My partner and I recently spent a long weekend in the Twin Cities in Minnesota – a fantastic destination for anyone who enjoys eating lots of good food. One of the highlights of our trip was a lunch at Owamni by the Sioux Chef, which is a restaurant that serves indigenous North American cuisine, primarily from the Great Plains and Great Lakes region (the ancestral lands of the Dakhota, Anishinaabe, Ho-Chunk, and others). The head chef, Sean Sherman, is one of the leaders of a decolonial food movement that seeks to renew an indigenous ingredient-based food paradigm in North America. Owamni is named for St. Anthony Falls, which is called Owamni by the Dakhota people indigenous to the region.
Owamni is one of the few full-service indigenous restaurants in the United States. The menu centers indigenous ingredients like maize, wild rice (manoomin), sunchokes, and tubers. It also does not include wheat, dairy, soy, pork, or cane sugar – which were introduced through colonization. This exclusion is important for this movement – and though it contrasts with the approach of some other indigenous food activists, this focus in many ways liberates Sherman to explore some fantastic possibilities. The menu at Owamni showcases these wonders.
After lunch, I reflected on how little we discuss indigenous food in the American Jewish community. Most American Jews are White, and there is not much reflection on the way that we still buy into colonial ways of farming, eating, and cooking. I think this lack of investment partly reflects how White American Jews have, unconsciously, bought into the food system as it is.
When I have brought up indigenous cooking to some Jewish friends in the past, kashrut has been brought up as a concern. Yes, kashrut should be an option for those who choose to keep kosher. But I think here kashrut also covers the discomfort of discussing indigenous affairs – and the fact that most American Jews are not indigenous. Kashrut, as my friend Michael has written here before, is only a barrier if you let it be. I think we can cook more with indigenous food, support indigenous food systems – and eat some delicious things in the process. I certainly plan on looking more into Piscataway and Lenape food traditions back home in Maryland.
Now, for the lunch itself. David (my partner) and I chose to eat a mostly vegetarian meal, because those are the dishes that jumped out to us on the menu. We had several shared plates and one each of a small plate. Everything was delicious, and the beans and sweet potatoes ranked among the best things we have ever eaten. If you have the chance to go to Owamni, do so – and keep in mind that you will need to reserve in advance.
Owamni by the Sioux Chef is at 20 1st St S, Minneapolis, MN. It is wheelchair accessible and close to several transit options. Reservations open 60 days in advance.
Sean Sherman, the head chef, also has a cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Cookbook. I greatly recommend it. The link takes you to Birchbark Books, which is the United States’ only indigenous-owned bookstore. Order from them if you can – and if life takes you to the Twin Cities, the bookstore itself is a real treat.