Cafe Ohlone Gives Diners A Taste Of California’s Oldest Most Traditional Foods
Long before Europeans colonized and occupied what is today modern California, there was a land full of communities.
These communities stretched from the deserts of the south, along the coasts and beaches of present-day Los Angeles, all the way through the Central Valley and into the mountains.
Indigenous communities not only had their own unique identities, culture, and language – they also had their own foods. And one California restaurant is working to show the world this original California cuisine.
In Berkeley, Cafe Ohlone is serving only Indigenous foods common to the area.
Cafe Ohlone is named for the Ohlone tribe indigenous to Northern California’s East Bay. It’s a small backyard restaurant serving up big flavors with even bigger dreams. The cafe’s founders, Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino, have dedicated themselves to reviving the foods of the Ohlone tribe.
They’ve created a menu deeply rooted in Ohlone tradition.
Salmon, venison, acorns, amaranth, chia, yerba buena, blackberries. These are the ingredients of a culture nearly forgotten and one that Medina and Trevino are trying to revive.
This is California Cuisine long before the introduction of Spanish, British, Russian, and American influences.
The menu at Cafe Ohlone changes with the season, depending on what’s available. The duo often gathers ingredients in the East Bay hills and Carmel Valley. Though Medina said they often have to forage early in the morning or late at night.
He told BerkeleySide.com: “it’s not always comfortable, especially as a brown person, with people looking at you as a criminal for gathering your own food.”
For Medina, the push to popularize the foods of the Ohlone is a personal mission.
He is a member of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe and grew up on the very land his ancestors have always lived on. Even though he has deep roots in the East Bay, he wondered by he never saw his culture represented. Medina grew up eating foods like mole, tortillas, and chiles – foods that were imposed on his ancestors by the Spanish.
In an interview with BerkeleySide.com, Medina said: “It can be very isolating when you’re Ohlone, you don’t see tangible evidence about your culture anywhere even though you’re right in your home.”
Together they launched a guerilla food pop-up called Mak-’amham – or “Our Food” in the Chochenyo language.
Most of the ingredients have been gathered in traditional ways on their native lands. Mak-’amham holds pop-up events and offers catering services to fund monthly events where they cook for the Ohlone community
The duo is showing respect for their culture and people are here for it.
Many across the Internet couldn’t believe how little opportunity there is to try traditional Californian foods – the foods of Indigenous California tribes.
“Food is such a good way to have intercultural dialogue,” Medina told BerkeleySide.com. He added: “It’s hard to disrespect a culture when you sit down and eat their food, especially when you enjoy it and you’re around the people, when you’re having a positive experience.”
“A major misconception is we’re extinct. Our community is doing quite well today. The truth is, we also come from powerful and strong people who survived this difficulty that still exists today.”
Some on Twitter pointed out they themselves group on Native lands but never got to try the foods.
And now with the opening of Cafe Ohlone, they’ll finally be able to taste the foods of California’s original inhabitants.
The Internet is sending a huge thanks to these two leaders bringing forth the flavors and traditions of a nearly forgotten culture.
From El Centro to LA and Sacramento to Lake Tahoe, it’s about time Californians of all backgrounds get to know the history and the flavors of California’s original identity.
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