Fry Bread and Indian Tacos

| June 22, 2009 | 10 Comments
  • 10 Comments

frybread - Indian tacos

As California’s road trip season begins, it’s time to pull out that list of foods that are worth a detour or two. If you’re passing by or through tribal land, allow time in your day and space in your stomach for a stop at roadside stalls offering fry bread or, even better, Indian tacos. Many of us are all a-twitter about the mash-up of Korean bbq and tortillas. But this much quieter and long established blend of taco toppings on soft, still-hot flatbread is better than anything I’ve tasted from digitally hyped menus.

frybread stall

For the taco aficionados among you: Do not pepper me with hate comments about what constitutes a “real” taco. Take it up with the Indian Nations. For the politically minded, I acknowledge that the physical and cultural repercussions of making refined white flour a daily staple, is not something to celebrate, especially in communities stranded both literally and figuratively in the middle of vast food deserts. Like many foods we love, from latkes to lumpia, eating more isn’t eating better.

But for those who are open to the culinary creativity of everyday folks, then this is food worth savoring. During your summer travels, look for stands located on busier strips near post offices, grocery stores or tribal councils. For the best fry breads, plan on arriving earlier in the day, as they will sell out. Peek around and see if there are cast iron pans at the ready. Each round of dough should be patted by hand and fried to order, and if it’s your first time, order a plain one to enjoy fry bread at its humblest. If you like funnel cakes, doughnuts, angel wings, or those little bits of leftover pie dough that your mom fried up just for you, then you’ll be right at home.

frybread small round

Many give Navajos of the Southwest the blue ribbon for making the best fry bread, but tribes all across the country have perfected their own versions. Some use baking powder; others have developed yeasty variations. Big or small, round or square, thin or hefty — everyone has their favorite way of making it.

I wish I could say that fry bread has a happy history. Stories that includes broken treaties, prison camps and reservations, surplus commodities and starvation are not the ones usually passed around while we’re stuffing our faces. But like bitter parsley and unsalted bread, times of suffering are also passed from table to table with pride. We are here. We survived. We are together. We will prevail.

Pow wows are one of the best places to enjoy native foods. Celebratory gatherings, these were banned by our government until the 1960s, but fortunately, they now appear annually in every region. Search this pow wow calendar for California to see if you’ll be near one this year. Be sure it’s open to the public, and check for special events that the kids will especially enjoy.

Fry bread is super easy to make, and kids will enjoy patting their own rounds. For a healthier version, try grilling the bread, another trick that is family friendly and even easier.

frybread meal

FRY BREAD

This recipe is adapted from one that appears in the excellent book, Foods of the Americas, by Fernando and Marlene Divina, published in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Fry bread is usually cooked until golden, without deep browning or char marks. You can sprinkle the rounds with cinnamon and sugar for a sweet treat, or wrap your favorite sandwich fillings for a savory meal.

Makes: 8 small rounds.

Ingredients:
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups warm water
Vegetable oil, for frying

Preparation:

1. In a bowl, combine and stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Make a well and then pour in the water. Form a soft dough, and then knead very gently and briefly to form a ball. Roll into a log, cover with a clean towel and let rest for 10 minutes.

2. Cut the dough crosswise into 8 pieces, keeping the pieces covered while you’re working. Patting with floured hands and using a rolling pin, form rounds that are about 1/4-inch thick. Dust both sides of each round evenly with flour, stack and cover with a cloth until ready to cook.

3. To fry: Heat 1 inch of oil in a deep, wide pan over medium-high heat. Cook 1 to 2 pieces of dough at a time, taking care not to overcrowd. Cook, turning once, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Cook one first, and test for doneness before continuing with the other rounds. The fry bread should be dry and crisp on the outside, moist on the inside. Drain on paper towels and serve will still warm.

4. To grill: Prepare charcoal or heat a gas grill to medium-high. After forming the rounds, place the dough on the grill rack and cook until bubbles form and the dough has risen slightly, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. The surface of the bread should be dry to the touch.

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About the Author ()

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place. Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website, wanderingspoon.com, to learn more about her culinary adventures.
  • a geek

    Where is that taco stand in the first pic? Dying to know.

  • http://thy@wanderingspoon.com Thy Tran

    geek: for the past two years, the purple fry bread stand has been at the corner of a gravel parking lot in Warms Springs, Oregon. It’s across from the grocery store and one of the tribal councils on Warm Springs Street, just off of Highway 26. They make excellent strawberry lemonade, and next to the tree stump tables, they have a very fun swing hanging from a big shade tree.

  • S Lewis

    If you traveling in metro phoenix, stop at Sacred Hogan Navajo Frybread, 842 East Indian School Rd., Phoenix, AZ (602) 277-5280

  • Karen W.

    This is a must stop. believe me, when i say this. we got salmon pouch’s: pouched salmon, wrapped with frybread dough then fried. Mmmm. also, a indian burger is a must get too….They got the best Huckleberry Soda. man, if your traveling through Warm Springs, its a must stop. dont be mistaken with other frybread makers (there good),,, but the purple stand (Coyote Eatery) is the place to go. trust me. not only am i the cook. i just know these things. lol. im pretty sure if you mention me saying this, when you actually come by to order, i will give you a discount. Make a order, ahead of time. I could also make you frybread mix, and you could cook it at home yourself. call jasmine @ (541)553-3047….

  • George W. Aguilar Sr.

    Fry bread
    Is a Native American food, found throughout the United States. Fry bread is flat dough fried or deep-fried in vegetable oil, shortening, or animal lard. Fry bread was created in the 1800s; some Wasco’s of Warm Springs learned how to make use of it during the arrival of the Methodist Missionaries and Oregon Pioneers. As a result of the introduction of this grain grown commodity some Wasco’s began growing wheat and Harvesting it along the Columbia River.
    Fry bread is a way of life for the Native American; this food preparation is passed down from generation to generation. Fry bread has a significant role in Native American culture. It is often served both at home and at gatherings like pow-wows.
    At my home, my wife Ella always made it a point to make her special recipes fry bread, tortillas for birthday gatherings and the holidays. Our family often commented that she should sell her special made Ute type fry bread during pow-wow days. Her granddaughter Jasmine now possesses the special recipe
    Fry bread may be served with fruit, honey, jam, meat, or pinto beans. It is a primary food on the powwow circuit. Once the special recipe is fried the texture is light on the inside while the outside is chewy-crisp.
    Topped with additions such as beans, ground beef, shredded cheese, lettuce and chopped tomatoes fry bread is served as Indian tacos. If sweetened, or served with sweet toppings such as honey, cinnamon, powdered sugar, fry bread is very similar to an elephant ear or simply known as fried dough.
    Most nutritionist and health officials frown on the diet of the fry-bread, which may cause obesity, diabetes, and other diseases,
    What may very well have been a survival food during early times, born of poverty and hard-times. Fry bread has now become a symbol of Native American pride 150 years later.

  • http://thy@wanderingspoon.com Thy Tran

    Karen: Great to “meet” the cook of those excellent fry breads — thanks so much for stopping by! Do wish I could taste some of that huckleberry soda.

    George: I really appreciate your sharing both the history and your own personal memories of such a simple yet important food. Yeah, not the lightest food out there. But so yummy no matter what the topping!

  • Jasmine Caldera

    Hello, Thy Tran. actually, my sister Karen was trying to make a comment. i am very honored, that you loved my cooking so much, you put it here on the net, with bay area bites. im glad you dropped by, to test out my food, i just wish we could have fully met. if your traveling through Warm Springs, oregon Hwy 26. please stop by again, i would love to share with you, huckleberry soda and a salmon pouch. but thanx again. have a good one. and safe travelings!

  • Gary

    Hi Guys,
    When we were kids, my grandmother,who was from Ronda, Espana, would make what we called Gunuellos, probably not the real name, but it was fried yeast dough from Spain, ‘yummy-yummy’ and I believe that the Native Americans initially got the idea of fry bread from their European visitors. Anyway, none of the kids, big family got the recipe,,dorks. We loved it and we miss it and our Ma Ma Carme.
    So, if you get to Phoenix absolutely stop by Indian Fry Bread House on 7th off Indian School Road. Get the Tacos, desserts and especially the Chili Verde Stew with fry bread on the side, ”ass-kicking”.
    We are now in Austin, TX and the food here basically sucks unless you like burgers and crappy sausages.
    Miss good food.

  • Jasmine Caldera

    I have family from spain. i dont get to see them much. but yes, native americans did get this from visitors long ago. being placed on reservations and such, getting rashions from the government, learning how to make use of such ingredients made it a part of native american history.

  • ladyvamp5489

    I grew up on the Navajo Reservation in NM and love Fry Bread. I make it and my famiiy loves it too. Good Stuff!!!