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Sacramento’s first Black Food Festival is happening Saturday. So how is ‘black food’ defined?

Here’s why organizers set up Sacramento’s first Black Food Festival

Berry Accius, co-founder of Sacramento's first Black Food Festival, talks about the origins of the event – set for Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, at Florin Square at 2251 Florin Road – in an interview at Stagecoach restaurant.
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Berry Accius, co-founder of Sacramento's first Black Food Festival, talks about the origins of the event – set for Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, at Florin Square at 2251 Florin Road – in an interview at Stagecoach restaurant.

How does a single event capture the food of multiple cultures? With a broad brush, to hear the organizers of Sacramento’s first Black Food Festival tell it.

Unlike, say, the Sacramento Greek Festival or the Peruvian Food Festival, food at the Black Food Festival on Saturday won’t be immediately traceable back to a common homeland. The festival will feature barbecued ribs inspired by the American South, Nigerian jollof rice and curry goat similar to what one finds in the Bahamas, plus other types of food spread out between more than 15 food stands outside Florin Square at 2251 Florin Rd. The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

An embrace of the African diaspora is crucial, festival co-founder Berry Accius said, to show the range of foods and flavors within Sacramento’s black community. While a long-awaited local soul food scene has begun to emerge within the last five to 10 years, including new restaurants in Oak Park and north Sacramento within recent months, African and Caribbean options remains scant throughout the area.

“Black food is (seen in) all the places that black people are culturally introducing the food of their heritage,” Accius said. “I want to knock out the idea that black food is only ‘this.’”

That monoculture limits Sacramento eaters’ exposure to cuisines from around the world, Accius said.

It also has health ramifications. Many Ethiopians, for example, abstain from eating animal products on Wednesdays and Fridays, so the cuisine has evolved to include flavorful dishes centered around vegetables such as ye’abasha gomen (spiced collard greens) and azifa (green lentil salad).

Plant-based foods are one of the festival’s main selling points, including vegan nachos and jackfruit tacos seemingly more Tex-Mex-inspired than rooted in black culture. But black cooking comes down to the details, said festival co-creator Dana Maeshia: the ingredients used, the way meats are prepared. “Nubian tacos” are a real thing, Maeshia said.

“Don’t be dismayed or surprised when you see dishes that traditionally belong to other people’s culture that we do something with and put our spin on,” Maeshia said. “We prepare our food in a way that is unique and distinct from other people.”

Cuisine isn’t the only aspect of Mexican culture Accius admires. He’s repeatedly spoken about watching the taquerias go by while driving down Franklin Boulevard or Vietnamese restaurants on Stockton Boulevard, wishing black residents had a similarly strong restaurant district to provide jobs and take pride in.

Instead, Accius drove all over Sacramento to complete his goal of eating at black-owned restaurants every day in February.

“It’s a power base,” he said. “It creates jobs. It creates security. It helps center the culture. When I can sit there and know that my options are not just Burger King, BJ’s (Restaurant & Brewhouse) or a barbecue joint, I feel like it shows a full range of folks with African heritage.”

Barbecue remains an integral piece of black cooking, however, and will be sold at several stands Saturday, including Daddy O’s Smokehouse. Owner and master smoker O.Z. Kamara learned the art from his grandfather, a North Texas native who cooked meats low and slow with a homemade Coca-Cola barbecue sauce.

Kamara knows what sells to his different catering audiences, he said, and will serve brisket, hot links, ribs and chicken along with housemade vegetarian sides at the festival. If it were an event with fewer black people, like Daddy O’s regular Sunday spot outside Burning Barrel Brewing Co., he’d add pulled pork to the menu, he said.

And Kamara’s not above adapting what he grew up eating. He cooked jerk chicken at home for years until vacationing in Jamaica recently, where he tasted “the best chicken I‘ve ever had in my life.” He asked around, found a woman who sold him the recipe for $30 and now sells jerk chicken, ribs and pork at some events.

“I already thought I knew how to make jerk chicken until I went to Jamaica and found the original recipe,” Kamara said. “Once I tasted the real way to make it, I had to add it to the menu. My menu is comprised of the best meats I know how to cook.”

Festival food will be prepared by a mix of professional and amateur chefs, Accius said, hailing from Stockton and the Bay Area as well as the Sacramento region. Nearly 18,000 people had responded as interested on the festival’s Facebook page as of Wednesday afternoon.

Entry to the event is free, and 20 to 30 retail vendors are expected to join the food stands, along with live music and a raffle.

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.
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