Tucson Gets Plaudits for Culinary Scene

Tucson, the Arizona university town already known nationally as a destination for architectural and cultural aficionados but often considered in the shadow of nearby Santa Fe, has recently gained international attention for its burgeoning food scene. Earlier this year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, often known as UNESCO, formally designated Tucson as a “City of Gastronomy.” The recognition puts Tucson in rarefied company; other cities with the UNESCO definition include Bergen, Norway and Parma, Italy.

According to a recent feature in the New York Times, Tuscon lays claim to a rich culinary heritage. In its application for the UNESCO designation, the city noted that archaeological digs have shown farming was taking place in the city 4,000 years ago — making it one of the earliest agricultural settlements in the entire United States.

Today’s Tuscon culinary scene is heavily influenced by historic patterns that date to those primitive agricultural traditions. For instance, restaurants are experimenting with dishes that include desert plants like agave, cactus, and amaranth. Fruit trees, introduced by missionaries in the 1600s, also figure heavily in the Tuscon food scene.

In one particularly interesting twist, Tuscon and the government of surrounding Pima County have been encouraging people to save seeds that are associated with the traditional Native American diet. As part of the initiative, for instance, the county’s libraries have allowed people to “borrow” seeds for such Southwestern Native American staples as tepary beans with a promise to return future seeds for others to use.

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