Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook

Thursday, 04 November 2010 / Published in Cookbooks, Studio Shooting

“‘Mitsitam’ means ‘Let’s eat!’ in the Native language of the Delaware and Piscataway peoples,” according the website of the amazing Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. Last year I shot their beautful food for this newly released cookbook.

Anyone who has eaten in museum cafes (sometimes OK, sometimes really bad!), will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of food at Mitsitam Cafe. They have a remarkable concept and menu of indigeneous, regional Native American foods. All selections there are inspired by Native foodways, and many offerings are very authentic. The dish above is a Fiddlehead Fern Salad, featured on the cover.

This dish above is Tortilla Soup.

The mission of the Mitsitam Cafe (and a discussion of other Native American cuisine trends) is the topic of this Atlantic magazine article, “Fry Bread Nation: The Birth of a ‘Native’ Cuisine,” by Kate Robbins:

“…the organizers divided the Mitsitam Native Foods Café into five geographic stations, representing each region with a separate menu.

“There were not a lot of native cookbooks out there,” says Richard Hetzler, the café’s executive chef [and author of the Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook]. “So we started taking a different approach—looking at life ways. Were they foragers? Were they nomadic people? What would have been available?”

To develop the menus, Hetzler and his team took indigenous ingredients and the few recipes they could find and updated them. “A great example is the maple-brined turkey,” Hetzler says. “We know that Native Americans cured items in salt, so essentially they were doing a brine, infusing the flavor, adding moisture,” he explains. “They definitely had turkey. They had maple syrup. It works for us.”

Mitsitam Cafe actually has a downloadable PDF take-out  menu for Thanksgiving dinner, including a whole “Free Range Turkey Brined For 3 Days in Maple, Slow Roasted with Maple Butter, Served with Cranberry Marmalade.” Also on the menu: “Stuffed Venison: All Natural Venison Leg Stuffed with Dried Cranberries, Blue Berries and Cherries, Spicebush Red Wine Reduction.” Wow. I can see how cooks might be tempted to forsake their own ovens for Mitsitam takeout!

You can now order the Mitsitam Cookbook from the museum shop, or pick it up at the Museum, after you have a fantastic meal in this unique museum Cafe. Warning: Mitsitam Cafe has a great reputation and it can be very busy! (It has even gotten positive critical reviews, which is unusual for any museum foodservice operation, andit is a destination in itself.) But the food is worth the wait, and it is a beautiful space to relax in while taking a break from touring the intense wealth of exhibits in the museum.