Thanks to the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma, visitors can enjoy a taste of Chickasaw culture–literally.
Opened in 2010, the 96,000-square-foot facility immerses visitors in the rich history and culture of the Chickasaw Nation. Guests are welcomed with the short film “Chickasaw Renaissance” in the Anoli' Theater before exploring the interactive Itti' Anonka' Nannakat Oktani (“Spirit Forest”) exhibit that explains the Chickasaw People’s connection to the natural world. From there, the Chickasaw way of life is explained through hands-on displays and Smithsonian-quality exhibits. Visitors may research Chickasaw heritage in the Holisso Center for Study of Chickasaw History and Culture, and even search for family records. Outside, the Chikasha Inchokka' (“Chickasaw house”) Traditional and Living villages demonstrate traditional Chickasaw construction techniques, skills such as hide scraping, Stomp Dances and games such as stickball through events throughout the year.
As much as there is to absorb during a visit to the Chickasaw Cultural Center, guests always look forward to lunch at the Aaimpa’ Café. Aaimpa’, meaning “A Place to Eat” in Chickasaw, serves such Chickasaw favorites as Nannachampoli’ (grape dumplings), a dessert of dough pieces in a sweet grape juice.
Other traditional menu items include Corn Cribs (batter-fried sweet corn), Three Sisters Salad (with black beans, zucchini and corn), Indian Tacos (fry bread with pinto beans and bison) and peach cobbler. Classic hamburgers and sandwiches such as the Bison Burger and the Stomp Dancer (grilled turkey and ham on a toasted onion roll) are flavored with Chickasaw culture as well.
Perhaps the most important item on the menu is Pashofa, a corn porridge that has great significance to the Chickasaw Nation. Pashofa is made from cracked white corn called pearl hominy and pork, and is served at ceremonial and social events. It is also used in healing ceremonies.
Many of the ingredients used at Aaimpa’ are made from scratch, and the produce served is organic from Chickasaw Farms in Davis. Other vegetables for the café’s salads are harvested fresh from the Spiral Garden near the Traditional Village. Used for food and education, the Spiral Garden uses the “Three Sisters” method of planting. Visitors can see how corn, squash and beans are planted together, with each crop supporting or nourishing the others. Guests learn that in the Chickasaw Three Sisters legend corn represents the Eldest Sister, who stands tall and strong in the center of the garden to support her Sisters. Squash is the Middle Sister who protects her Sisters (by keeping the soil cool), and beans are the Third Sister who encourages her Sisters to grow (by putting nitrogen into the soil).
Chickasaw food and food heritage is an intrinsic part of any visit to the Chickasaw Nation, and while the Chickasaw Nation honors its traditional food history, it is also embracing modern cuisine and making it their own.
Beyond the Aaimpa’ Café, the Chickasaw Nation publishes its cookbook ilittibaaimpa': Let’s Eat Together! A Chickasaw Cookbook by JoAnn Ellis and Vicki Penner through its Chickasaw Press. Recipes for Chickasaw Indian Molasses Bread, Fried Pork (Paskawaalhaaki' and Shokha' Nipi' Awaalhahli') and more than 50 other meals are interwoven with stories about the importance of food to Chickasaw families and culture.
In 2000, the Chickasaw Nation purchased Bedré Fine Chocolates, now based in Davis, Oklahoma. This chocolate boutique began in the 1980s in a former elementary schoolhouse in Ada. Bedré means “better” in Norwegian, and the Chickasaw Nation has developed this fine chocolate into one of the best luxury chocolate brands in the country. The public is welcome to visit the 34,600 state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, and purchase chocolate from the attached store. Bedré Fine Chocolates ships nationwide as well.
Bedré Fine Chocolates has also opened the Bedré Café in the Tribe’s Artesian Hotel, Casino and Spa in Sulphur. The café offers gourmet coffee, sandwiches, Bedré Soda, baked goods and, of course, all things chocolate. The Artesian Hotel, Casino and Spa is a reproduction of the original red-brick, four-story elegant hotel built here in 1906, but that burned down in the 1960s. It features 81 boutique rooms, a 15,000-square-foot casino, the Sole’renity Spa that offers a range of body treatments and skin care, upscale shopping, and dining at the Springs at the Artesian. Springs at the Artesian includes home-style fare such as chicken pot pie, citrus salmon, fried green tomatoes, house-made pork rinds and chicken fried steak, as well as Choice Angus beef steaks.
With all there is to do on and near the Chickasaw Nation, it's good to have these and other dining choices throughout the 13-county Nation. There’s the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Turner Falls Park, more than 20 casinos, Chickasaw Nation citizen-owned breweries and wineries, just to name a few of the destination attractions throughout the Chickasaw Nation. For more information about exploring the Chickasaw Nation, visit ChickasawCountry.com.