The Hatch Chile is not actually a variety of pepper, but is a term used to describe peppers of several different varieties grown in the Hatch, New Mexico area. The varieties are given names such as “Big Jim”, “Joe Parker”, “Sandia”, and others. These peppers are grown in southern New Mexico around the tiny town of Hatch, known as the Chile Capital of the World. Attracting over 30,000 visitors from all over the United States, the Hatch Chile Festival was an event I simply had to check out for myself.
Located off Interstate 25, between Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences, the Village of Hatch population is registered at around 1,600 people. It’s a small town with big personality.
As you enter the Village of Hatch, after crossing over a small bridge that takes you over the Rio Grande, you immediately become aware that the entire town smells like roasting chiles. Everything in the village is about the chiles when it’s Labor Day weekend. The traffic may be heavy along the main street into town, but the slow drive gives you the opportunity to view all the eclectic little shops selling their chile pepper creations, like Hatch Chile Express. Check out their roof! Yes, those are all drying chiles.
Or this guy, showing off his prized green chile
One famous hot spot in town is Sparkys Burgers. Having one of the best green chile cheeseburgers in the world, Sparkys also has colorful, over-the-top Route 66 style decor; giant burger toting statues, colorful murals, and lively music make dining here an event. During the Hatch Festival, the wait here can be up to two hours, so get here early or come visit when the festival is not going on.
As you make your way though town to the festival location, signs, along with the long line of cars, will lead you in the right direction. The festival is held slightly outside of the main town at the Hatch Municipal Airport, just 1 mile west of town.
It can be quite hot out there, and when walking around the vendor booths there isn’t much relief from the sun. I would recommend wearing a hat, load up on sun screen and even bringing an umbrella for some shade.
Many of the vendors offer local arts and crafts, but the main reason for the event is to celebrate and purchase from the harvest of chiles. You can get bags of roasted or fresh chiles, and jars of salsa each vendor has prepared. The roasters go non-stop all day. Most vendors will let you taste their chile before buying. Some offer Mild, Medium, Hot & X-tra Hot chiles. Here’s a video of one of the vendors roasting chiles. You can also see these roasters put to work outside of many local grocery stores all over New Mexico starting in late summer.
If you love ristras, than this is the place for you. I’ve never seen so many in one place. Besides just being beautiful, ristras serve a practical purpose. This arrangement of drying chili pepper pods preserves the peppers for later use. The ristra has come to be a trademark of decorative design in the state of New Mexico. Many vendors in town and at the festival have gorgeous ristras ready for purchase, with the typical price being $12 – $15 for 1 ft and $15 – $20 for 2 feet.
There is a large covered barn where the main stage is located. You can grab a seat, take in the shade and enjoy the day’s entertainment lineup.
In the barn is also where you’ll find more vendors, this year’s Festival T-shirt on sale, and some much needed cold beer is served up in an enclosed area, crafted by a local brewer. Beer cannot be taken outside of this small area, which does have a few tables and chairs and provides a good view of the stage. The festival is not a “walk around with a beer” event, but there are many vendors selling fresh lemonade, tasty teas, sodas and bottled water.
In the barn is also home to a ristra making demonstration area which takes place every couple hours throughout the day.
The Festival is more along the lines of a county fair. There’s plenty of great food to be had. Roasted corn, funnel cakes, caramel corn, plus many authentic Mexican foods. There is a carnival midway for the kids featuring all the classic rides and games.
The Hatch Chile festival was a must-attend event for me, and could be the perfect spicy finish to a hot summer for any chile fan.