Indian fry bread is the foundation of a popular dish called Indian Tacos. Originally known as Navajo Tacos, they have been adopted by other tribes. The Navajo taco was voted the State Dish of Arizona in a 1995 poll conducted by the Arizona Republic newspaper.
Indian tacos, made with Indian fry bread, are the universal modern powwow food (see below). They are also popular attractions at many fairs, festivals, and outdoor summer shows held in the southwest. People will line up to wait their turn to buy some freshly made tacos. Indian tacos are a combination of beans or ground beef, chopped lettuce, sliced tomato, shredded Cheddar cheese, and optional green chile atop plate-sized rounds of crispy Navajo or Indian fry bread. No plates or silverware are need, as you just fill the fry bread with your desired filling, roll it up, and eat.
Photos courtesy of the National Indian Taco Championship held in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
History Indian Fry Bread:
Indian fry bread is tradition to the Navajo, and comes with a story of great pain and suffering. Though the tradition of fry bread is common among many Southwestern Tribes, it is the Navajo who developed this recipe. I do not feel that I can share the recipe without sharing it’s origins and what it means to some today:
The Navajo planters lived from the Earth as their ancestors had for hundreds of years before. They also raised livestock to feed their family. The Navajo dinetah (or homeland) was bordered by the four sacred mountains, from northeastern Arizona, western New Mexico, and north into Utah and Colorado. They planted crops in the fertile valley lands, such as Canyon de Chelly known for Ansazi ruins.
The Navajo traded with the Spanish, Mexican, Pueblos, Apache, Comanche, and even the early American pioneers. Around 1846, large numbers of pioneers moved into the area and the cavalry came with them. This is when troubles began. The troubles escalated with the murder or Narbona (1766-1849), a well-respected Navajo leader on August 31, 1849. On this day, Narbona along with several hundred of his warriors, had come to meet and discuss peace with U.S. Colonel John M. Washington and others of the military stationed in the area. There had been trouble with theNew Men (the New Mexican settlers who had driven Mexican settlers out of the area).
After several hours, it was believed a settlement had been agreed upon. However, a young warrior by the name of Sadoval, had plans of his own. Mounting his horse he began to ride in front of the Navajo party, attempting to have them break the treaty. A U.S. Calvary soldier began to say that one of the horses ridden by a Navajo was his, and what peace there was in the meeting that was disintegrating into battle. Colonel Washington commanded the Navajo to stand down and return the horse to the soldier or he would fire into them. The rider and horse were now gone, and the Navajo party did not comply. A canon was fired, and Narbona was mortally wounded. It is told that he was scalped by a U.S. soldier as he lay dying.
This disastrous attempt at peace led to the Long Walks. In September 1863, Kit Carson (1809-1868) was dispatched into Navajo land to retrieve a surrender. When no Navajo came to meet with him, he ordered the burning of the land. Attempts were made to starve out the Navajo and many were captured and taken to Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner. Hundreds starved on the 300 mile walk and more would die later in the crowded and disparaging conditions . Navajo were placed with the Mescalero Apache where home peace was often not the case. The camps were meant for 4,000 to 5,000 people, yet there were now over 9,000 people, and supplies were meager.
The government supplies of lard, flour, salt, sugar, baking powder or yeast, and powdered milk were often rancid. Fry bread came from these few foods provided during the 4 years of captivity. Since that time, it has become common food at most all PowWows of numerous tribes
To some, Indian Fry Bread is a sacred tradition. It is to be consumed by the people until the earth has again become purified. Wherever one finds Indian fry bread one finds its taco equivalent, and curiously enough, it’s often named after whichever tribe the reservation belongs to.
1993 – The American Indian Exposition in Anadarko, Oklahoma hosted its first National Fry Bread Contest. The purpose of this exposition is to show off Native American arts and crafts and help preserve their cultural heritage. This event also features one of the largest American Indian parades in Oklahoma.
2005 – South Dakota designated fry bread as the Official State Bread with House Bill Number 1205 on February 25, 2005.
Present Day – Today, fry bread is generally known as a Carnival or State Fair treat to the general public. In some areas of the United States, this sweet treat is known as Elephant Ears. It is a quick bread that’s fried and served as a sweet treat, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
Fry bread is most often used as the foundation of the famous “Indian Taco with ground beef and other taco ingredients of your choice.
The National Indian Taco Championship is a festival held in Pawhuska, Oklahoma on the first Saturday in October.
Indian Fry Bread Recipe:
Comments from readers:
Thank you for the Indian Fry Bread recipe and the origin of where they started. I am originally from Oklahoma – very interesting. Again, thank you. – Doris Griggs (11/23/14)