Oh Brother, I’m in Oregon!

“Excuse me while I kiss the sky.” ― Jimi Hendrix

JIMI HENDRIX is alive and living in Portland, Oregon – at the Saturday market.

OK, I lie. But entertainer Ritchie Rodgers really looks like Jimi’s double. My girlfriend and I met Jimi, er, I mean Richie, at Portland’s Saturday produce and craft market.

Soul Food in Oregon? Ritchie kindly suggested a handful of Soul Food restaurants including: Yam Yam’s or MA’n’PA Strong’s Kitchen (north Vancouver Ave). Yam Yams has closed down and I didn’t get to MA’n’PA’s which is disappointing, having read online reviews describing it as having a great ambience…  ‘…it seems everyone who enters is both a regular and a part of a family. The only sign is a street placard and the barbeque grills outside to let you know where it is at. The ambiance is also very homey. The space is very clean, and covered in old family pictures and knick knacks.’

I interview some other Oregon Soul Food restaurants in my book, but the burning question of the moment was….

‘Are there any Soul Food to be found nearby?’

As we wandered the markets, my camera had a photogasm taking pictures of food, art, and body art! There were so many artistically inked body parts, so many mouth watering cheeses, and so many things I’d never seen before, including black radishes, white carrots, mini artichokes, and a man neatly attired in a short pink dress, man bag, and black business shoes. Perhaps his was the proper attire for a Saturday stroll through the markets – certainly more creative than my jeans and T Shirt (not that 1980’s Australian band the Triffids could ever be described as un-fashionable!).

Oh! My heart raced … amid the labyrinth of stalls sprouting organic goodness I spied a van selling Soul Food!

And here I am making one big mess of sticky finger-licking BBQ Ribs in between slurps of sweet tea from My Brother’s!

For me it was more like Oh Brother! because as well as ribs and other soul food staples I saw my elusive Bean Pie!

How far had I travelled to eat Bean Pie? How hard is it to actually find Bean Pie? Well as I crossed the continent from West to East I saw another Bean Pie on the menu in Chicago, and then in Harlem. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough?

Please tell me if you know the best place to buy Bean Pie – as a community service! Back in the day, African American communities cooked Bean Pies to sell them to raise money for their community … but more about Bean Pie when I get to Chicago.

Portland also has some wonderful mural art depicting and celebrating African American heritage.  There are quite a few in the NE Alberta Avenue Arts area – populated by numerous arty cafes and bars. I made a mental note to find out more about these murals. A nice surprise was a wall mural of Malcolm X painted in oranges and greens by African American artist Lew Harris. I was told by a woman involved with Murals of Portland that the Malcolm X mural was ‘painted over two decades ago when the Black Educational Center was located in that building’. Sadly only one section remains of what was once a triptych. At the time of posting I don’t have the artist’s permission to post the picture here, but I hope to reproduce it in my book.

So many beautiful murals and so little time!

My friend indulged my need to try to find each and every one, as we drove – umm, I should say she drove – the streets of Portland looking for more.
A special treat was finding a larger than life-size mural version of African American artist Elizabeth Catlett’s painting Sharecropper, tucked around a nearby street corner.

Oregon was really a side trip on my Soul Food journey. It was an opportunity to meet up with a facebook friend I’ve ‘talked food with’ over the past two years. It was such a treat to meet her face-to-face and explore her world – and talk food. I spent a wonderful 4 days in Oregon being spoilt by a generous host, eating food cooked with soul, and learning the correct way for an Australian to pronounce Oregon is ‘Orr-e-gun’.

I didn’t visit any soul food restaurants, but I can tell you that Oregon has soul.

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