The indigenous cuisines of the United States could be ready to claim their rightful place in today's food culture.
Although it’s easy to sample the cuisines of Ethiopia or Vietnam in most major US cities, Native American restaurants are practically nonexistent. However, with the rise of locavore movements and interest in pre-industrial foods from the likes of the paleo crowd, the indigenous cuisines of the United States could be ready to claim their rightful place in today’s food culture.
Sean Sherman, who traces his heritage to the Oglala Lakota Sioux and grew up on a South Dakota reservation, is spearheading a Native American culinary revival in Minneapolis. His catering business The Sioux Chef opened in 2014, specializing in “pre-contact, pre-reservation” foods. A typical meal might include locally caught, pan-fried walleye breaded in ground cracked corn and amaranth, with wild rice and a berry sauce. Sherman is now introducing a food truck, Tatanka, that will serve healthy “indigenous tacos” made from steamed cornmeal.
Sherman isn’t the only innovator reimagining native cuisine. In May 2015, Munchies reported on Nani, an Oklahoma City supper club that serves 14- to 18-course tasting menus based on a Native American–Japanese fusion concept.
Native American restaurants aren’t entirely new to cities—for example, Silverbird on New York’s Upper West Side gained a following in the 1980s. But today’s focus on healthy cuisine is new. With diabetes and obesity rates exploding across the United States, the country is experiencing a health crisis similar to what happened when processed foods were introduced into native communities decades ago. As they look to the past for answers, native chefs, Brooklyn locavores, and paleo cavemen may have more in common than they realize.
Image credit: Munchies