Thursday, July 21, 2011


I live in New York City, which has a huge number of wonderful museums, but from the moment I read about the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC, I knew I wanted to visit it. Laziness, busyness, who knows. I never got there until I was on my way to the capital for this year's Fancy Food Show, and I am so glad I made time for the side trip. This museum is beautiful in every detail (doors, elevators, truly every aspect of it!) so be sure to pay as much attention to the small surprises of inspiring design as to the impressive exhibits themselves.

I had read that there would be vegetarian and gluten-free food in the museum's cafeteria, called the Mitsitam Cafe (Mitsitam means "Let's Eat!" in Piscataway and Delaware languages), but I wasn't prepared for how clearly marked the ingredients are on EVERY dish. For someone who is constantly having to interrogate food providers, what a relief that was!

The cafeteria's arrangement is fun, too. There are booths for each part of the Western Hemisphere: Northern Woodlands, Great Plains, Northwest Coast, South America. I gravitated towards MesoAmerica but it was possible to grab a tray and choose from a variety of food traditions. Plenty of salmon and buffalo for meat-eaters, but as a gluten-free vegetarian, I didn't feel deprived at all, and everything was delicious. Yucca with queso fresco, summer squash with pumpkin seeds, wild rice with carrots and greens are pictured below. There's even a cookbook.
Apart from the beauty of the art and architecture, this museum trip is one I'll always remember for several reasons. I only had a couple of hours to spare for my trip there, and yet I feel I learned so much. There are short documentaries everywhere you turn. Free guided tours you can tag along with. Exhibits that by their very design pack an emotional punch that just reading would never do. One example: a wall. maybe 30 feet long and 20 feet high with all the names of all the tribes of the Western Hemisphere's native peoples forming a map of the Western Hemisphere. A powerful image of the magnitude of loss Native Americans have endured; in so many cases, only the names--as cities and towns we know well-- have survived.

I know there are many museums in Washington, but, please, make sure you don't miss this one!

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