Berenice Rodriguez, Makeda Cheatom, Tamiel McKee-Bey. Makeda founded Beat Center.
Bob Marley is everywhere. His music, his reggae colors, and his face in a picture with Makeda. “He was my friend,” says Makeda. “I produced his concert here in 1978. I was young, but I got to know him well.”
2100 Park Boulevard, San Diego
This is around 5, Sunday afternoon. We’re at the World Beat Center inside a circular space that was once a million-gallon reservoir on the edge of Balboa Park.
I had been heading down Park from the Prado, when I noticed people at tables and stalls outside World Beat Center. One was a table laid out with herbs, another was groaning with hundreds of earth-crusted mushrooms, some labeled with Latin names. And from the glowing space inside, reggae music and spicy aromas. Turns out it’s been mushroom day here, run by POCFC.
Makeda and friend Bob Marley
“People of Color Fungi Community,’” says a gal who sees me puzzling in front of the sign. She’s sitting at the fire ring. “Mushroom collectors. They’ve come from as far as New York. Brought their mushrooms with them. But some we just found on a walk right here in Balboa Park.”
We’re standing in a courtyard of tents, an outside pavilion, and a fire ring.
Why POCFC? “We pick mushrooms with a different attitude, like part of the decolonization movement,” says another guy next to me. “Not to pillage the land, but to be respectful, become part of the cycle. Mushrooms have so much to offer us. We look to the knowledge of the Kumeyaay people. Because this land is Kumeyaay Territory.”
I see I’ve missed a lot. Talks have been going on all day, like on fungal life cycles, on decriminalizing psychedelic mushrooms. The upside is that right about now, 5 pm, the non-paying general public can come in, look around, and eat.
Patty and “cheese” totally vegan
The World Beat Cafe is inside, open every day (except Monday), and promises a menu that’s “healthy, natural, vegan, with fresh ingredients from our garden,” and where nothing costs more than ten bucks.
Four ladies are working behind the counter, Berenice, Makeda, Tamiel, and Jesimarie. Makeda is the founder of this whole place. Behind them is this leaded glass sign “The Prophet. International Vegetarian Cuisine.”
“I started that restaurant too, in 1971,” says Makeda. “It was the first vegetarian restaurant in San Diego.”
The World Beat Cafe is on one side of a meeting space that’s been invaded by stalls selling herbs, remedies, clothes, and Native American gear like dreamcatchers.
Plunder from mushroom hunt in the wilds - including Balboa Park
And hey, most interesting of all, the people. “We’re not living on earth,” this guy Anthony’s saying, “we are earth.”
He has just won a big fat paperback on mushrooms. He lands it on the counter as he waits for his favorite eats, the chili with plantains. Meanwhile, I’m looking at a big tower of pink Himalayan salt, and smelling wafts of curry and coconut from the warmers.
They have a daily printed menu Scotch-taped to the warmer table. “Mushroom barley soup, $6,” it starts. “Shiitake mushrooms sautéed in garlic ‘butter,’ with salsa, $6.”
They have lots: a shiitake mushroom “cheez” burger ($6), a veggie coconut curry with plantains and rice for $8.50, or chili and rice with chips ($6). They also do Jamaican patties ($4.50) and tofu hot dogs for $3. Such great prices.
This used to be a 1-million gallon water tank
Or, you can have just about all; with the one dish that is over $10, the combination of all four daily entrees, like spicy Jamaican red curry, costa chica chili, Louisiana Creole gumbo, and African peanut curry. It’s $12.
Then I see the shiitake burger. Oh man. Just the glowing golden bun. Got to have that. Can take leftovers home.
Berenice hunts down a burger while Makeda scoops in chili, mixed veggies like kale and zucchini drowned in a coconut curry, and two more I’m not sure of, all mixed in with basmati rice. Then she hauls a couple of slabs of golden fried plantain out of a warming pan, and adds different kinds of bean sprouts. “It’s important to eat live food,” she says. It is all coconut-and-plantain sweet and currily interesting. I can taste ginger in there too. It all seems healthy, and probably is. Everybody around here’s obviously committed to the vegan/organic ethic. They even do their own composting here.
What $12 buys: my 4-entree combo
My curry combo is delicious, but I leave space for the burger. I haul it over to a table in the main auditorium. Somebody onstage is drawing a raffle for artwork prizes, art done live here today, I think they’re saying. Meanwhile Berenice has organized an organic kombucha ($6) I like the winey, fermented taste.
But now Makeda comes up. “Here, try this. Very good for you.”
She gives me a cup quarter-filled with this hot liquid. I sip. Ach! Bitter! “Mushroom tea,” she says. “Disease preventers. Bad guys can’t grow in an alkaline body. Bitter is good. Besides, there is cinnamon stick in there.”
The food champ has to be that burger ($7). The actual patty is caramelized shiitake mushroom and wheat and barley-based “meat”, under Daiya vegan “cheddar,” plus pickle, red onion, tomato, and all packaged in a crispy-shelled dark pretzel bun. Tasty! I end up eating the whole thing.
- The Place: World Beat Cafe, 2100 Park Boulevard, Balboa Park, 619-230-1190; 619-558-3728
- Hours: 11:00am-7pm daily (from 12:30pm Sundays)
- Prices: Mushroom barley soup, $6; shiitake mushrooms in garlic “butter,” salsa, $6; mushroom “cheez” burger $6; veggie coconut curry with plantains, rice, $8.50; chili and rice, chips, $6; Jamaican patties, $4.50; tofu hot dogs, $3; organic spring salad, $5.50; spicy Jamaican red curry, $9.50; costa chica chili, $6; Louisiana Creole gumbo with okra, corn, rice, $6; African peanut coconut curry, rice, $5; combo of four entrees, $12
- Buses: 7, 215
- Nearest Bus Stop: Park Blvd, 20 yards from World Beat Center, 2100 Park Boulevard