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Ristras: New Mexico’s most colorful and spicy souvenirs
By Tom Adkinson

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting activities logical for Americans as they venture out in a time of coronavirus.)

rista wreath new mexico
A rista wreath; image by Tom Adkinson

HATCH, New Mexico – You’ve seen a ristra, even if you didn’t know that was what you were seeing. A ristra, other than being a great crossword puzzle or Scrabble word, is one of those Instagram-worthy strands of dried New Mexico chile peppers. Usually red or mostly red, they stand out artfully against an adobe building or a blue desert sky.

Ristras, generally decorative now, certainly began as a way to preserve chiles for cooking. Classic ristras feature chiles grown in the Mesilla Valley around the farming community of Hatch. Hatch chiles have gained national fame, and they feature prominently in “New Mexico Food Trails,” a book by New Mexico writer Carolyn Graham coming out in 2021. The book spotlights traditional food in restaurants statewide.

ristas in a row
Ristas in a row; image by Tom Adkinson

“Ristras are iconic. They are part of our history. They definitely are part of our culinary history. Just the sight of them makes us happy,” Graham said.

Hatch, while tiny, attracts plenty of visitors, especially during harvest season (July-August). They come for ristras and other chile products at shops such as Hatch Chile Express and for green chile cheeseburgers and green chile chocolate milkshakes at Sparky’s. Yes, green chile chocolate milkshakes are a real thing. This definitely is chile country.

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(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published October 16, 2020

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