Get Set Go: Washington DC
The National Museum of the American Indian
It is our family Thanksgiving tradition to gather at my brother’s house in Washington DC for the annual turkey throw-down. My brother and I always tag team cook the meal. Planning the menu for weeks and researching every recipe, from the home smoked turkey (or fowl of the year), to a plethora of traditional and non-traditional sides, and deserts. This year was no exception and we challenged ourselves with accompaniments such as Jalapeno Cream Corn, Foie Gras Stuffed Stuffing, Chili Glazed Carrots and yummy Lemon Curd Soufflé and Pumpkin Pecan Pie for desert. The gathering of family and friends sit-down together at the table and feast for hours – enjoying the meal and most of all… each other’s company.
The following day when most are boarding the “shopping train” for Black Friday; we opted to hop on the metro to take the kids on a historical trip to different points of interest in the DC area. This year we ventured into the heart of the city to the National Mall and found ourselves at the National Museum of the American Indian, very fitting for a post Thanksgiving adventure… it was like Thanksgiving – part two. The architecturally stunning museum is the new kid on the block of Smithsonian institutions on the Mall and features aspects of American Indian history, peoples and cuisine. The fascinating exhibits included Guns and God, Crux – recycled art installation and a seemingly never-ending catalog of arrowheads, tomahawks and pottery.
While most museums have cafes to satisfy the needs of hungry patrons, the Mitsitam Native Foods Café (who’s name means “let’s eat”) is much more the average institutional café. Authentic entrees, side dishes, snacks, desserts and beverages are all based on the varied Native culinary traditions of the Americas. The cafe offers a menu that changes seasonally for each of the five geographic regions covering the entire Western Hemisphere: Northern Woodlands, South America, Northwest Coast, Meso America and Great Plains.
The menus included items such as maple brined turkey with cranberry relish (Northern Woodlands), chicken tamale in a corn husk with peanut sauce (South America), cedar planked fire-roasted juniper salmon platter (Northwest Coast), yellow corn or soft flour tortilla tacos with carne (Meso America) and the crowd-pleasing Indian taco—buffalo chili on fried bread topped with onions, lettuce, tomato and cheese (Great Plains). The traditionally prepared dishes along with conventional items infused with Native ingredients are often bought directly from tribal companies or co-ops – think buffalo burgers with yucca fries.
Almost as exciting as the food at the Mitsitam Native Foods Café, is the specially built fire pit in the center kitchen. Visitors can watch cooking demonstrations and learn techniques to creative culinary dishes like the cedar-planked juniper salmon (pictured below). The cafe’s brightly colored interior with traditional Native patterns and wooden furnishing create the feel of a Native marketplace combined with a modern aesthetic. The dining tables overlook a water feature that runs along the entire front of the museum, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the building’s architecture.
This unique cultural and culinary adventure was even satisfying to my A.D.D. taste buds and was a delicious finale to my Thanksgiving holiday. I highly recommend the exceptional experience of visiting the National Museum of the American Indian when in DC for a “taste” of our continents past that truly embodies the spirit of our nation.