The opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC marks a very important moment in African American history. To finally have a nationally recognized mecca of African American history, culture, and events right on the National Mall is an indescribable feeling.
The museum opened on September 24th and has had thousands of visitors since then. Admission is free, but it is necessary to reserve time passes so the museum doesn't accept too many visitors. Passes are currently sold out for this year. The next set of time passes released were for January through March last Wednesday and January is already sold out.
I was lucky enough to go last weekend and experience it all. The food portion of the museum seeks to exhibit rich African American history by serving authentic African American food. Here's the lowdown on what was offered in the cafeteria
The Creole Coast
This menu is definitely representative of the coastal Southern states. Fishing was a major method of commerce in places like New Orleans and definitely still is. In my opinion, this menu was the most interesting, because of the two seafood dishes, bringing the authentic taste of the South to our nation's capital.
The Agricultural South
This menu is more representative of how the South was also such a big agricultural region with so much land to cultivate. There was never a shortage of meat or grains, which happen to be two of my favorite food groups, and they were appropriately represented on this menu.
The Western Range
This menu has the most unique flavors. According to the museum's website, the flavors were inspired by Mexican and Native American culture because many black people moved out West in order to seek new opportunities. When I go back, I'm definitely ordering from this menu.
The North States
This menu is definitely representative of the states that made up the thirteen colonies, since they traded with islands in the West Indies and several of these items can be found in Caribbean restaurants. This menu is also a testament to how diverse African American cuisine is and how it has been shaped by history, even though the history has been unpleasant.
If I had it my way, I would have picked one thing from each menu and been in heaven. However, in the interest of money and health, I knew I had to select one menu and one meal. I decided to go with the good ol' Agricultural South, because I can never resist fried chicken. My dinner was complete with mac and cheese, collard greens, fried chicken, and cornbread. It was nothing short of amazing.
My friend Taylor decided to be a little more ambitious than me and try food from both the Agricultural South and the Creole Coast, because it was her cheat day. She had fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread from the Agricultural South and duck, andouille, and crawfish gumbo from the Creole Coast.
She also had sweet potato pie from the dessert tray—talk about cheat day goals, am I right? As we were eating, I couldn't help but notice how beautiful the cafe sitting area was. It was a very large and open space. The walls had mirrors and mini exhibits dedicated to different quotes and pictures about African American cuisine.
The cafe had tons of historic quotes and pictures laid out against the walls. I think the quote above was the most important. It is from a poem called "I, Too" by Langston Hughes. As a black man, America did not see him as being worthy of a seat at the dinner table. However, he did not care. He still ate on his own and took care of himself. This is a very important value for black people, because, unfortunately. we are not always taken care of.In my opinion, the cafe truly brings the museum experience together. In the museum, there is no set route, meaning you do not have to follow a certain pathway and you can start or end at any of the exhibits. In the interest of time, since the cafe was closing soon, I started there and worked my way around the museum. However, if you have the chance, you should definitely end at the cafe. Many of the quotes in the dining area apply to a lot of the exhibits. Being able to witness the different cuisines of African American culture also intersects with the different historical experiences of African Americans illustrated in the museum.
I would also say that while going to the cafe is not the most important part of the visit, you should definitely try to go. To see the foods that we eat with our families and friends laid out in a way that analyzes their geographical history was just so fascinating.
What I Took Away From the Visit
In a lot of ways, this museum and the acknowledgement of our culture on such a large scale is a seat at the table for us that has been long overdue. As a young black woman, going to the museum was such a surreal experience. I felt pride, sadness, curiosity, anger, and joy all in the course of three hours. If you haven't reserved your time pass yet, make sure you do soon.
Of course, food was definitely not the most important part of the museum. There were also sections on history, sports, current pop culture, religion, politics, and almost anything you could think of. However, food is one of the biggest parts of a culture. The curation of such a large part of our culture within the museum was amazing to me.