ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — We New Mexicans were stunned this week to read that we have apparently lost our exclusive claim as home of the heavenly substance that makes living here all the more worthwhile.
Green chile is to us what nectar is to the gods, only much, much hotter. There’s nothing we New Mexicans can’t improve with a healthy dollop of green chile. Chocolates? Yup. Wine? Sure. Apple pie? Absolutely.
Chile, green and otherwise, is our official state vegetable, along with the pinto bean, which, frankly, isn’t worth beans without an ample dose of green chile.
Green chile is one of the two best answers to our official state question, “Red or green?”
Historians tell us that early Spanish settlers brought chile to our soil from Mexico, where the Aztecs had cultivated the spicy plant for centuries. Although acreage devoted to growing chile has decreased significantly over the years, New Mexico-grown green chile, especially that which blossoms forth from the fields in Hatch, is still the champagne of peppers.
Here, even McDonald’s adds green chile to its burgers.
But recently our neighbors to the north have tried to muscle in on our claim to green chile fame. And that is no bueno.
Every Super Bowl (which, for you football-challenged folk, is this Sunday), dignitaries from the teams’ respective cities engage in a friendly bet, putting up a passel of indigenous food and goods as a wager on whose team will emerge victorious.
This year, Seattle (as in Seahawks) Mayor Ed Murray is wagering salmon, Dungeness crab and a bike made by Rodriguez Cycles.
Denver (as in Broncos) Mayor Michael Hancock is betting skis from local Icelantic Skis and a batch of green chile.
Listen, Denver, you could have easily chosen Rocky Mountain oysters as your local culinary treat. Or elk meat. Or marijuana-laced brownies.
Why our green chile?
Turns out, Coloradans think it’s their green chile.
“It’s part of the Colorado tradition,” says Rowena Alegría, chief communications and neighborhood outreach office from the Denver Mayor’s Office. “My family has been eating it for generations. It’s grown all over the state. Pueblo holds a chile festival each year. Every fall, the roasters come out and you can buy it on the streets of Denver. We even put it on our mashed potatoes.”
As background, I tell Alegría that I attended college in both Boulder and Gunnison. I still travel to the Denver area regularly. And I don’t recall green chile being as ubiquitous and beloved as she suggests.
“I think you were in the wrong parts of Colorado,” she coolly responds.
To add garlic salt to the wound, Alegría said the green chile, should the Broncos lose, will be shipped to Seattle in the form of stews whipped up by several Denver restaurants.
One of those restaurants is Little Anita’s – yes, that Little Anita’s, the same chain that originated in Albuquerque.
Nothing is sacred.
A Google search yields dozens of articles written about Denver’s alleged green chile prowess.
“In case you haven’t heard, Denver is a city that’s obsessed – like, really obsessed – with its green chile,” begins one article published in 2011 in Denver Westword. “We smother it – unlike everywhere else in the country – on absolutely everything.”
UNLIKE EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE COUNTRY?
Hello, Denver, meet New Mexico. We are the ones who smother.
Also from the same Westword: “In Denver, no food inspires more heated discussion than green chile – that thick, porky concoction that’s native to this state.”
Imagine how heated that discussion would be with a native New Mexican.
A headline this week on Denver’s Channel 4 website proclaimed: “Mayor Hancock Once Again Putting Up Famous Green Chili In Super Bowl Wager.”
Note the spelling. Any green chile aficionado worth his pork knows it is not spelled “chili.” That’s the wimpy Texas stuff. I call fraud on Denver.
(Interesting side note: Colorado means reddening or blushing in Spanish. Red. Not green. Not green chile. Boom.)
Kristen Browning-Blas, food editor for the Denver Post, feels our pain. Sort of.
Green chile, she said, has been a staple of the Denver diet for years but perhaps has reached its “famous” level only in the past decade or so.
“I don’t remember it as much when I was a kid here,” she said. “It seems fairly new in a popular culture kind of way, but it’s not new to the people who have been cooking with it for generations.”
Still, Browning-Blas admits that Colorado has something of an identity crisis when it comes to choosing a food to call its own. Denver omelets, she said, are just so blasé.
Is that a reason to steal ours?
Interestingly, Browning-Blas said Denver Post editor Greg Moore has made a foodie bet of his own, this one with the editor of the Seattle Times.
The Post’s wager? Bison steaks.
You own that, Denver.
But feel free to serve that smothered with green chile – from New Mexico.
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UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.