Eat indigenous cuisine at these 10 restaurants

Lifestyle

As travelers became more invested in connecting to a destination, immersive opportunities to embrace an explicit sense of place have emerged – particularly within the culinary verticals. Trends like farm-to-table, dock-to dish and chef’s tasting menus often showcase local, fresh ingredients.

However, it is indigenous cuisine that’s now on the rise, providing restaurants the opportunity to not only connect their diners to the land, but also to educate on a destination’s distinct culture and history.

Restaurants, hotels and curated experiences have been popping up internationally, giving travelers the opportunity to savor native ingredients, appearing in cocktails, appetizers and full-blown tasting menus.

From Peru, a country with the highest number of indigenous peoples, to Australia, where the world’s oldest Aboriginal tribe still lives, these are 10 restaurants highlighting indigenous and native ingredients around the world.

Wildflower | Perth, Australia

Wildflower's nightly canapesWildflower’s nightly canapes — Photo courtesy of COMO Hotels and Resorts

Paying homage to the oldest indigenous tribe in the world, Wildflower (located in COMO The Treasury), serves a five-course menu inspired by the six seasons of the Noongar calendar: Birak, Bunuru, Djeran, Makuru, Djilba and Kambarang.

“We tie the six seasons and the menu together by utilizing ingredients available in these short two-month seasons,” says head chef Matthew Sartori. “Using things like muntrie berries in January to February, lilly pillies in March to April, Geraldton waxflowers over the colder months as well as pearl meat.”

Chef Sartori grew up six hours east of Perth in a mining town heavily influenced by the culture of the surrounding indigenous communities, which he recognizes as an inspiration in both his personal and professional upbringing. Wildflower’s concept showcases indigenous culture by bringing awareness to their historic beliefs, as well as their commitment to live off nature.

Ku-Kum Kitchen | Toronto

Ku-Kum's smoked Arctic char, beet and maple cured salmon, and seal loin tartareKu-Kum’s smoked Arctic char, beet and maple cured salmon, and seal loin tartare — Photo courtesy of Ku-Kum Restaurant

Celebrating Canada’s indigenous heritage, executive chef Joseph Shawana brings his experience of foraging and growing up on the Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve to Ku-Kum. The menu changes with the season, but expect to find wild game and pine needle sorbet on the menu at any given time.

“I use spruce tip, infused in maple water; the spruce tips have a pine citrus taste while the maple water gives it a sweet note,” says chef Shawana. The pine citrus is just one of the ingredients Shawana discovered during his childhood on the reserve, with other “treats of nature” including wild mushrooms, herbs and a purple root.

At a young age, Shawana recognized the importance of eating every part of a food source, which resulted in his “whole-ingredient” philosophy. “Indigenous cuisine is more about our traditional knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation,” he says. “Our food is tied into our ceremonies. Each ceremony is followed by a feast that is harvested off the land in that particular season.”

Note: Ku-Kum Kitchen is currently in the process of relocating to a larger space and is temporarily closed.

Reserva Conchal | Guanacaste, Costa Rica

The Nahua cocktail at W Costa Rica's WET DeckThe Nahua cocktail at W Costa Rica’s WET Deck — Photo courtesy of W Costa Rica

At the WET Deck, W Costa Rica, mixologists pay tribute to the indigenous culture with their Nahua cocktail. The Mesoamerican tribe of Nahua was comprised of nomads from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua who settled in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

At that time, Guanacaste was famed for their forest fruit, especially blackberries, which the Nahua quickly integrated as a staple in their diet. Since the W Costa Rica is located in Guanacaste, they decided to connect the location to its roots by showcasing a Nahua cocktail. It combines the different favorite ingredients of the various nationalities within the Nahua tribe to create a Flor de Caña (Nicaraguan rum) and blackberry long drink.

Loosely based off the Nahua traditional drink, chicha (blackberry mixed with purple corn), the mixologists chose to add a modern touch to the cocktail, by adding pineapple, which is now the most prevalent fruit in the Guanacaste region.

Hiakai | Wellington, New Zealand

Kawakawa berry broth, pipis and young kawakawa leavesKawakawa berry broth, pipis and young kawakawa leaves — Photo courtesy of Hiakai

Meaning “hungry” or “having a desire, need, craving for food,” Hiakai is a Māori word brought to life at chef Monique Fiso’s restaurant. The young Wellington chef began Hiakai as a pop-up to teach traditional cooking techniques from her Māori upbringing, in an effort to keep Māori culture thriving in all corners of New Zealand.

The restaurant describes Māori as “great innovators of food and land, developing their own style of earth cookery (hāngi) and successfully adapting plants and vegetables brought with them for Hawaiki to the much colder environment of Aotearoa.” Though chef Fiso doesn’t practice this hāngi technique (smoking meat underground with a mixture of root vegetables), she highlights indigenous ingredients in a modern way on her six-, eight- and ten-course tasting menus.

The ingredients are so unique that chef Fiso created a glossary at the back of the menu to further expand on the native ingredient highlighted in any specific dish. Though the menu is constantly changing, you may find the likes of kina (sea urchin), tatara (lemonwood) and kūmara gnocchi on any given menu.

Perroquet | Lima, Peru

Lomo saltadoLomo saltado — Photo courtesy of Country Club Lima Hotel

Located in the Country Club Lima Hotel, Perroquet is named for the parrots that frequent this part of the San Isidro neighborhood in Lima. Chef Jacinto Sanchez is a self-taught, Peruvian innovator, using his background to create a menu steeped in Peruvian culture, while also adding a modern flair to classical dishes.

One of the most popular dishes he serves is lomo saltado, a stir-fry mix of marinated sirloin, onions, tomatoes, chili peppers and french fries, all served over rice. The dish is one of the most popular in both historic and modern Peru, representative of Peruvian creole as well as the country’s Chinese population.

At Perroquet, 3,700 dishes of lomo saltado are served each year. Other popular items include ceviche and the traditional Peruvian pisco sour, a cocktail served with egg whites and pisco made in the southern valleys of Lima.

Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine | Scottsdale, Ariz.

Salmon served with a creamed corn sauce — Photo courtesy of Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine

In Scottsdale, chef Brett Vibber heads a foraging team to create his renowned tasting menu at Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine.

Though the restaurant offers an a la carte option, featuring seafood-forward dishes like Mt. Lassen trout, chef Vibber says the best way to understand the restaurant’s philosophy and connection to foraging is through his tasting menu. “We develop our tasting menu based upon what nature is providing,” says Vibber. “Our culinary team journals extensively and records where we have foraged each year and how much of each ingredient we have gathered.”

These ingredients include the saguaro fruit, prickly pear, cholla buds, morels and Navajo corn, the latest ingredient that chef Vibber says ties the indigenous culture to his menu. “Because we don’t utilize any greenhouse-powered farms, all of our corn from the previous harvest is preserved through smoking and steaming, and later reconstituted as a cream served alongside our trout and salmon.”

Cafe Ohlone by mak-‘amham | Berkeley, Calif.

Cafe Ohlone's hazelnut flour mushroom cakesCafe Ohlone’s hazelnut flour mushroom cakes — Photo courtesy of Cafe Ohlone

At Cafe Ohlone by mak-’amham, it’s all about the Ohlone influence; the Native American tribe occupied the Northern California coast until the late 18th century. Today, cofounders Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino revive Ohlone cuisine in a way that appeals to the modern diner, but also would be familiar to their ancestors.

“We often make new dishes using only traditional ingredients as a way to celebrate our living identity, and with any living culture, new dishes are created over time,” Medina and Trevino share. “Our hazelnut flour mushrooms cakes represent a dish of contemporary Ohlone culture, composed of all ingredients we know our ancestors would recognize.”

The duo also frequently highlight oak acorns on the menu; as they say, “no Ohlone meal is proper without having acorn in some fashion. Acorn is our staple food that has long sustained our ancestors.” It appears in the form of šetnen, old-style acorn bread with a crunchy crust and jelly filling, a recipe passed onto Cafe Ohlone from a 1930’s ethnographic note.

Costa Palmas Beach & Yacht Club| Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Huitlacoche gorditasHuitlacoche gorditas — Photo courtesy of Beach Club, Costa Palmas

Embodying Baja soul and Mexican cuisine from the pre-Hispanic period, the Club’s executive chef, Gonzalo Cerda, serves up dishes highlighting indigenous ingredients, like huitlacoche gorditas and nopal tacos.

Huitlacoche is a type of fungus (which is why it’s sometimes called corn mushroom or Mexican truffle) that only grows on organic corn. Chef Cerda uses the pungent flavor in a filling for traditional gorditas, a Mexican pastry, combining the huitlacoche with yellow corn and onion, then topping it with cilantro, avocado and asadero cheese.

The nopal taco puts the spotlight on the nopal, pads of the local Opuntia cactus, by mixing it with beans, pumpkin flower, Cotija cheese, avocado puree, cilantro, chili and sour cream.

Ultima | Helsinki, Finland

Ultima's living wall of homegrown produceUltima’s living wall of homegrown produce — Photo courtesy of Ultima Restaurant

“Nordic food means to me clarity in flavors, simplicity in form and cleanliness in the produce,” says Ultima’s head chef, Tommi Tuominen. “Nordic food is a product of remote location, harsh environment and adamant, quality-driven people.”

Tuominen represents Finnish cuisine by creating dishes from 90 percent Finnish ingredients, a majority of these ingredients grown in the restaurant at the heart of Helsinki. Dishes like aeroponic potatoes, which are grown in-house, as well as grilled lupine with Finnish caviar, are quintessential to Finland’s availability of fresh ingredients and representative of the country’s reliance on nature.

“You could say that we are kind of trying to bring the forests and fields into the restaurant,” says Tuominen.

Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort | Tangalle, Sri Lanka

A visit to a local market during a Spice Spoons excursionA visit to a local market during a Spice Spoons excursion — Photo courtesy of Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort

Tangalle tantalizes with its immersion into Sri Lanka’s countryside. The property curates various culinary experiences to introduce guests to the regional culinary traditions, including visits to the local markets, Spice Spoons cooking classes, tea farm visits, rice growing and most exclusively, the Harvest Table experience.

These are concepts meant to educate guests on the importance of ingredients like rice and tea in not only the local farmer’s daily diet, but also in farming throughout Sri Lankan history. Guests will also learn how it’s developed into sustainable patterns for future generations.

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