Cafe Ohlone: New Berkeley Eatery Shares Indigenous Cuisine

The Ohlone are indigenous to what today is the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the Spanish arrived, before California was Mexico, and way before tech got its hold on the region, they were the original San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley (and beyond) natives. Today, Vincent Medina (Chochenyo Ohlone) and Louis Trevino (Rumsen Ohlone) are celebrating — and sharing — the food of their people at the new Cafe Ohlone by mak-‘amham, in Berkeley (at University Press Books/Musical Offering, 2430 Bancroft Way).

In the Chochenyo Ohlone language, mak-‘amham means “our food.” It is also the name of the organization under which Medina and Trevino “work to revive and strengthen traditional Ohlone foods for the wellness of [their] people.” Their work serves to honor their ancestors, while giving visibility to the Ohlone community that still exists in the Bay Area today.

Cafe Ohlone’s menu features food that the Ohlone have been eating for thousands of years. According to an interview that the duo had with Bon Appetit, this is not the type of food, however, to which Vincent and Louis (nor their parents) had access. Local resources such as acorns, made into a bisque, served with wildflower honey and walnut milk. Sookote (bay laurel) crispy duck breast, served with wild strawberry and bay laurel, blackberry and yerba buena (the original name of San Francisco), laurel-infused mushrooms, toasted pine nuts, and popped amaranth. Hazelnut flour biscuits. Chia pudding for a sweet course, and a hummingbird sage tea, or some elderberry cider to drink. These are just some of the options on the varied culinary list, which changes according to the seasonality of Ohlone foods.

Currently, Cafe Ohlone is open for weekly lunchtime tastings, biweekly dinners, and tawwa-sii Tuesdays, a regular evening tea hour. You can visit their Twitter to see the latest offerings and business hours, as well as on their site (where you’ll also learn a lot of Ohlone words!).

No matter how often Cafe Ohlone is open, however, every moment is a moment long overdue for celebrating and sharing Ohlone food and culture with the rest of the world — a world who wrongfully and ignorantly assumes that American Indian peoples and cultures are a thing that only exists in (some) history books. This is part of a larger movement, one of decolonization, and the journey back to one’s indigenous roots. As part of their values and vision, mak-‘amham states: “We envision a full revival of Ohlone Indian food traditions as a part of the larger, ongoing cultural restoration that empowers Ohlone people to decolonize ourselves of layers of forcibly imposed identity and return to an identity that is aligned with that of our ancestors.”

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