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FauxPas

Desert Rain Café, Sells, AZ (Tohono O'odham Nation)

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I have been meaning to write a bit about this lovely little café for some time, so this is overdue and some of the pics are almost a year old. But I will be going back so might be able to update in the next couple of months, if anyone is interested. 


Desert Rain Café is operated by TOCA, which is Tohono O'odham Community Action. The café is located in Sells, AZ and may seem like the middle of nowhere to some folks, as it's in the middle of the reserve lands and quite a distance from any major town. But it's a pretty drive and it's near some other attractions such as Kitt Peak National Observatory (also on Tohono O'odham land) and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The Tohono O'odham (TO in remainder of post) also have a wonderful museum in Tipowa, which is a short drive from Sells. All of these are well worth a visit and can make for a lovely day (or 2 days) trip. 

 

The café itself is small and somewhat unprepossessing, but it's cheerful and welcoming. 

 

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We usually sit outside as there is a pleasant little patio area. 

 

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You can view the current menu (and read more about the café) here:

http://www.desertraincafe.com/our-menu.html

 

The café makes use of local and traditional foods, so includes the use of prickly pear cactus, saguaro fruit and seeds, mesquite, tepary beans, squash, corn, cholla cactus buds and so forth. 

 

Some examples. Here is a sampler which includes Desert Hummus (made with white tepary beans), Cholla Bud Pico de Gallo and a tepary bean dip made with brown tepary beans. 

 

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Salad with Prickly Pear dressing, ribs glazed with prickly pear, cooked beans and a Caesar Salad in the background. The Caesar included some white tepary beans and the chicken was glazed with prickly pear also, I believe. The portions are generous - I took half the ribs home and had them for dinner. 

 

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More food shots - quesadilla (made with tepary beans) and salad. 

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Veggie wrap with a tepary bean spread and fresh veggies. Cholla PIco de Gallo on the side, I believe. 

 

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I always have the salad. 

 

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This was a beef stew (maybe short rib?) which my friend had. She said it was delicious and took half home for dinner. 

 

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They usually offer some baked goods, often using mesquite flour or sometimes saguaro seeds. 

 

The café shares some space with a gallery and here you can see (and purchase) some beautiful examples of TO artwork, pottery and basketry:

 

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You can also buy tepary beans (grown locally by the TO people), dried cholla buds, saguaro seeds and saguaro syrup (when available - most of it is harvested and used for the Rain Ceremony).

 

I use the tepary beans for soups and stews. I also like the white tepary beans for a spicy hummus (with some lime juice and hot sauce or chiles). Prickly pear nectar/juice is available here through a couple of sources and is a necessity for Prickly Pear Margaritas, but also makes a nice salad dresssing! Prickly pear nectar or syrup and saguaro syrup can be used as glazes for meats or fish. 

 

Other folks here on eGullet will have used some of these items in other ways, I am sure.  

 

For background and current information on the TO Nation, you can check some of these sites: 

http://www.tocaonline.org/

http://www.tonation-nsn.gov/default.aspx

 

Not too close to the café, but not far south of Tucson and also on TO Nation land is the "White Dove of the Desert" or the Mission San Xavier del Bac, which was built as a Spanish Catholic mission and is a beautiful example of Spanish Colonial architecture. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_San_Xavier_del_Bac 

 

It is so photogenic on a clear desert day! 

 

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Have you ever attended the San Xavier Festival?

 

"The San Xavier Festival is held the evening of the Friday after Easter and features a torch-light parade of Tohono O’odham and Yaqui tribal members."

 

That festival is truly spectacular.  I still remember the first time I attended, many decades back, because (among many things, of course) that was my first encounter with fry bread, and a few other tasty treats.

 

So many fond memories of our years in Tucson, but San Xavier del Bac is right up there at the top.


Edited by Jaymes (log)
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4 minutes ago, Jaymes said:

Have you ever attended the San Xavier Festival?

 

"The San Xavier Festival is held the evening of the Friday after Easter and features a torch-light parade of Tohono O’odham and Yaqui tribal members."

 

That festival is truly spectacular.  I still remember the first time I attended, many decades back, because (among many things, of course) that was my first encounter with fry bread, and a few other tasty treats.

 

So many fond memories of our years in Tucson, but San Xavier del Bac is right up there at the top.

 

That's right, I had forgotten how much time you spent in this area! No, I have never been to that Festival as sometimes we are back in Canada by then. But I will keep an eye out for the dates, thanks for mentioning that! 

 

Speaking of frybread - some people will say it isn't an indigenous food item but that's OK, the locals still have fun with it. There is a movie called "More than Frybread" which is about an AZ state frybread competition, including a Tohono O'odham woman. It looks like it might be funny, i have only seen clips, here is an example:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uds0PGFysnU

 

 

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I forgot to mention that the TO people wrote a lovely book about their food traditions, called From I'itoi's Garden. It's pricey but it's an attractive book. It does have some history and simple recipes but I liked the discussion of food gathering and traditions best. 

 

You can see a preview here:

 

http://www.blurb.com/books/3232576-from-i-itoi-s-garden


Edited by FauxPas (log)
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Somehow we've completely missed the Desert Rain Café on our travels through Sells.  As you note, it's on the way between Tucson and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, but Sells has been no more than a wide spot in the road before now.  We'll have to rectify it the next time through; that looks like a delightful stop!

 

Thank you also for the link to the book.  You're right that it's pricey, but it looks beautiful and interesting, and I get the idea that the proceeds go to help the community. In a simple scan through the preview I see more ideas for dried ciolim (cholla buds) than I'd come up with.  I bought them on impulse, tried one simple thing, and they've been looking at me since.  It looks like some of the squash recipes should be tested for the eG Cookoff #71: Winter Squash topic. :)

 

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13 hours ago, Jaymes said:

Have you ever attended the San Xavier Festival?

 

"The San Xavier Festival is held the evening of the Friday after Easter and features a torch-light parade of Tohono O’odham and Yaqui tribal members."

 

That festival is truly spectacular.  I still remember the first time I attended, many decades back, because (among many things, of course) that was my first encounter with fry bread, and a few other tasty treats.

 

So many fond memories of our years in Tucson, but San Xavier del Bac is right up there at the top.

 

The Desert Rain Café and the San Xavier Festival would form the nucleus of a great road trip!  And that time in the spring should be a lovely time to visit that area.  I've got to make a note of this!

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I've chatted with folks at the cafe many times and use their saguaro syrup, but still haven't made it down. I"m going to try on my vacation in January. I promised Tyler I wouldn't make it into a foodie trip, but maybe I can lure him with the mission.

 

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On ‎12‎/‎20‎/‎2015 at 9:07 AM, blue_dolphin said:

 

The Desert Rain Café and the San Xavier Festival would form the nucleus of a great road trip!  And that time in the spring should be a lovely time to visit that area.  I've got to make a note of this!

 

And if you're looking for road trips, here's another suggestion: down to Douglas to see the spectacular Gadsden Hotel

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gadsden_Hotel

 

There used to be a great little café right on the other side of the border, in Agua Prieta, that served wonderful Caldo de Queso.  That little restaurant was the beginning of my lifelong obsession with the soup, and my quest for the very best.


Edited by Jaymes (log)
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Thanks for this review.  During a trip to Phoenix a few years ago I tried (but failed) to fit in a side trip to the Kitt Peak National Observatory.  They have visitor programs with access to their telescopes, including nighttime sky observations that I’ve heard are amazing. Even without telescopes, the nighttime sky at 7,000 ft (with minimal light pollution) has to be gorgeous.

 

For visitors like me who don’t know the area, the map of the observatory in the midst of the vast expanse of Tohono O'odham land makes the trip seem a little intimidating.  The observatory’s visitor center website cautions that there is no gas or food nearby. So it’s nice to know about the Desert Rain Café and other reasons to visit this beautiful area.

 

Observatory: https://www.noao.edu/kpno/

VisitorCenter: http://www.noao.edu/kpvc/

 

 


Edited by LindaK still learning to format posts in new system (log)
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