Cafe Ohlone (Berkeley, CA) – When you hear Californian cuisine, you probably thing fresh and farm to table, right? What if there was a way to try the original Californian cuisine – the food of Native Americans who were first on this land in this state? You can do that at mak-‘amham, the first Ohlone food cafe.
Although we don’t cover Native American history as much as we should, I’m glad that my public school curriculum at least taught us (really briefly) about who’s land we’re living on. If you’re in the East Bay like me, it would be the Ohlone. I’ve been on a few field trips (and separate visits) to Coyote Hills as well, also on the land that was originally their’s. So when I heard about mak-‘amham (which means “food” in the Chochenyo Ohlone language), I was really interested in being able to try Ohlone food.
mak-‘amham was started by the two co-founders, who are both Native American of different Ohlone tribes, to not only preserve their culture, but also to promote it and to use the cafe and its events as a way to promote, educate, and celebrate their culture. While they organize and participate in events throughout the Bay Area (and beyond!) for this cause, the founders were also working to create the cafe, which is located at the back of University Press Books, so you walk through the bookstore to get to the back patio.
I went to one of their first tasting events back in September, and it was really cool. The back patio is small, so we were squeezed together, but they had different cultural artifacts around, as well as some tables for seating. They did, however, say to give seating first to the elders in the room, which is something Pakistanis would do too! We found seating inside the bookstore that connects to the patio – so there was eventually room. 🙂
The tasting started off with a brief overview of the Ohlone people, where they’re from, and the food that we were about to eat. All of the food was foraged from the land, just like their ancestors used to do originally, which was so cool to hear. The food was also prepared just as it was originally, with some modern twists – like brownies!
Before serving us, the co-founders led an Ohlone prayer. I ended up getting a little bit of everything because I wanted to to get as full of an experience as possible, and because I didn’t order the smoked venison wrapped in Yerba buena + bay laurel. It sounded like it would be really good but because we got there at the beginning of the event, it was going to take an hour to smoke – which I didn’t have time to wait for, unfortunately.
This first stunning dish was a salad made of watercress and sorrel grans, with native, seasonal berries, pickle weed, hazelnuts, and toasted pine nuts. It’s almost too pretty to eat! It was actually really fresh and had a lot of flavor. It felt like a great way to get started in this meal with this refreshing salad.
To drink, they had a couple of gathered teas, made by foraging for the plants and then brewing tea out of it. They had elderberry and rose hip, and I tried the elderberry. It reminded me a little of hibiscus, where it had this floral note but it’s also tart! That’s a combo that I really enjoy.
They also served soft boiled quail eggs with walnut oil and San Francisco Bay salt. You can see the walnut oil on the table above (along with a berry sauce) . These bite sized quail eggs tasted like any other eggs, but they were pretty hard to unshell lol. I already struggle with chicken eggs! Still delicious, regardless.
Before I get to dessert, they also had an acorn soup! The soup was interesting – it was nutty where it reminded me of peanut butter or Tahini sauce (sesame paste), but it was watery and thin like a soup. It’s one of those things that I can’t quite pinpoint because I’ve never tasted something quite like it, but I really enjoyed it!
And finally, they Valley Oak acorn flour brownies! They basically tasted like regular brownies with hints of a nutty flavor in each bite. They were soft and moist just like how you would expect a brownie to be. I wish we got more than two because they were so good and tasted light yet somehow decadent at the same time!
Also, while we were at the event, there was a videographer present. I thought that maybe he was recording some promotional content for the founders, but it turns out he was shooting for a PBS TV show! I actually ended up making a (super brief) cameo – so find me if you can and learn more about mak-‘amham!
Overall, it was such a cool experience! I can’t wait to go back again for another one their event – they’ve hosted a few since then and are having another one on December 6th. Be sure to check their Twitter and Instagram regularly as the hours change for the cafe based on their availability. Be sure to make your way to xučyun (Berkeley) soon to check out Cafe Ohlone!