Tag Archives: Indian

Getaway to Tangier Island: Crabs, History, and the Mighty Chesapeake

Our region is in large part defined by the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Although we in D.C. live a bit inland from the Bay itself, we still benefit from its bounty, such as blue crab feasts, seafood at the Maine Avenue Fish Market, and excursions along the shore.

But while you live in the area, it’s worth getting a total immersion into the richness and culture of the Chesapeake Bay.  To do so, take a weekend and head down to Tangier Island, located 12 miles into the middle of the Bay.  In order to get to Tangier, you must take a 1.5 hour ferry ride from either Reedville, VA or Crisfield, MD (each about 3 hours away from D.C.).  While there are day trips to the island, that option gives you only about two hours until the ferry turns around and comes back, so I’d highly recommend spending at least one night to really get a feel for the place.

photo

The island is comprised of about a thousand acres, only about a hundred of which are actually inhabited (the rest being marsh).  About 500 people live on Tangier, and since no cars are allowed bikes and golf carts are the main forms of transportation.

Tangier has an important place in American history.  Pocomoke Indians inhabited the island for many years before Europeans including John Smith arrived.  It is also historically significant because it served as the staging ground for British troops during the War of 1812.  And interestingly, to this day, residents speak in a dialect that linguists believe is very similar to the English that European settlers spoke when they first arrived in America.

photo-2

The best part of Tangier Island is the crabs and observing the economy and culture that has been built up around them.  According to locals, about 75 percent of our country’s soft shell crabs (those that have just molted out of their old shells and are soft and squishy all over) come from the area every year, and it also provides a significant amount of hard crabs, oysters, and even eels that are sold to markets in New York and other places around the country.  Because the economy is built around the crabbing, it has a feeling very similar to a New England fishing or lobster town, with little changed over the last century.

crabs

One of the must-do activities during your visit is to take a tour of a “crab shanty,” the structures on the water around the edge of the island where watermen tend to and harvest soft shell crabs.  Because the crabs harden again within a few hours of molting, the watermen must immediately ready them for packaging and shipping, meaning that they work around the clock.

The island is not much built up for tourism quite yet, which is part of its appeal.  There are three bed and breakfasts (I stayed at the Bay View Inn, which was lovely), a couple of ice cream/sandwich places, and a few gift shops.  The three restaurants which are open for dinner (one of which has a last seating at 5pm) sell mostly an array of crab-based fare, including crab cakes, soft-shell crab sandwiches, and crab bisques.  It’s worth mentioning that the island is dry, so bring your own alcohol and be discreet about it.

crab roll

Other activities to do on the island include taking in the small yet chock-full Tangier History Museum, kayaking in the marshes to see the myriad of shorebirds (including glossy ibis and black skimmers), and biking to the beach to see a sunset.

Tangier Island is truly a step back in time, and a glimpse of how and why the Chesapeake Bay is so important to our region and its economy, ecology, and shared history.

To visit:  Ferry once daily from Reedville, VA (May-October) or Crisfield, MD.  Various bed and breakfasts, as well as vacation rentals.  Go during the summer, as very little is open during the winter.

10 Comments

Filed under Activities, Daytripper, Local Food, Museums

Where to Buy Kachina Dolls, Sandpaintings, Sealskin Thimbles, and Other Gorgeous Pieces of Native American Art

You may think that finding carefully-selected, idiosyncratic, and precious Native American art is a pleasure limited to the galleries of Santa Fe or the dusty roads outside of Flagstaff, but happily the Indian Craft Shop brings the experience to our Mid-Atlantic and metropolitan world.

The shop is a small yet jaw-droppingly comprehensive little place that has been home to contemporary Native American art since 1938.  It is located in the Interior Department building, the agency that is home to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  It features art from approximately 45 North American tribes at one time, but draws from all 565 federally-recognized Indian tribes (the only qualification to have art selected to be sold in the store). All levels of artisans are considered for inclusion, from amateurs to professionals.  Employees of the Indian Craft Shop travel constantly, scouting out new artists to feature.

And, the selection is magnificent, even though it only takes up one room!  Ivory carvings, basketry, weaving, turquoise jewelry, bronze sculptures, almost any kinds of Indian art that you can think of with artists currently practicing are featured.  My favorite quality is that every piece is signed and dated by the artist, indicating how unique the art is.  To get a better taste of the shop’s wide range of art, check out the online store.

I was very impressed by the willingness of the staff to engage with me in details about the collection, even though I am merely an amateur fan.  If you are seeking to learn more about Indian art, also check out the book selection—a staffer bragged to me that it has every book in print related to Indian art!

Because the Indian Craft Shop is located in a federal building, it is only open during business hours during the week, and one Saturday per month.  You should also be prepared to go through security and show a photo ID.  But once you’re in the building, be sure to check out the National Park Service information center, and plan your next trip outdoors onto the public lands.  Also of interest in the building is the Interior Museum, though it’s currently closed for renovations.

To visit:  1849 C St. NW, (202) 208-4056.  Hours are M-F 8:30am- 4:30pm, and the third Saturday of the month 10am-4pm.  Closest Metro is Farragut West, or S1 bus line.

2 Comments

Filed under Arts and Entertainment, Museums

Pay It Forward—With Indian Food—at Karma Kitchen

Do you ever wish that a stranger would anonymously gift you a delicious, vegetarian Indian meal?  And does that urge to brighten someone’s day with a delicious, vegetarian Indian meal ever overtake you?  Luckily, Karma Kitchen in Dupont Circle will allow you to partake in just such an “experiment in generosity,” and fill both your belly and soul for the day.

Located in what is normally Dalchinni Indian restaurant, Karma Kitchen exists only on Sundays from 12-3pm.  Everything on the menu costs $0.00, because the idea is that the attendees of last week’s brunch have already paid for your meal.  You have the option of contributing any sum—including nothing—for the brunch in an envelope at the end of the meal.  The folks at Karma Kitchen are quick to point out that the food isn’t free—it is a gift, and philosophically there is a big difference.

The mouth-watering, all-you-can-eat menu changes every week, but is always vegetarian and once a month is vegan.  The food when I attended consisted of mango lassis, chai tea, saag paneer, sweet potatoes and peas, chana peshawir, and kheer to top it off.  All servers and hosts are volunteers from around the entire metro area, and the food is made by Dalchinni employees (the restaurant receives an undisclosed amount at the end of each Sunday afternoon to cover food costs and labor).

Where else could something like this have started than Berkeley, California?!  The Karma Kitchen in Berkeley provided the capital for the DC location to begin, which then paid for the Chicago location.  Karma Kitchen founders are currently in talks about new locations, perhaps New York City and perhaps international.

My favorite part of the experience was when our host made everyone in the whole restaurant get up for a dance break.  He blasted bhangra music from a small boom box, and we all swayed to the Indian beats, cracking up but getting groovy by the end!  This sort of hippie-dippie love-fest happens all too rarely in our city, and made my heart swell just a little bit bigger.  Or was that full feeling just all of the Indian food I had ingested?  Whatever it was, I walked away from Karma Kitchen feeling recharged, optimistic, and ready to take on life’s challenges, I expect that even a cynic would have a hard time not cracking a smile!

To visit:  1736 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC.  202-483-8705.  Sundays 12-3pm.  Red line Metro, 42 or L2 bus lines.

Leave a comment

Filed under Activities, Deals and Steals, Local Food, Restaurants

Spicing Up Your Kitchen, Courtesy of Patel Brothers Indian Grocery

One often hears lamentations about the lack of great ethnic groceries in DC and its metro area, and to some extent, the complaints are accurate.* And they are certainly true when it comes to Indian and southeast Asian foods—there are no Indian groceries within the city itself.  But luckily, I found not only an Indian grocery just a few minutes over the Maryland-DC border, but an excellent one!  Patel Brothers is located in Langley Park (adjacent to College Park), and is the answer to all of your vegetable korma, garam masala, and gulab jaman needs.

I have to credit an Indian friend for tipping me off to this place, as I never would have found it on my own.  In fact, very little information or reviews are available on-line, which is surprising considering that Patel Brothers is actually the largest Indian grocery chain in America with over 35 stores across the country (see its website).  The fact that it’s not discussed on Chowhound, DC Foodies, and other local food blogs could mean one of two things:  1) it’s terrible, or 2) non-Indian Americans just don’t go here!  From what I could glean in my one visit, I found the latter to be the case.  The quality of products I bought, the variety available, and of course the recommendation from an Indian friend (who is quite the cook himself) all led me to believe that this big chain with its little local presence is a secret that is worth your discovery.

Anyway, onto the merchandise!  Patel Brothers is small but packed.  My favorite part of ethnic groceries is the remarkable prices of food sold in bulk—this place has 10-kilo bags of rice, industrial-sized cans of chickpeas, and gigantic bags of the essential spices (cumin, fenugreek, garam masala, etc) for prices much cheaper than any conventional grocery store.  I was also excited to purchase fresh fruits and veggies, frozen samosas, various sauce mixes, and dosa batter, since getting my knack for Indian cooking is going to take some practice…

One last tip—don’t forget to check out the array of Indian CDs and DVDs in the back for a little more Indian (not just Bollywood!) flavor.

They say the better the spices you buy for Indian, Thai, and other foods, the better your meal will taste.  And after cooking divine curried chickpeas with a coconut curry sauce, I am now a believer in this mantra!

To get there:  2080 University Blvd E, Langley Park, MD, 301-422-1555.  A fair bit of a walk from the College Park, Takoma Park, and Prince George’s Plaza Metro stations.  I’d say a car is your best bet for this one!

* But not for Ethiopian, Mexican/Salvadorian, and Italian markets!  See my posts on Litteri’s and Hana for two other great local grocery finds.

1 Comment

Filed under Deals and Steals, Local Food