A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from October 30, 2007
“Red or Green (or Christmas)?” (red sauce, green sauce, or half-red and half-green chile sauce)

"Red or green?” is the official state question of New Mexico. Really, it is. The “state question” was proposed in 1996 and finally signed by the governor in 1999.

New Mexico is a major chile-producing state, and there are both red chile sauces and green chile sauces. The “red or green?” question is asked often in restaurants, and the state legislature thought that making it an “official state question” would boost tourism.

Christmas is known for its red and green colors. In New Mexico restaurant lingo (that appears to have started in Santa Fe), “Christmas” means a plate of half-red and half-green chile sauces. The New Mexico terminology has spread to some other states of the Southwest, such as Arizona and Texas.

Wikipedia: New Mexico
State question* “Red or Green?” 1999
(*)The official state question refers to a question commonly heard at restaurants, where waiters will ask customers “red or green?” in reference to which kind of chili pepper or “chile sauce” the customers wants served with their meal. This type of “chile” is usually distinct from salsa, as the chile sauce is much finer and thicker and more commonly served with meals. Natives are more likely to refer to the chili sauce put on their meal as just plain “chile”, and not as any form of “salsa” (which is usually reserved by natives in English for the salsa served with chips; everything else is just “chile"). If the diner wants both they can answer with, “Christmas” (or “Navidad” in Spanish), in reference to the two traditional colors of Christmas—Red and Green. 

Wikipedia: Cuisine of the Southwestern United States
Southwestern cuisine is food styled after the rustic cooking of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, as well as parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. It comprises a fusion of recipes for things that might have been eaten by cowboys, Native Americans, and Mexicans throughout the post-Columbian era, however, there is a great diversity in this kind of cuisine within the above-mentioned states.

Southwestern cuisine is heavily influenced by Mexican cuisine but often involves larger cuts of meat, and less use of tripe, brain, and other parts not considered as desirable in the United States. Like Mexican cuisine, it is also known for its use of spices (particularly the chile, or Chili pepper) and accompaniment with beans (frijoles), cooked in a variety of manners. Chili con carne, fajitas, certain kinds of chiles rellenos (stuffed chiles), and various steak-chile combinations are particularly well-known Southwestern foods. Note that “chili” generally refers to a thick stew or soup prepared with beans and meat, while “chile” refers to the peppers that grow in this region and have been eaten for thousands of years by the native people. Recently, several chains of casual dining restaurants specializing in Southwestern cuisine have become popular in the United States.

New Mexico is known for its dedication to the chile (the official “state question” is “Red or green?”, which refers to the preferred color of chiles), most notably the “hatch” chile.

Wikipedia: New Mexican cuisine
New Mexican food is a type of regional cuisine originating in the U.S. state of New Mexico; it is a subset of Mexican-American cuisine. Although many New Mexican dishes are similar to Mexican and Tex-Mex offerings such as enchiladas and burritos, New Mexican food has a distinct style. The most important difference is the type of chile pepper used. [citation needed] New Mexico chiles comes in two varieties, referred to as either “green chile” or “red chile” depending on the stage of ripeness in which they were picked.

Green chile is perhaps the defining ingredient of New Mexican food compared to neighboring styles, though heavier use of cilantro and relaxed use of cumin are also important. In the past few years, green chile has grown increasingly more common outside of New Mexico, and it is a popular ingredient in everything from enchiladas and burritos to cheeseburgers and bagels within the state’s borders.
List of New Mexican culinary terms
Chile or chile sauce: A sauce made from red or green chiles by a variety of recipes, and served hot over many (perhaps any) New Mexican dish. Chile does not use vinegar, unlike most salsas, picantes and other hot sauces. Green chile is made with chopped roasted chiles, while red chile is made with chiles dried and ground to a powder. Thickeners like flour, and various spices are often added, especially ground cumin, coriander and oregano (none of these is usually added to a red chile sauce, and rarely would cumin or coriander show up in a traditional green sauce). Chile is one of the most definitive differences between New Mexican and other Mexican and Mexican-American cuisines. Mexican and Californian tend to use various specialized sauces for different dishes, while Tex-Mex leans toward the use of salsa picante and chili con carne (and even Cajun-style Louisiana hot sauce). New Mexican cuisine uses chile sauce as taco sauce, enchilada sauce, burrito sauce, etc. (though any given meal may use both red and green varieties for different dishes). A thicker version of green chile, with larger pieces of the plant, plus onions and other additions, is called green chile stew and is popular in Albuquerque-style New Mexican food; it is used the same way as green chile sauce, as a topping for virtually anything, including American dishes. The term “Christmas” is commonly used in New Mexico when both red and green chiles are used for one dish.

Bill Richardson for President (May 24, 2007)
Red or Blue State? Nah. Red or Green!
Forget the standard political demographics and things like mixing religion with politics. In New Mexico, Christmas is celebrated every day - in fact, several times a day - in the halls of government, city plazas, schools, and people’s homes. What am I talking about? “Red or Green?” - the official New Mexico State Question, the answer to which has recently been legislated to be: “Christmas,” meaning both, please.

Chile has been an important staple and source of pride going back hundreds of New Mexican years. The most well-known chiles come from the town of Hatch (everyone knows that!), where the long, slender spicy vegetables are harvested and celebrated. Every food in New Mexico comes smothered in chile. If Richardson becomes President, the White House Chef had better have this down!

Albuquerque Living
Red Or Green?
If you dine in any Albuquerque restaurant serving New Mexican cuisine, be assured that you will be asked the question: “Red or Green?” What does it mean? Well, it reflects what can only be called a local obsession that has even influenced state legislation.

In 1996 the New Mexico State Legislature passed a House Joint Memorial declaring “Red or Green?” the official state question. This refers to being asked whether one prefers red or green chile when ordering New Mexican cuisine. This measure was passed to signify the importance that the chile industry has on the economy of the state. In 2000 New Mexico produced 99,000 tons of chile valued at nearly 49 million dollars making it the number one cash crop in terms of sales in the state. 

the santa fe site
Red or Green? Chile that is!
Hatch in southern New Mexico is where much of the New Mexico chili crop is grown. Hatch is called the Chile Capital of the world and has its annual Hatch Chile festival on Labor Day weekend.

In New Mexico when ordering chile with your meal the chile is typically the Hatch Chile. The green ones are usually roasted and the red ones are dried before they are used in cooking.

Remember this when asked red or green? Or Christmas? The green is hotter and the red is a more pungent but not so hot a taste. Christmas is both red and green for those of you who want to try both so you can make the decision as to what you like. 

New Mexico Chili
Depending on the variety, growth and harvest conditions, “hotness” can vary. Your cook/waiter will know which is hotter. If you’re the adventurous sort, ask for “Christmas"--a sample of red and green chile/chili served side-by-side. 

NPR: New Mexico: Chile Hot Spot
Kitchen Window
By Bonny Wolf
New Mexico: Chile Hot Spot
NPR.org, September 19, 2007
There’s even an official state question: Red or green?

And if you can’t decide if you want red chile or green chile, you may answer, “Christmas,” and you’ll get some of both.

Green and red chiles are actually the same chiles at different life stages: either picked earlier when they’re green, or later after they’re left to turn red on the vine.

27 September 1987, New York (NY) Times, “Chiles: Pungent, Sweet and Rich” by Susan Benner, section XX, pg. 28:
Verde or colorado (green or red), chile pods may be used fresh from the plant, but more often they are roasted. Then the green is peeled and the red usually dried and ground. Though native pods are sold green—farmers like to sell them this way since it minimizes the danger of loss from birds or hail or frost—their thin-walled wrinkled flesh is difficult to peel. Consequently, the chile of northern New Mexico rarely appears green in restaurants, and is better known for the richly flavored powders from the dried, roasted and ground red.

26 November 1989, New York (NY) Times, “Santa Fe’s Spicy Cultural Mix” by Nancy Harmon Jenkins, pg. XX12:
...carne adobado, spicy pork, marinated in red chili paste before roasting, and everywhere a choice of red or green chili sauce as an accompaniment. (Just ask for “Christmas,” said Sam Arnold, a food historian who has lived in Santa Fe for many years, if you want both.)
(...) (Pg. XX24—ed.)
...in the Hotel La Fonda, to the breakfast burritos, lascivious concoctions of scrambled eggs, sausage or ham, green or red (or Christmas) chili and cheese, that are available in a number of local breakfast places.

16 December 1990, New York (NY) Times, “Salsas of the Southwest” by Jeanie Puleston Fleming, pg. XX6:
During the tasting Mr. Raub (Chef Peter Raub of the Santa Fe School of Cooking—ed.) explained another fine point in salsa definitions: the difference between traditional salsa and traditional New Mexican red or green chili sauces. While New Mexican chili sauce is served hot and on top of dishes like enchiladas (half red and half green is known as Christmas), salsa is served separately and cold. Also, you taste the chili, the tomato, the cilantro in salsa, while in a sauce, one flavor—usually the chile—dominates.

Google Books
Jane Butel’s Southwestern Kitchen
by Jane Butel
New York, NY: HP Books
Pg. 103:
Christmas Chicken
In New Mexico, a new favorite is to sauce dishes with half red chile sauce and half green chile sauce. This custom is called “Christmas,” when one orders in a restaurant. So, when I combined red and green chiles in one chicken dish, I decided Christmas was an appropriate name.

6 February 1994, New York (NY) Times, “In Search of the Hottest Chili” by Richard Lerner, pg. 49, col. 5:
Although the festival food may be international, New Mexico still reigns as Chili Land, where the potent little peppers are sold from the backs of pickup trucks and in abandoned gasoline stations, where salsa is on every restaurant table, and one gets used to the question “Red or green?” in short order.

Google Books
The Santa Fe School of Cooking Cookbook
by Susan Curtis
Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith
Pg. 75:
Personal preferences for either red or green chile sauce run deep in Santa Fe. If you are undecided, order your dish served with half red and half green, which is done in Santa Fe by ordering “Christmas.” Any waitperson will know what you are requesting. However, one visitor became a little confused and ordered enchiladas “Santa Claus style.” At the Cooking School, we encourage visitors to try both the red and green sauces so they can experience the differences in flavors. 

25 March 1996, Fresno (CA) Bee, “New Mexico Adopts State Question” (Associated Press), pg. A2:
SANTA FE, N.M.—A state bird (the roadrunner), a state animal (the black bear) and even a state cookie (the spiced-up “biscochito” ) weren’t enough for New Mexico legislators.

Now they’ve adopted a state question: ‘’Red or Green?’’

Red or green what? The reference, of course, is to chili—the hot peppers that spice up many favorite New Mexican dishes. State officials say New Mexico is the top chili-producing state in the nation.

Saturday, the Legislature passed a nonbinding memorial asking Gov. Gary Johnson to issue a proclamation making ‘’Red or Green?’’ the official state query.

Johnson vetoed a similar measure passed in bill form last year. That measure, he said, lacked ‘’merit or meaning for our taxpayers.’’

23 April 1996, Denver (CO) Post, “In search of an official state question” by Ed Quillen, pg. B7:
Last week, the Colorado hairstreak butterfly became our official state insect, thereby joining the blue spruce, bighorn sheep, lark bunting, culverwort, stegosaurus, etc. on the list of official state paraphernalia.

But in New Mexico, a perennial effort to designate an “official state question” again failed to pass.

The proposed question was “Red or green?” which might also be phrased “Colorado o verde?” (a licit locution in New Mexico, where English is not the only official language), and it is the question asked by the waiter or waitress after you say “I’ll have some chile.” New Mexico proponents say the question is asked thousands of times every day throughout the territory and so it should be made official.

1 May 1996, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “New Mexico’s burning question: ‘Red or green?’” by Cathy Barber:
I’ve always found New Mexico restaurants just a tad annoying. It’s that “red or green?” thing. Doesn’t the kitchen have a clear vision for which chile is best in each dish?

Apparently not. Once, on a car trip, I was sleeping when we crossed the state line. At lunch, I knew we weren’t in Texas anymore when the waitress started in: “Red or green?”

27 February 1999, Albuquerque (NM) Tribune, “House passes ‘red or green’ as official state question” (Associated Press), pg. A4:
SANTA FE New Mexico has a state flower, bird, tree, fish, animal, gem, grass, fossil, cookie, insect and two vegetables.

Now the House proposes an official state question: “Red or green?”

It refers, of course, to the omnipresent question for restaurant customers what kind of chile they want on their meals.

“The Restaurant Association estimates the question ‘red or green’ is asked in our state 175,000 times a day,” said Majority Leader Ben Lujan, a Santa Fe Democrat and the bill’s sponsor.
The House passed the official-question bill unanimously and sent it to the Senate.

The Legislature passed a similar measure previously, but Gov. Gary Johnson vetoed it.

“We feel there’s going to be a lot of folks asking the governor and making sure he signs it this time,” Lujan said. 

28 June 1999, Nation’s Restaurant News, “It’s not easy being green—or red—in New Mexico” by Ron Ruggless:
On Friday, June 18, the official question for New Mexico became “Red or Green?”

The question already had informal, near-official status among New Mexico’s restaurants, with estimates on its frequency of reaching the ears of customers ranging between 175,000 and 200,000 times a day. With two kinds of chili sauce available, the red and the green of it is an important query.

Richard Buratti, executive vice president of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said: “It’s all a part of tourism. It’s all part of the allure of coming to New Mexico.”

New Mexico takes its chilies, red or green, very seriously. That is, without a doubt, why lawmakers were willing to spend time turning the red-or-green issue into an official interrogative.

Buratti says chili—again, red or green—plays a role in at least 25 percent of the meals served in New Mexico’s restaurants. In addition, chilies are one of New Mexico’s major crops, worth $58 million to the state last year alone. And, in earlier careful considerations, the state’s Legislature deemed chili to be one of the state’s two official vegetables. The other, for you inquiring minds, is the pinto bean.
I’m just wondering if the U.S. Senate and U.S. House, in all their wisdom and power, can enact a National Question, one that will be at the tip of all tongues in our entire great and powerful nation.

Here and now I nominate:"Would you like fries with that?”

24 December 2001, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, CA), “Trip through Santa Fe and Taos is a spiritual journey” by Anne Chalfant, pg.
So straight from the Albuquerque airport, we whisked to Frontier Restaurant, a barn of a place where you can swill big ladles of chile sauce on your burritos and huevos rancheros. If you slop on both red and green, they call it Christmas.

It was the first of many eye-watering, sinus-clearing Christmases. 

Google Books
On the Border:
Society and Culture Between the United States and Mexico
by Andrew Grant Wood
Rowman & Littlefield
Pg. 206:
The state’s eponymous pepper forms the basic ingredient for both chile verde and chile colorado, which can be served thick as a sauce or with broth and vegetables as a stew, although in the latter case the green is more common, sometimes with the name carne con chile verde or chile verde caldo to distinguish it from the sauce. For those unable to choose between the two sauces, restaurants in New Mexico offer a combination of red and green known as Christmas.

Google Books
Frommer’s New Mexico, 8th Edition
by Lesley S. King
Wiley Publishing, Inc.
Pg. 147:
Order both red and green chile ("Christmas") so that you can sample some of the best sauces in town.

6 April 2007, Albuquerque (NM) Tribune, “Schmidly gets set for new job” by Stephanie Garcia Krenrich, pg. A1:
It will be Christmas in May when David Schmidly permanently calls New Mexico home—Christmas, as in the chile combination.

The new president of the University of New Mexico said he can’t decide between red and green, so he goes with both.

“It’s hard to get that (chile) in Tulsa. I bring it back with me when I have a chance,” he said in a telephone interview as he traveled to Oklahoma after a speaking engagement in Kentucky.

This month, Schmidly is busy making the transition from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla., to UNM.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Tuesday, October 30, 2007 • Permalink