Indigenous cuisine on the menu at the National Museum of the American Indian
September 30th, 2011
09:10 AM ET
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Along the museum-flanked National Mall in Washington, D.C., food choices are limited but one of the newer Smithsonian attractions has set out to offer its visitors a unique and healthy dining experience. Inside the National Museum of the American Indian there’s a café where patrons can experience a taste of native indigenous cuisine from the western hemisphere. Mitsitam Café serves up a fusion of traditional, natural ingredients in a new-world style.

Patrons can choose from an extensive food list, including salmon roasted on a cedar plank, snapping turtle soup, tree honey white rice, beef tongue tacos and buffalo chili on fry bread.

Executive chef, Richard Hetzler, believes the exotic array of food is a refreshing change from average museum fare. "People want this in a museum, it’s not an anomaly. People come in and say we want good food, we want to try new ingredients and try new dishes we wouldn’t necessarily think we could get at a café," he says.

Hetzler further points out that the café provides incredibly healthy offerings, with no artificial sweeteners and nutrient-rich ingredients like fresh root vegetables and quinoa, a grain-like crop related to spinach and beets. As an added bonus, the café carries vegetarian and gluten-free dishes.

Upon entering the café, which is situated along the museum’s many curved walls, the diner will find five food stations representing different regions of the Western hemisphere: South America, Meso America, The Great Plains, The North Woodlands and The Northwest Coast. A brief observation of café visitors showed reactions to the menu ranging from mere curiosity to eager anticipation.

The museum’s limestone exterior and tranquil setting lured in Christine Platt, a visitor from South Africa. Speaking to the buildings exterior, Platt says, “It absolutely did set the mood for eating. It’s a case where coming in here, I think, with fairly high expectations of having something that was different, not run of the mill and something that was far more in harmony and in balance with nature and our needs as human beings as opposed to quick fast food, rubbish, junk, whatever we sometimes normally eat.”

Hetzler says he’s always a little nervous when adding new and unfamiliar items to the seasonal menu but so far people have proven to be willing and adventurous eaters. In the Delaware and Piscataway language, Mitsitam means, "lets eat." Since the museum opened in 2004, tourists seem to be doing just that.

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Filed under: America • Bite • Cuisines • Native American • Travel • Video • Washington D.C.

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Art

    Foods are very expensive, little serving, and taste is not woth it. I recommend do not eat here. This is a disgrace to the Indians

    April 3, 2014 at 12:15 pm |
  2. Debbie2008

    This museum is located beside the Nat'l Air & Space Museum. So, go to the space museum early (& don't forget to buy IMAX tickets that usually sell out early, have lunch at the Native American museum, then return to the space museum for the IMAX movie.

    October 1, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  3. Andre

    This is a good place to get good food on the mall. But where is the +1 button on this website?

    October 1, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  4. Patrick

    We went to NMAI on daughters DC school trip, just more PC BS! Oh, really fry bread, and when did the native american begin to farm high gluten winter wheat? You missed the silo's beside the teepees in the old photos, me too. Their milling and bleaching of white flour, another proud moment that happened to this day. A heritage cafe with a menu based in delusion. I cook with soy sauce and tofu, guess it is now irish.

    September 30, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • John

      It is about representing native American foods, fry bread is a part of native history no matter how people think of it. It is a part of there culture and history. The cafe is not ment to be authentic native recipes but recipes that use indigenous ingredients from the areas represented.

      October 1, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  5. Denise

    This week was my first visit to the NMAI. Amazing! The quality, variety, and ingenuity of the food at the Mitsitam Cafe was fabulous. I will be back!

    September 30, 2011 at 5:17 pm |

    I had Indian tacos – yummy :-9 went to a Pow – Wow in Rockford , Illinois . It was Awesome !!! David Penfound is a Wonderful Artist !!!! Look up his Art :-D

    September 30, 2011 at 9:14 am |
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