Sunday, June 24, 2007

National Museum of the American Indian - Guest Review

Brother Bison, Sister Corn


by Mihnea Nemes

It is a fine spring day in America. People from across the nation walk this long dusty path lined with blooming trees and bushes, stopping to admire the sights, looking at each other with furtive curiosity, pausing to smell the perfume of flowers. After the Grand Canyon, this is my favorite power place in North America. We walk past a slow-flowing creek, in which you see the essence of the mighty Colorado. Further downstream, these calm waters drop suddenly in a circular pit, and this reminds me of Niagara. We look up and see stone in undulating waves, lit by the hard, mid-day sun, and we could be in New Mexico. People line up to go inside this giant adobe dwelling.

It is noon in Washington, D.C., and this is the line to the National Museum of the American Indian. Many of the knowing individuals lining up at the entrance are already salivating in anticipation for lunch in the museum café.

There aren’t many places to eat on the National Mall. In fact, I believe that from the Lincoln Monument to the Capitol Building, “Mitsitam”, which in the Delaware and Piscataway languages means “Let’s Eat”, is a singular opportunity to enjoy healthy, nourishing, and good-tasting foods. In their native intelligence, the original people of America were also the original gourmet chefs.

Once in the café, despite our hunger, we can’t rush to a decision. We have to stop at each food counter and weigh the options. Having to decide what to get is in fact the worst part of eating here. Should we eat from South America, Mezzoamerica, The Northern Woodlands, The Great Plains, or the Northwest Coast? Each food counter features traditional and contemporary dishes, made with ingredients specific to the region. The only exception, perhaps, would be the mango in the Blue Corn Mango Salad of the Northwest Coast.

In the end, we decided on the Blue Corn Mango Salad (crunchy!), the Fiddle Fern Salsify Salad with fennel (fragrant!), the Anasazi and Canelli Bean and Fried Squash Blossom Soup (hearty!), the Squash Bulb and Mushroom Salad (earthy!) and the Indian Fry Bread with cinnamon and honey (sweet!). We accompanied all these wonderful creations with a glass of Guanabana (Soursop) juice. This light but filling lunch cost two persons 21 bucks.

This kitchen can satisfy any appetite, big or small, vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian or carnivore. From the Great Plains, you can have buffalo burgers and buffalo fry bread; from Mezzo America, pork, chicken and beef hard-shell tacos; From the Northwest, grilled salmon and tilapia, baked oysters and crab cakes. For a Thanksgiving feast in the middle of spring, try the roasted turkey, baked potatoes and cranberry wild-rice salad. For deserts, you can indulge in the Plantain Tamales with vanilla sauce, one of the various fruit tarts, or simply a Mayan Hot Chocolate with chili peppers.

One of the added bonuses of the cafeteria-style eating is that, once we are full and satisfied, we don’t need to worry about the bill or the tip. We linger a few more minutes with our guanabana drink, looking through the glass wall at the peaceful flow of water outside.

Before we return to the dusty path on the mall, we remain in this Native American microcosm for an hour more, to explore the exhibits and learn about the native’s rich past, and a present pulsating with life, stronger than ever.

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