Tasting Traditional Holiday Foods of the Region

'Tis the season for traditional holiday fare...

The holidays in New Mexico are steeped in rich traditions, especially when it comes to food. For centuries, celebratory dishes have included posole, carne adovada, enchiladas and tamales, made by families in villages across the region to celebrate Christmas Eve Christmas Day and the New Year.

Annual tamaladas, or tamale-making parties, have, for generations, brought family members together to lend a hand in stuffing corn husks with a combination of pork and vegetable, tying them with strandsfrom the dried husks, then steaming them so they could unwrapped before eaten, like a present. Traditionally, tamales have long been the Christmas Eve meal, served with green chile and red chile sauce The bounty of the fall harvest, red and green chile is often a starring ingredient at the holiday table, a staple in carne adovada, ladled over enchiladas and stirred into posole, a thick stew made with dried corn that traditionally served on Christmas Day.

For dessert, biscochitos, anise-flavored cookies, are a traditional Christmas treat, made with lard and dusted with cinnamon sugar. Biscochitos are often cut into fleur-de-lys shapes, in tribute to Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, New Mexico's first Archbishop, who was French. When New Mexico became the first state in 1989 to officially appoint a state cookie, it was the biscochito that received the honor. The cookie dates to 16th-century Spain's mantecosas, which means "buttery."

In New Mexico, after all the Christmas feasting is over, lime-cured hominy has long been served on New Year's Eve, for good luck in the coming year. And on New Year's Day, to help cure a hangover, families prepare menudo, a hearty stew of tripe and red chile.

You can savor northern New Mexico's traditional holiday fare any time of year at great family-run restaurants around the city, but it's especially nice to stop in during the holiday season and to feast on foods that have long been part of the season. Here are just a few recommendations:

A good place to start is Atrisco Cafe & Bar, a friendly neighborhood, family-run restaurant specializing in northern New Mexico fare, including the Christmas Eve specialty, tamales, served here with pork, cheese, rice, beans and red or green chile. Carne adovada, another traditional Christmas dish, is served at Atrisco's as marinated pork in a spicy red chile sauce topped with cheese, baked in the oven and plated with rice and beans. Or try the Rio Grande Plate, with the holiday staple posole as well as rolled chicken enchilada and a beef taco, for good measure. And though it may not be a Christmas specialty, the roast leg of lamb burrito is excellent, whether you order it with red or green chile...or Christmas.

The Pantry has been serving classic regional dishes since 1948, a bustling family-run spot that has long been the meeting spot for politicians, business people, friends and families. The restaurant offers burgers and comfort food such as chicken fried steak, an open-face hot turkey sandwich and meatloaf, but it's also known for its New Mexican specialties, which will get you in the mood for the holidays, including carne adovada, enchiladas and chile rellenos. Also try the tres leches cake, a delectable sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk (evaporated, condensed and heavy cream).

The Blue Corn Cafe serves a variety of dishes traditional to the holidays in New Mexico , including tamales made with red chile pork or calabacitas and topped with chile and cheese. You could try the combo plate, choosing from tamales, enchiladas, tacos and chile relleno. The New Mexican shepherd's pie makes a hearty addition to your feast, a blend of ground beef, calabacitas and smashed potatoes with green chile and cheese, all baked in a skillet.

For a spirited evening that includes dinner, live music and dance, head over to Tiny's Restaurant & Lounge. Start with the green chile cheese fries—they may not be traditional holiday fare, but they sure should be. Then try the carne adovada plate for a medley of Christmas specialties, include red chile-marinated pork with chipotle and guajillo as well as posole, beans and Spanish rice.You can also order carne adovada as tacos, topped with lettuce, cheese and tomato, and served with beans and salsa.

Photos courtesy of Atrisco Cafe and Bar and Tiny's

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