huyyi tiwši warép! This is how we say it’s Springtime in Chochenyo language, the first language of the East Bay. However, this phrase means something more than just the traditional name for the season; it translates to “the world has begun to flower.” We are celebrating at Cafe Ohlone.
We’ve been up regularly in the East Bay hills gathering rooreh (Indian lettuce) with and eating it in a variety of ways: with roasted bay nut truffles, dried wild strawberries, and sometimes with a simple salt crystal — a traditional bite during early Spring, told to us from archives recorded in the 1930s. It feels good to see these flavors enjoyed by our people again.
Fiddleheads, the young growth of fern, is back on the menu for a short time. Looking like a spiral, fiddleheads are delicious, crunchy, and have a great asparagus-like taste. We flash-fry fiddleheads with walnut oil, East Bay salt, and gathered bay laurel. We’re seeing Indian onions on the menu for the first time in a while, too. Our native onions are delicate and nuanced — slightly like a scallion, but with a taste that you will never forget. We sauté these and offer a bite when they are available.
On the subject of seasonal foods, our rooreh (Indian lettuce) was on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle’s food section! We are grateful for the review, written by the Chronicle’s new food critic, Soleil Ho, who recognizes that we are serving more than food at Cafe Ohlone. It is a reminder of how far we’ve come, to see Ohlone cuisine on the front page of the Chronicle’s food section — 20 years ago such a thing would’ve been unthinkable. As with any achievement, we acknowledge that we can do this work only because of those who came before us— we want to make them proud every day.
The Muwekma Ohlone Tribe celebrated our first tribal meal at Cafe Ohlone on April 12! More than 30 tribal members from several different lineages came together as we ate a traditional dinner of our delicious Ohlone foods. We worked to strengthen our language over dinner, sang in Chochenyo, and played the most competitive walnut dice tournaments we’ve ever had at Cafe Ohlone. It feels good to see our people so empowered; as we drive past Berkeley’s new “Ohlone Territory”signs and step into Cafe Ohlone, there is a feeling of healing and of hopefulness. This is decolonization in action; let’s keep this positive change moving forward.
Moving away from Berkeley, we are proud to be a part of a very special event on April 27: the First Foods Dinner, offered by the Cache Creek Conservancy as part of their educational program to help bridge cultural understanding and knowledge about California’s tribes and their histories. In addition to an amazing meal featuring ingredients such as venison and salmon prepared using traditional methods and recipes, we will be bringing traditional Native American games for dinner guests to experience. Tickets are available here.
Finally, we are proud to introduce the art that will represent mak-‘amham and Cafe Ohlone! This piece, originally designed on a pizza box, was created by Patricia Wakida (@wasabipress) — an artist and cultural activist with whom we’ve long been friends and who we respect greatly.
This piece represents our culture: the valley oak acorn is prevalent throughout the East Bay and is the most common acorn we eat nowadays. The pattern inside the acorn comes from an Ohlone basket woven generations ago that is still beloved today. The crow and the quail, two native birds, are the favorite birds of co-founders Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino (respectively) — sometimes their personalities can be like those birds too! Expect to see this logo, and the more detailed original at Cafe Ohlone, as we move forward. We express our deep gratitude to Patricia for her thoughtful work on this art and for helping our vision become a reality.
That’s it for now! ‘ammamak rooket — we will eat together soon.
— the team at Cafe Ohlone by mak-‘amham