Picture this: you’re sitting in a typical New Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe. There are red ristras on the wall, the smell of roasting chiles in the air, the traditional melody of “I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley blasting from the speakers. You have that eerie sensation known as véja dù–the feeling that you’ve never been here before in your entire life.
On an August evening in A.D. 595, the Loma Caldera (in what is now El Salvador) erupted, sending clouds of volcanic ash into the Mayan agricultural village of Cerén, burying it twenty feet deep and turning it into the New World equivalent of Pompeii. Miraculously, all the villagers escaped, but what they left behind gives us a good idea of the life they led, the food they ate, and the chile peppers they grew.