#STEPSmithsonian: Food For Thought

Next up in his recap of the Smithsonian trip to DC, Mohammed Rahman talks all things food – including biscuits, but not as we know them. Here’s what he has to say…

So much has happened this week and a bit, that writing this post feels like digesting a Popeye’s boxmeal, calorie by calorie. The weekend has been welcome to sit with this knowledge-food baby and reflect.

I liked the formula of my last blog posts so we’ll roll with that (find part 1 here and part 2 here). On this week’s blog, I’ll give you my impressions of D.C. (pronounced: FOOD) and then two lessons learnt from my observations on the STEP into the Smithsonian programme.

MZR - food blog 1.pngWe’re slap-bang in the middle of D.C. We walk past the Capitol Building every day and let me tell you, I’ve never seen so many suited adults on scooters in my life.

D.C.’s layout is way more spaced out than London’s, but people walk at half the pace. D.C. is also much greener, with a potpourri of well-tended gardens lining the sidewalks, giving an unexpected air of suburbia. Maybe not so surprising, considering how it’s built on former swampland.

Given that our visit coincides with National Police Week and Memorial Day, the police and military presence has been especially visible. It’s been a huge culture shock to see so many guns! Museums also have much heavier security than the UK, with the constant frisking proving a real downer at times.

Food here, though expensive, bangs. We were particularly impressed by the Sweet Home Cafe at the NMAAHC. Serving regional specialities of African-American cuisine, including gingery candied yams, crisp battered catfish, buttermilk fried chicken, cornbread and collard greens, the Sweet Home Cafe churns out food made with love. Given the herculean task of making the phrase ‘museum canteen’ sexy, the Sweet Home Cafe COMES THRU.

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In an age of Instagram food-porn and great television like Chef’s TableThe Great British Bake Off, and Ugly Deliciousfood traditions are finally getting their due in the public sphere. This trend has also been echoed in cliquier spheres including academia, with the growth of food ethnography, and in DIY subcultures among the zinemaking community. When I mentioned in my pre-departure posts, how lates are a great strategy to revive the museum, the NMAAHC gets the memo and goes one step further, immersing its visitors in a bittersweet history through their stomachs. Not only does this revivify a museum as a community space, but it also throws in the notion of eating as an act of remembering, as a vehicle for traversing non-linear time. Hot sauce obviously provided.

Another gem we discovered was Hot N Juicy Crawfish, a southern-inspired seafood spot by Woodley Park Zoo/ Adams Morgan Station Metro. These guys don’t play and do hot seafood by the bucket; bibs, gloves and table lining included!

Day 8 Lunch at Hot N Juicy Crawfish.jpg

Biscuits were also a revelation. On one of our breaks we hit Church’s Chicken at L’Enfant Plaza. While the chicken itself fell short of Bossman’s back home, the soft, glazed fluff of the biscuits came through. The cognitive dissonance between calling them ‘biscuits’, expecting something crispy and then biting into buttery cake-like softness is a madting.

Leaving D.C., my dreams on the return flight will likely be a sad deluge of Guy Fieri memes

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You can find Mohammed’s work on Instagram: @m.z.r.art

Photography and illustrations by Mohammed Rahman

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