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Janete's Midnight Cabyard Kitchen

It was Janete's Cabyard Kitchen that inspired the Hidden Kitchens series, and a new book, Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes and More, about out-of-the-way, guerilla-style foodmakers who serve fervent patrons. Here's a taste of what first drew us in.

Story Notes: The Cabyard Kitchen

A lot of Kitchen Sisters stories are born in taxicabs. In fact, the Hidden Kitchens series was conceived in the back of a Yellow cab. Davia lives in San Francisco and hates to drive. She started noticing that every time she got into a Yellow cab, the driver was from Brazil. And they weren't just from Brazil; they all seemed to be from the same town: Goiânia. Inevitably, these cab ride conversations turned to music and food.

That's when the story of Janete emerged, a woman from their same hometown, who comes every night to an abandoned industrial street outside a cab dispatch lot to set up a makeshift, rolling night kitchen — hot salgadinhos, bollinhos, pão de quejo. She cooks the food of home. By dawn, Janete and her blue tarpulin tent are packed up and gone.

One night around midnight, we decided to go in search of Janete's secret cabyard kitchen. A driver had given us a sketchy map and told us to park in the cab lot and walk from there.

"Just look like you know where you're going," he said, assuring us no one would notice we didn't work for the company.

The fact that we weren't drivers seemed pretty obvious, though — neither of us is from Goiâna, and no other cabbies in sight were wearing headphones and packing 10 pounds of recording equipment. Still, we walked through the fleet of parked cabs, past the graveyard-shift mechanic working on a taxi up on racks, past the checkout point — an--out onto a street in the middle of nowhere.

There, under a streetlight and a small blue tarp, four drivers were laughing, huddled over big plates of food, eating and talking in Portuguese. Brazilian music spilled out of a parked cab. Janete, shy and smiling, presided — a vision of what our "hidden kitchen" idea is all about.

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