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Native Foods of the Southwest


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Native Foods of the Southwest

Tohono Rat | Aug 9, 2009 02:14 PM

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of Native American cooking and cuisine. This is the original cuisine of the Southwest (and other regions of America too!) and is making a strong comeback. Here are a few highlights of opportunities to try some of the unique cuisine of southwester Native peoples.

In April 2009, Desert Rain Café opened in Sells, AZ (the capital of the Tohono O'odham Nation. The café features the traditional foods of the Tohono O'odham - People of the Desert - prepared in both traditional and contemporary ways. Tepary beans, cholla cactus buds, mesquite flour, agave syrup and other traditional foods are the heart of the menu. It is located about an hour from Tucson. The menu can be viewed at (Full disclosure: I work for TOCA, the non-profit organization that runs the café. For more information on Tohono O'odham foods, visit

One of Arizona's few (two maybe?) Mobile 5 Diamond restaurants – Kai Restaurant – focuses on Native American foods and cuisine. "Kai, meaning 'seed' in the Pima language, features a menu rich in creativity, history and Native American culture. Executive Chef Michael O'Dowd incorporates the essence of the Pima and Maricopa tribes and locally farmed ingredients from the Gila River Indian Community to create unforgettable masterpieces. James Beard Award-winning Chef Janos Wilder is consulting chef for Kai and is renowned for creating unique and indigenous menu experiences." Their dedication to utilizing traditional, Native-American ingredients in innovative ways can lead to a remarkable dining experience. For inforrmation:

The Ventana Room in Tucson (also 5 Diamonds) has introduced a Desert Tasting Menu. "From the desert fields of the Tribe to the Ventana Room’s fine dining tables, the Tohono O’odham take pride in serving its crops at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson. Painstakingly hand harvested before being infused into traditional French haute cuisine, the Tohono O’odham provide the enchanting flavors of the southwest to diners in a AAA Five Diamond award-winning restaurant." Visit:

For the past several years, TOCA has sponsored the annual Taste of Native Foods fundraising dinner. This event -- held at both Kai and the Ventana Room – brings together six to eight of the top Native American chefs for a multi-course exploration of the indigenous foods of the Americas. An article about the 2009 event can be read at:

There is also the annual Celebration of Basketry & Native Foods Festival which takes place at the Tohono O'odham Nation Museum and Cultural Center in the Spring. It features cooking demonstrations by both traditional Native cooks (e.g., Hopi piki bread) and top Native chefs.

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