Native American Fry Bread Has a Place in North Texas (2023)

To outsiders, the way 75-year-old Pauline LongFox prepares fry bread might seem like free-form cooking. You won’t see a recipe anywhere as she tends to hot, grease-filled skillets and adds flattened pieces of dough. But LongFox, a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaws who lives in Pleasant Grove, a neighborhood in southeast Dallas, has a very specific technique etched into her consciousness, drawn from decades of making the dish that many consider synonymous with Native American culture.Over the years, the North Texas Native community has come to regard her as a master fry-bread cook.

“A lot of people ask me how I make it,” LongFox says. “I don’t have a recipe. You just know what you got to do. Other tribes, even my tribe...they have their own ways.”

Fry bread is diverse, but no matter the recipe, it’s a simple, joyful comfort food that binds hundreds of Native American tribes and communities. The very ingredients—flour, salt, baking powder, shortening—are a testament to how one of the United States’ minuscule Indigenous populations has survived for the past 150 years.

(Video) Fry Bread Tacos from a Native American Food Truck — Cooking in America

Both Native Americans and non-Natives have proprietary recipes and methods for preparing fry bread. Native American families tend to have their own designated fry-bread chefs—people who helm the kitchen, mixing just the right combination of basic ingredients to concoct the carb-filled, sometimes tender, sometimes firm, greasy and aromatic dish. (If you’ve seen the making of a carnival funnel cake, in which a wad of dough floats in a pool of hot grease on its way to being browned, you’ve witnessed the basic mechanics of making fry bread.)

The Dallas area—where members of Plains tribes and Five Civilized Tribes converged by the thousands after the Indian Relocation Act of 1956—has emerged as a fry-bread epicenter in Texas. I’m of Muscogee-Menominee-Potawatomi descent, and I spent plenty of formative years in rural Oklahoma around fry bread. Over the past thirty years living in the Dallas area, I’ve run across various forms of fry bread at Native American churches, powwows, art markets—most anywhere Native American families gather for dinners. In a state where, as of December 2020, Native Americans total only one percent of the population, the greasy treat feels like a visit home. But the bread is more than a joyful indulgence. Though the dish’s popularity with Natives continues to endure, fry bread carries with it the weight of Native trauma past and present.

“Everyone thinks they make the best fry bread—and they do. Even burnt fry bread is good,” says Albert Old Crow, a Cheyenne who talks frequently of his quest for fry bread on his Beyond Bows and Arrows radio program on KNON in Dallas.

(Video) Making Native American FRY BREAD! | Cook Out with Chef Maria Hines

Native American Fry Bread Has a Place in North Texas (1)

It may be of interest to Tex-Mex fans that Native Americans commonly refer to fry bread as an “Indian taco.” Like a tortilla, fry bread is a blank canvas that gets customized with toppings and fixings. The toppings options are endless, but some of the more common are beans, tomatoes, ground beef, lettuce, picante sauce, cheese, jalapeños, onions, and assorted condiments. You can even go dessert style, with powdered sugar and honey. San Antonio foodies might compare fry bread to the puffy taco that’s made from deep-fried masa dough and loaded with fillings that give it the “Indian taco” look.

In Texas, finding fry bread served outside Native American events is a quest. Native American restaurants in the U.S. are few and far between, and I don’t know of any in Texas. But Native Americans don’t have an exclusive patent on deep-frying a wad of dough, and in recent years, more non-Native chefs are touting fry bread on their menus. Warrior Taco, which opened earlier this year, is a taco food truck that specializes in fry bread and is typically hosted in Saginaw, north of Fort Worth. Its menu features fry bread variations with names like Yeti Taco, Sasquatch Burger, and Bigfoot Taco. In Dallas, the Texas Fry Bread Company, which was founded in 2018 and doesn’t brand its fry-bread lineup as Native-inspired, has a menu of fry-bread tacos, including sweet versions with toppings of chocolate, strawberries, apples and cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, and powdered sugar and honey. Over in Plano, Burnt BBQ & Tacos, founded last year, serves a Navajo Fry Bread taco.

But what those chefs may or may not realize is that fry bread is regarded as a health hazard for the very segment of people it delights. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes prevalence for Native Americans isroughly twicethat of white U.S. adults. Dieticians will attribute that in small part to fry bread’s rich ingredients; in 2010, Health magazine chose fry bread as one of the fifty fattiest foods in the U.S.

Hypertension and diabetes are part of my family’s history, so I’ve kept my distance and consumed fry bread in moderation, though I occasionally throw caution to the wind and indulge with a massive dollop of butter. According to Peggy Larney, the founder of American Indian Heritage Day in Texas,Native Americans “know we shouldn’t have it in our diet, but it’s hard to break a good thing.” Some fry-bread makers have turned to wheat flour instead of all-purpose or white flour for a more healthful alternative. “There’s a little difference; it’s a little bit better,” Larney says.

(Video) TPWDiscover | Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story

In addition to the health problems of the future, fry bread also carries the baggage of the past. Its history for Indigenous people is as a survival food, not a special culinary creation. To many Native Americans who had ancestors forcibly removed from their homelands, fry bread itself represents what was taken and substituted in its place. The origins of fry bread are debated, but common lore states that it can be traced to the Navajo, or Diné, more than 150 years ago. In the mid-nineteenth century, when the U.S. government was forcing Indigenous people from their lands to unfamiliar territories, food sources changed. The Navajo were relocated to lands that couldn’t easily support their traditional staples of vegetables and beans, so cooks turned to government-rationed commodities that included white flour, processed sugar, and lard—the ingredients for fry bread.

Fry bread “represents the creativity and ingenuity that Native peoples had; it is a staple in Native communities today,” Richard Hetzler, Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe chef, told Cowboys & Indians magazine. “I think it showcases how Native Americans would take even hardships like being forced to reservations and make something exciting and fun out of it. To me it is a testament of their sheer will and tenacity on how they viewed life and their creator.”

Ask the Native American community in the Dallas area who makes the best fry bread and many names surface, especially LongFox’s. LongFox is a testament to the fry bread–cooking techniques you won’t find in a cookbook. She knows the exact combinations of ingredients and the timing of when to bring them together. When she arrived in Dallas in the 1980s, she had not cooked fry bread before, but learned from “elders, who taught me how.”

Her fry-bread tricks aren’t secret: prepare the dough a day earlier, mind the texture, and while the dough is frying, flip it only once. She doesn’t measure any of the ingredients except to make sure she mixes a half-cup of powdered milk to every five pounds of flour for a thirty-count batch. She fries them in a deep metal pan full of grease and turns the dough with tongs.

(Video) Making Fry Bread (How we were taught)

At a recent fry-bread fundraiser in the Dallas Indian Mission United Methodist Church in Oak Cliff, LongFox and her crew of cooks produced hundreds of fry breads for sale. In a small back-room kitchen, LongFox and her crew busily fed a procession of paying friends.

On that day, LongFox scuttled around in the kitchen like a woman half her age, managing her crew’s workflow to make sure customers received the warmest portions.

Hollis Aseanp, a Comanche from Dallas, had a plateful of fry bread before him and an appreciation for LongFox’s efforts. “Some of it’s too greasy. Hers is not,” he said.At another table, Jessica Johnson, a Chickasaw-Choctaw-Seminole from Irving, said fry bread is a state of mind.

“It is the feeling of family and community that you get from fry bread,” she said. “It makes you think of dancers and the drum when you smell it, and of good childhood memories of honey smeared on top.And it shows perseverance—give a Native some poor land and poor food, and we make something out of nothing.”

FAQs

What Indian tribes made fry bread? ›

The common story of fry bread is that before it became a staple of powwows and family dinners, it was a survival food, usually traced to the Navajo people (who call themselves the Diné).

Did Native Americans make fry bread? ›

According to many historians, American Indians, usually those connected with the Southwest, developed fry bread during the mid- to late-nineteenth century as the U.S. government began relocating and confining these peoples.

When did Native Americans start making fry bread? ›

The Navajo created frybread in 1864 when the U.S. government initiated the reservation system and food commodities for the tribes after disrupting their way of life.

Is Indian fry bread the same as funnel cake? ›

Fry bread is bubbly and chewy—sort of like pizza dough or puffy pita bread—while funnel cake is bumpy and takes on a layered shape, like a bundle of yarn. Both funnel cake and Indian fry bread make appearances at state fairs and carnivals.

Did Native Americans have flour? ›

The variety of cultivated and wild foods eaten before contact with Europeans was as vast and variable as the regions where indigenous people lived. Seeds, nuts and corn were ground into flour using grinding stones and made into breads, mush and other uses.

Is fry bread the same as bannock? ›

Indian Frybread, also known as Bannock has been a staple in First Nations communities all over North America for centuries. It is a flat dough bread, typically deep fried in some sort of fat, like lard or oil.

What does fry bread smell like? ›

These aroma constituents exhibited an array of odor nuances such as malty, buttery, roast-like, baked potato-like, sweaty, deep-fried, caramel, smoky, and oily/peach-like. To establish differences among the flavors of the fry bread samples, the volatile fractions of the fry bread extracts were subjected to AEDA.

Why is bannock controversial? ›

Bannock is a reminder that Indigenous peoples were forced to eat new foods when the Europeans colonized the land that is now Canada. Many Indigenous peoples were moved off their territories and onto reserves, where they were not able to hunt as they once did.

How do you eat fry bread? ›

While fry bread is usually served with savory foods, it can also be turned into a sweet treat. Drizzle the finished fry bread with honey or syrup, serve it with jam, dust it with powdered sugar or brush it with butter and sprinkle on a little cinnamon sugar. It's delicious, no matter how you serve it!

Is fry bread healthy? ›

Yet, fry bread contributes to high levels of diabetes and obesity that affect nearly one-half of the Native population living on reservations. The average piece of this fried white-flour dough(The size of the eight-inch paper plate it's served on) weighs in at 700 calories and contains 25 grams of fat.

What did rip make Beth for breakfast on Yellowstone? ›

An especially touching scene, Rip Wheeler, played by Cole Hauser, is making Beth one of his favorite breakfasts: yummy fry bread topped with scrambled eggs and bacon. Emotional and raw, Beth found herself deeply touched as she ate the crispy golden brown Indian fry bread as Rip watched her eat from across the table.

What bread did Native Americans eat? ›

Bannock, skaan (or scone), Indian bread or frybread is found throughout North American Native cuisine, including that of the Inuit of Canada and Alaska, other Alaska Natives, the First Nations of the rest of Canada, the Native Americans in the United States, and the Métis.

How did the American Indians make bread? ›

The basic recipe was ground maize, or cornmeal, as well as water and salt. Honey was added, if it was available. Some tribes had clay ovens in which to bake it.

Why is fry bread considered history? ›

Fry bread is considered Indian country's “soul food,” because — just like barbecue ribs, which were borne during the evil enslavement and persecution of Africans in the U.S. — fry bread never had its place in Indian country until white, government officials forced Navajos and other nations and tribes into prison camps ...

Is fry bread the same as elephant ears? ›

Elephant ears are crispy circles of fried dough, also known as fry bread, coated with cinnamon and sugar. They are sold with this name in America at fairs, carnivals, food trucks, and theme parks. The uneven wrinkled somewhat round shape of the piece of fried dough is reminiscent of an elephant's ear.

What is fried bread dough called? ›

Fried dough is also known as fry dough, fry bread (bannock), fried bread, doughboys, elephant ears, scones, pizza fritte, frying saucers, and buñuelos (in the case of smaller pieces).

Why are Indians called tacos? ›

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.

Did the Native Americans have bread? ›

Cornbread was also a very common food among all Native Americans [35] and could be thin flat breads such as tortillas or thick breads more like modern cornbread or pancakes made from corn.

Did Native Americans have cheese? ›

Before Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere, there were no domesticated livestock—so there was no dairy. Indigenous peoples fed themselves through a combination of hunting, fishing, foraging, and agriculture.

How did Indians survive winter? ›

Indians could cover a lot of ground in the snow, and could more easily carry large volumes of meat and skins on sleds back to camp. Frozen rivers were basically highways — totally flat, and free of obstacles like trees, deadfall, and terrain features.

How long will fry bread keep? ›

Fry bread is best when it's freshly fried. If you need to store leftovers, keep it at room temperature loosely wrapped in plastic or in an unsealed plastic bag for up to 2 days. To reheat it, wrap the bread individually in foil and bake in a 375 F oven for about 10 to 12 minutes.

How did fry bread become Native American tradition? ›

According to Navajo tradition, frybread was created in 1864 using the flour, sugar, salt and lard that was given to them by the United States government when the Navajo, who were living in Arizona, were forced to make the 300-mile journey known as the "Long Walk" and relocate to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico, onto land ...

Why is my fry bread hard? ›

Why is my Fry Bread Hard? Fry Bread will come out hard if you over mix or knead the dough. Mixing or over kneading will develop the gluten too much and result in tough fry bread.

What's the difference between a scone and fry bread? ›

This treat has many names, but in North America it's mostly known as fry bread, or frybread. Unless you're from Utah like me, and then you likely call this a scone. But regardless of the name you're familiar with, they're all pretty much the same— a simple dough rolled or stretched flat and deep-fried till golden.

How do you reheat Indian fry bread? ›

To reheat fry bread: Heat the oven to 350° F. Wrap each piece of fry bread in aluminum foil and bake until heated through, about 15 minutes. If you're in a hurry, throw it in the microwave.

What are the 5 white gifts? ›

The “Five White Gifts” — flour, sugar, salt, milk and lard — are ingredients that are full of historic injustices and ongoing colonial legacies. These five foods were given out in ration boxes by the government of Canada during the 1940s to Indigenous families living on reserves.

Is bannock Scottish or Indian? ›

Modern bannock, heavy and dense when baked — or light, fluffy and golden brown when fried — is usually made from wheat flour, which was introduced by Europeans, particularly Scots, who had their own flat cakes of unleavened barley or oatmeal dough called bannock.

Where did bannock bread originate? ›

Bannock

Where did Maori fry bread come from? ›

Rēwena bread
Alternative namesRēwena bread, Māori bread
TypeBread
Place of originNew Zealand
Main ingredientsPotato, flour, water, sugar, salt

Why is bannock controversial? ›

Bannock is a reminder that Indigenous peoples were forced to eat new foods when the Europeans colonized the land that is now Canada. Many Indigenous peoples were moved off their territories and onto reserves, where they were not able to hunt as they once did.

Is fry bread the same as bannock? ›

Indian Frybread, also known as Bannock has been a staple in First Nations communities all over North America for centuries. It is a flat dough bread, typically deep fried in some sort of fat, like lard or oil.

Is bannock Native American? ›

Bannock, skaan (or scone), Indian bread or frybread is found throughout North American Native cuisine, including that of the Inuit of Canada and Alaska, other Alaska Natives, the First Nations of the rest of Canada, the Native Americans in the United States, and the Métis.

Who invented the Navajo taco? ›

The first Navajo taco was created by Lou Shepard, who worked for the tribe in the 1960s as manager of the Navajo Lodge, a tribally owned motel and restaurant located across the street from what is now the Navajo Education Center.

Why is it called an Indian taco? ›

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.

What did Maori use for flour? ›

When Pākehā settlers arrived in New Zealand, Māori quickly embraced the new foods they brought, in particular: wheat for flour.

What are the 5 white gifts? ›

The “Five White Gifts” — flour, sugar, salt, milk and lard — are ingredients that are full of historic injustices and ongoing colonial legacies. These five foods were given out in ration boxes by the government of Canada during the 1940s to Indigenous families living on reserves.

Is bannock Scottish or Indian? ›

Modern bannock, heavy and dense when baked — or light, fluffy and golden brown when fried — is usually made from wheat flour, which was introduced by Europeans, particularly Scots, who had their own flat cakes of unleavened barley or oatmeal dough called bannock.

Where did bannock bread originate? ›

Bannock

How long will fry bread keep? ›

Fry bread is best when it's freshly fried. If you need to store leftovers, keep it at room temperature loosely wrapped in plastic or in an unsealed plastic bag for up to 2 days. To reheat it, wrap the bread individually in foil and bake in a 375 F oven for about 10 to 12 minutes.

How did fry bread become Native American tradition? ›

According to Navajo tradition, frybread was created in 1864 using the flour, sugar, salt and lard that was given to them by the United States government when the Navajo, who were living in Arizona, were forced to make the 300-mile journey known as the "Long Walk" and relocate to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico, onto land ...

What is fried bread dough called? ›

Fried dough is also known as fry dough, fry bread (bannock), fried bread, doughboys, elephant ears, scones, pizza fritte, frying saucers, and buñuelos (in the case of smaller pieces).

What is Banik? ›

Banik a Hindu sub-caste, consisting mainly of traders and merchants. According to Manusanghita, the duties of the vaishya, a major caste, include not only trading but also cattle breeding and tilling the soil. Baniks, however, are traders and merchants, and hence are regarded as a different Vaisya sub-caste.

Did Native Americans have baking powder? ›

Pearlash. The third type of leavening, pearlash, was the precursor to modern baking powder. Pearlash was a purified form of potash. It was first used as a leavening agent by Native Americans and was the subject of the first patent in the United States, issued in April 1790.

What is Luskinikn? ›

Luskinikn (pronounced loo-skin-e-gen), like other bannock, is made from flour, lard, salt, water (or milk). Some use baking powder and some add sugar. Kcitqihikon (pronounced k'cheet-qway-he-gon) is the Passamaquoddy/Wolastoqey bread cooked on coals. Wabanaki Breads. Pronunciation.

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