The food scene in Asheville and Western North Carolina has been exploding in recent years. Menus are becoming so delectable around these parts that even the highly prestigious Zagat platform named Asheville one of the top 30 exciting food cities in America, in 2017. One of the most exciting things about the Asheville food scene is the tendency to stay true to Appalachian products and cooking traditions while merging flavors from around the globe.
Asheville, like many southern towns, has a long tradition of being homegrown and local. Through the 1980s, sourcing products from small farmers was not a trend but simply how things were.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the region has historically been secluded from many of the bustling metropolises and processed food sources. Traditions in growing and cooking in these parts were cultivated by European immigrants learning from and mixing with Cherokee methods. Being directly connected to your meal was not a novelty, but daily life itself and this culture has continued to shape Asheville food culture today.
Everywhere you look in these parts, local food is the norm and it seems almost every restaurant has an ASAP sticker on the door. The Appalachian Sustainable Food Project, a local non-profit, advocates for small farms, educates the public, runs weekly farmer’s markets, partners with restaurants and even schools to increase accessibility to fresh, sustainable meats and produce in order to strengthen the local food movement and support local farmers.
While all trends point to local, local, local, interestingly, Asheville is spearheading the concept of “global farm to table.”
What is “global farm to table” you ask? Asheville culinary entrepreneurs are connecting to small farms and food sources around the world, becoming highly invested in their environment, growing techniques, local traditions and even their families, in order to curate high quality products with heart, while linking Western North Carolina to international communities.
Black Mountain coffee roasters, Dynamite Roasting has cracked the code of how to make something like coffee, which can not be grown locally, into a “local” product. Through a long fostered relationship with their growers in Honduras, Dynamite owners visit the farm yearly and have even assisted the family in building houses on their property. In 2016, Dynamite hosted Honduran growers in Asheville, allowing the Asheville community to have a true connection to and investment in where their coffee comes from, as well as a fabulous opportunity for cultural exchange.
Other local business that have a global connection include such Asheville staples as the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, a tourist must stop, which links their chocolate sources to local communities as much as possible. Chai Pani, a delicious favorite for Indian street food, has recently started up a direct, local source for Indian spices and herbs, Spicewalla. Global flavors and sources have become so popular around these parts that local food magazine, Edible Asheville even has a dedicated page to Global Appalachia and Asheville Today has their own listing of all of the international markets in town.
Whilst Asheville has become the next craze in the food world, let us not forget the origins and food traditions of the original settlers of these parts, the Great Cherokee Nation. Many dishes that are considered “southern” food have their roots in Cherokee farming traditions. Succotash for example stems from the “three sisters” (corn, beans and squash) which the Cherokee taught European settlers to grow, who were not familiar with farming in the rocky landscape of the Appalachian mountains. It can be said that if the Cherokee were not inclusive and generous with their knowledge, the European settlers most likely would not have survived.
As winter melts away and spring is emerging, ramps, considered a delicacy, and can be seen featured on gourmet five star menus across the country, were a favorite mainstay in Cherokee cooking.
To this day, after 12,000 years, the annual Rainbows and Ramps festival is still celebrated in the Cherokee Nation every March. The festival celebrates spring’s return, signaled through the sprouting of the garlic like herb and the abundance of rainbow trout in bubbling Smoky Mountain streams, is also used as an opportunity to respect and honor elders.
Let us use this festival as a reminder at SIGA and beyond, to respect traditions, share knowledge, honor the past to ground ourselves, know who we are and where we came from, while looking towards the future and to connecting with our community both local and global, in order to achieve not just delicious, but meaningful connections.
Multiple contributors will be posting on our blog to keep you posted on the development of SIGA!