Located in the Sonoran Desert just north of the U.S.-Mexico border, Tucson is the oldest continuously inhabited and cultivated area in the U.S.A. It has an archaeological record of habitation and crop cultivation extending back more than 4,000 years, and a 300-year tradition of orchards, vineyards, and livestock ranching. Tucson’s cuisine blends the influences of Native American, northern Mexican or Sonoran, Mission-era Mediterranean, and American Ranch-Style Cowboy food traditions, among others.

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Key ingredients of this multicultural cuisine include dozens of native desert plants and animals listed in the Slow Food International Ark of Taste—more than for any other North American landscape, and contributing to a distinctive “desert terroir.” In addition to wild desert edibles, Tucson’s heritage foods include crops cultivated in ancient times and historically, fermented foods, roasted and baked foods, meats, and cheeses distinctive to the desert borderlands region. These heritage foods are representative of many living traditions that thrive today, and are a source of identity and cultural vitality for the people who live here.

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A culturally layered cuisine

Tucson’s unique cuisine has developed through the layering and blending of prehistoric native wild foods and preparation techniques; ancient crops and varieties arriving from Mesoamerica; introductions of plants and livestock from the Old World during the Spanish Colonial period; ingredients and dishes brought by a sequence of later arriving cultural groups; and contemporary culinary innovations using local heritage ingredients.