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Hot List: Native Food

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Every day chefs, farmers and food advocates make moves to make sure that our indigenous foods continue to be an important part of our communities. They’re also taking Native food to new and exciting places. When a city has a Native restaurant, it helps create understanding among non-Native locals and visitors. It adds more flavor and diversity to the culinary scene. For the Native community, it creates a place of belonging and reconnects the people to flavors they may have forgotten or don’t have access to. It lets Native people know that their food is worth the brick and mortar and it adds value to the whole community. In the states, we have plenty of Native eateries, but definitely not as many as there should be in our rural and urban communities. Here are some of the Native food trends I’ve kept an eye on that have been the subject of discussion on my Toasted Sister blog and on Native America Calling.

Scrumptious fare from NishDish

Scrumptious fare from NishDish

Indigenous Food in Canada

The CBC did a report in May about some of the new indigenous restaurants popping up in Canada. This is particularly interesting because, in some ways, Canada is ahead of the game when it comes to making space for indigenous people (of course, we still have a long way to go before we share equal space on any platform). NishDish and Ku-kum, both in Toronto, were Canada’s newest indigenous restaurants on the CBC list. They focus on indigenous ingredients while paying homage to traditional flavors and techniques. NishDish's menu include items like mountain elk chipotle sausage, baked bannock and pumpkin soup. Ku-kum’s Arctic Trio includes cured salmon, seal tartare and smoked arctic char. And that’s just a starter. There’s pheasant and squash stew and sweet grass creme brulee for dessert.

New with The Sioux Chef

In July, The Sioux Chef, an indigenous culinary group, launched a nonprofit organization called North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems. It’s a hub for indigenous culinary education, food business development and health foods advocacy. (The group is definitely worth following on social media). The Sioux Chef crew, which includes Oglala Lakota chef Sean Sherman, aims to branch out. Its goal is to help Natives in their rural and urban communities start food businesses, and strengthen connections with healthy, regional, indigenous foods. “We want to help open up small cafes for every tribal area around us and make little satellites that are connected to us,” Sherman said. “It’s kind of like a franchise model in a sense, but we’re not there for the profits. We want them to keep their own profits.” Each restaurant would be unique and have a regional-specific menu, he said. The Sioux Chef crew is making steady progress on opening their restaurant, The Sioux Chef, an Indigenous Kitchen. The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen cookbook is also ready to drop from the University of Minnesota Press.

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From the Ground

Gardens and farms are sprouting up all over rural and urban Native communities to promote health and teach people about where food comes from, as well as about culture and language. There’s also a lot of foraging going on. Folks like Linda Black Elk at Sitting Bull College and Karlos Baca with Taste of Native Cuisine are out there picking leaves, roots, shoots and flowers from the ground for healing and nourishment. They’re also educating people about how edible, delicious and valuable our environments are. It’s amazing how many people in the Native culinary scene regularly forage and gather their own ingredients. I’m starting to think all this foraging business is going to catch on everywhere. Earlier this year, I was able to visit chef Baca and try a bunch of foraged goods and watch him make some seed tarts. Most ingredients were unfamiliar to me, but they were largely native to my area and everything tasted great. It was an enlightening experience and it exposed me to what’s out there for us to eat and enjoy. It also told me how sheltered some of us are from this kind of food knowledge—our food knowledge is almost foreign.

Conversations About

Appropriation Did you know appropriation happens in the kitchen? I spoke with several indigenous chefs about how they felt about it. They’re kind of sickened by the fact that non-Natives take indigenous dishes, ingredients and ideas for their own financial gain. An easy answer would be to create more indigenous restaurants, but that’s hard to do. Systematic racism and colonialism prevent so many talented chefs—even the talented indigenous chefs I talked to about this topic—from having access to land and credit to be able to own their own restaurants. One solution is to start having conversations. Non-indigenous people should do their homework and learn from indigenous people and chefs about the food, ingredients, culture and history behind a dish. And sometimes non-indigenous chefs and culinary students reach out to our community of indigenous chefs. We should take those opportunities and teach. “We are engaging chef to chef, cook to cook, human to human, and we’re understanding each other,” said Neftali Duran, Mixteco chef from Oaxaca. “Food is one of the most beautiful languages that we all understand regardless of our background.” Duran also emphasizes how it’s also important for Native people and people of color to collaborate, break barriers and start dismantling systems of oppression.

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