and New Mexico, but Colorado was part of Mexico as well. The old timers from Colorado were descendants of New Mexicans. It was called ‘the manito culture.’ Denver’s Mexican cuisine is a lot like New Mexican cuisine—the smothered burritos, red or green? Though there, their chile is orange because they love the Broncos so much. We’re all brothers, basically. That’s the whole point. We’re all part of this big, huge, crazy locura that is the Mexican family.

Without Mexican food, we’re as boring as Americans.


What’s up with the prevalence of American cheese in this big family? 

It was Mexicans who did it! It wasn’t Americans. Mexican cooks didn’t have access to quesos frescos from the border. They didn’t have requesón or queso Menonita or what have you, they just had American cheese, so they went with it. Some people don’t like it and that’s fine. Again, any idea of purity is silly. The reason why Mexican food is so magnificent is because it’s anything but pure.


We’ve covered the best. What’s the absolute worst Mexican food you’ve had?

Taco Bell.


When was the last time you stepped foot in one?

Last year, actually. I went with a reporter from The New York Times. She wanted me to try the new Doritos Locos taco. I had high hopes for it—you’ll find no bigger Doritos fan than me—and I thought, ‘Hey, how can they mess this up?’ but they did. Their so-called ‘beef’ is disgusting, too salty and has no flavor to it.


Well, you know, our state’s governor is a self-professed Taco Bell fanatic.

That explains everything.


Anything else you’d like to add?

All you New Mexicans out there: Rejoice in the cuisine of your homeland. Just remember, it’s mongrel food and the mongrels rule the world. Fuck purity. That’s how you should end it, fuck purity.

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