Native American Frybread: 4 things to know about Arizona's delicious and historically complex foodsep Arizona Journey (2023)

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Last Updated on September 8, 2022

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There’s a LOT more to this dish than simply fried food

Native American frybread (also known as Navajo fry bread or Indian frybread) is a bit of Arizona culinary history. Served in both sweet and savory versions, fry bread is a staple that has sustained the Navajo and other indigenous peoples through some trying times. But there’s a reason it’s stayed around so long–it’s delicious! And it made a significant impression on a young boy.

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Discovering Native American Frybread (as a kid)

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You see, back when I was a mere pup of nine years old, one of my earliest food memories came from a trip out West. My mom took my brother and I, two suburban kids from Long Island, NY out to visit the desert landscapes we had only seen in western films. In Arizona we went to a rodeo, where I had my first taste of Navajo fry bread. Just like it sounds, it was a hunk of dough that was deep-fried and, in this case, dusted with powdered sugar. What was not to like?

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It was a lot for an east coast suburban kid to absorb. (And absorb it I did–I was quite a chubby child.) That taste of Native American frybread led to a lifelong love of fried dough, resulting in my latent donut fetish (but that’s a story for another day).

Native American Frybread is historic (in a complicated way)

Native American frybread originated as a result of a painful period in American history. In 1864 the United States forced tribes living in Arizona–many from the Navajo Nation–to leave their lands and relocate to New Mexico. This 300-mile journey came to be known as the “Long Walk.”

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This new land couldn’t easily support traditional Native American food staples of vegetables and beans. To prevent indigenous populations from starving, the government supplied the types of staples they themselves ate: canned goods, as well as white flour, processed sugar and lard. By putting their own unique spin on these ingredients, the Native Americans developed frybread.

In a sad and ironic twist, the U.S. government signed a treaty with the Navajo in 1868, allowing them to return to their homeland (although the geography was much smaller). So much pain and heartache for a round-trip journey.

Frybread can be savory: Navajo Tacos

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Fast forward 150 years or so, and we’re in northern Arizona exploring many Native American cultural sights. But with my taste buds were distracted by signs for fry bread tacos. Fry bread TACOS!?! Is there a way to improve upon the humble fry bread?

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We were staying in Tuba City on the western end of Navajo Nation and stopped for a meal at the Tuuvi Cafe. The restaurant was conveniently attached to a gas station and every table was packed.

The waitress assured me that the fry bread taco was the best we’d find anywhere, so how could I resist? (To make things a bit confusing the Tuuvi Center is actually on Hopi territory, which is literally across the street from the Navajo Nation here in Tuba City. So instead of having a “Navajo taco” we were served a “Tuuvi taco.”) But I think we’re just splitting hairs here. When she brought out my plate with a massive heaping of food, it was so large that I looked around the room to see how many other people were joining me.

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An Indianfry bread taco is just like the names says: picture a large dollop of ground beef, mix it up with spices, peppers and beans, melt some cheese on top, cover it with lettuce and tomatoes and plop the whole thing on a hubcap-sized piece of freshly fried dough. Imagine eating a cheeseburger with all the fixings on a giant donut and you get the idea.

The meat was perfectly spiced with a bit of heat but not too much. The fry bread underneath stayed crispy for the first few minutes before it gave into the juicy beef assault. I finished most of the topping but barely made a dent in the main event, the Native American fry bread.

The verdict:A Navajo fry bread taco is one of those things you should try once. But for me, as much as I love donuts, the combination of fried bread and beefy taco filling was a bit much.

(UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Tuuvi Cafe is now closed, but read on for recommendations of other places where you can find Native American Fry bread in Arizona.)

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Native American Frybread can be dessert . . . SWEET!

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A week later we stopped at Fry Bread House in Phoenix for another go at this Native American classic. This time we opted to forego the hubcap-sized taco and focus on dessert. Much like a creperie in France, the menu featured different combinations of sweet toppings on a fresh, warm frybread: butter, honey, cinnamon, powdered sugar . . . you get the gist. We chose the cinnamon and sugar combo (they offered a butter-cinnamon-sugar combo, but we just couldn’t go there). The cinnamon and sugar melted into the crispy dough, providing the perfect complement of crunchy, gooey and sweet. We had found our favorite–and the little boy deep inside me rejoiced.

PRO TIP: Try a frybread simply topped with cinnamon and sugar. The topping is light and flavorful and really lets the delicate crunch of the Native American frybread come through.

Fry bread is an American Classic–Really!

In 2012 the Fry Bread House won a James Beard Award in the “America’s Classics” category, making the first Native American restaurant to receive the prestigious award. Now this was more my speed. Picture a nice big fluffy donut fresh out of the fryer and you have the Fry Bread House’s dessert fry bread. Who says you can’t have it all? (Another Arizona Classic, the Sonoran Hot Dog in Tucson, also won this award in 2018–there are some great eats in AZ!)

Where to try Native American Frybread (& Navajo Tacos)

The following restaurants (in alphabetical order) serve Native American Frybread. (Confirm opening hours prior to visiting-there may be restrictions based on COVID-19 precautions.)

  • Cafe Santa Rosa, Tucson. Lots of frybread variations, both sweet and savory. Note: on the menu, frybread is called “popovers.”
  • Cameron Trading Post, Cameron. This combination restaurant/hotel/gift shop is located on Navajo Nation land, about 50 miles north of Flagstaff.
  • Courtyard Cafe at the Heard Museum, Phoenix. This museum showcasing Native American Art serves regional specialties in its cafe, including fry bread.
  • Hopi Cultural Center, Second Mesa. This combination restaurant/hotel/gift shop is located on Hopi Nation land, about 70 miles north of Winslow.
  • The Fry Bread House, Phoenix. Owned by the Tohono O’odham tribe, this is the restaurant that is a James Beard Award Winner.
  • Roadside stands, throughout Arizona. Often on the scenic byways, these pop-up spots often offer delicious, fresh, hot Native American Frybread. Somehow, it tastes more authentic in that setting. 😋

BONUS: You can try Native American Frybread at home

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Want to make this at home? Try this native american frybread recipe. The folks at Smithsonian printed it a few years back, and we like it because the ingredients really are staples you’re likely to have at home: flour, baking powder, water and salt. And they recommend any type of oil for frying (meaning you don’t have to use lard if you don’t want.) The other nice thing about this recipe is that you can also use it for grillbread, and skip the “fry” part altogether. (Spoiler alert: the cinnamon-sugar blend tastes best on the frybread. Just sayin’ 😊 )

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FAQs

How did Native Americans make frybread? ›

Using the provided white wheat flour, Native cooks hand-flattened and deep-fried the dough into a distinctive, golden bread. Fry bread has many variants. It can contain pumpkin or squash, be topped with fruits and sweets, or be covered with beans, chili, onions, tomatoes, and cheese to create an Indian taco.

When was frybread created? ›

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.

What is the history of Indian fry bread? ›

Navajo frybread originated 144 years ago, when the United States forced Indians living in Arizona to make the 300-mile journey known as the "Long Walk" and relocate to New Mexico, onto land that couldn't easily support their traditional staples of vegetables and beans.

What is Native American fry bread made of? ›

Fry Bread is a Native American Bread that has been carried down from generation to generation and made with simple ingredients of flour, water, salt, and a little hot water. Growing up I was served scones as a treat with powdered sugar and honey and oh how I loved them.

What is fry bread made of? ›

Fry bread is a flatbread that's fried in oil, shortening or lard. Several tribes have their own variation on fry bread, but most Navajo-inspired fry breads are made with flour, water and salt and don't contain any yeast, using baking powder as the leavening agent.

Who invented fried dough? ›

Fry bread was invented by the Navajo tribe of the southwestern United States in 1864 using the flour, sugar, lard, and salt given to them by the U.S. government.

Is fry bread healthy? ›

Health Problems

Fry bread can be eaten alone or as part of a meal, or can be dessert topped with butter, cinnamon and sugar or perhaps honey. Fry bread is tempting to most people because of the grease/lard/shortening ingredient and therein lies the problem. Not only is fry bread high in fat, it is also caloric.

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 Native Americans eat 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).

What was Native American diet? ›

Many Native cultures harvested corn, beans, chile, squash, wild fruits and herbs, wild greens, nuts and meats. Those foods that could be dried were stored for later use throughout the year.

What is considered Native American food? ›

Traditional Foods

The most significant and long lasting Native American crops include corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, wild rice, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, avocados, papayas, potatoes and cacao.

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 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 a funnel cake fry bread? ›

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.

What kind of bread do Native American eat? ›

It was usually just corn flour boiled in water. It could be eaten as a soup or drunk as a hot beverage. 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.

Can you freeze fry bread? ›

Can Fry Bread Be Frozen? Fry bread can be frozen for up to three months. Wipe the oil off with a paper towel once the bread cools and wrap it tightly in plastic, then place it in a freezer bag. For better results, freeze the uncooked dough when it's still in the ball shape using the same type of packaging.

How is dough formed? ›

Dough is a thick, malleable, sometimes elastic paste made from grains or from leguminous or chestnut crops. Dough is typically made by mixing flour with a small amount of water or other liquid and sometimes includes yeast or other leavening agents, as well as ingredients such as fats or flavorings.

Is a cupcake a quick bread? ›

The term 'quick bread' is a way of categorizing many different types of baked goods, namely ones that rise with the use of chemical leavening agents. This can be any cake, cookie, scone, or bread recipe baked by using chemicals to create rise rather than yeast or eggs.

Where is flour native to? ›

The first evidence of flour was found to be from around 30,000 years ago. It came from the Upper Paleolithic region in Europe. The oldest technique used to make flour was using a combination of a stone mortar and pestle. Later on, the Romans used flour by grinding seeds on cone mills.

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).

Who made the very first donut? ›

Hanson Gregory, an American, claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 aboard a lime-trading ship when he was 16 years old.

Why is a doughnut called a doughnut? ›

They were originally called "oily cakes."

The early Americans took the fact that the treats were fried in oil quite literally, naming them olykoeks, translating to "oily cakes." The word 'donut' came soon after when a woman is said to have put nuts in the dough before frying it.

How many donuts do Americans eat? ›

There are roughly 300 million Americans. For us to consume 10 billion doughnuts, that would mean each of us consumes about 33 a year on average. I don't eat that many doughnuts, but there are some Americans who eat multiple doughnuts every week, so it's certainly plausible that we eat 10 billion doughnuts per year.

Is fry bread good for diabetics? ›

While it is filing and tasty, most frybread is made using "processed" ingredients, like bleached white flower and genetically modified vegetable oil. These things are low in nutrients and are linked to health problems like type 2 diabetes, obesity and even heart disease.

Is fried dough healthy? ›

Fried dough, a staple food at summer carnivals and fairs, is one of the worst offenders. The mixture of sugar, deep-fried flour, butter, and more is damaging to your health. One 6oz serving of “Carnival Fried Dough” contains 720 calories, 39g of fat, and 79g of carbs, according to myfitnesspal.

Is fried bread better? ›

It's flavorful.

Unlike the dry toast you can make in a toaster (or under the broiler in your oven), slices fried in oil are rich and luxurious; that bit of extra fat goes a long way in the flavor department. But you can take your toast in a more specific taste direction by switching up the oil you use.

How old are Indian tacos? ›

Indian tacos were born of something else entirely – a love for chili, beans and lots of cheese. What started in the late 1800s as sustenance concocted from government rations of lard, flour, salt and baking powder later became a staple in American Indian homes and at pow wows.

How do you eat Navajo tacos? ›

Serve it up with pico de gallo, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, cheese (anything from cheddar, to colby jack, to pepperjack, to cotija), black olives, green onions, sliced avocado and let family members create their own perfect Navajo taco!

Is there another name for Indian tacos? ›

Indian Tacos, also known as Navajo tacos, are a Native American taco made on tender, crispy fry bread topped with taco meat, lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes.

Why is my fry bread hard? ›

My fry bread comes out tough. Looks great, but what went wrong? Tough bread is a result of over-kneading/over-mixing. This develops the gluten protein too much, which makes for chewy, tough bread.

What is Poyha? ›

Poyha is cross between a venison meatloaf and cornbread with wild onions, scallions, chokecherries, huckleberries and other wild berries. Poyha also appears in the cuisine of other Native American tribes: tribes from the Plains and from the Southwest replace the venison with bison.

Is Indian fry bread really Indian? ›

Although a food that is not originally indigenous to Native American cuisine, fry bread has been considered for many years a Pan-Indian food nearly universal across the 574 federally recognized tribes.

How many times a day did Native Americans eat? ›

The majority of tribes enjoyed one to two meals a day with littler regularity in scheduling. Tribes were sustained by agriculture or a hunter/gatherer lifestyle; many tribes used a combination of both.

What do Native Americans like to be called? ›

The consensus, however, is that whenever possible, Native people prefer to be called by their specific tribal name. In the United States, Native American has been widely used but is falling out of favor with some groups, and the terms American Indian or Indigenous American are preferred by many Native people.

Did Indians eat meat raw? ›

Most tribes relished the internal organs, sometimes eaten raw. The tongue, testicles, and hump meat were considered delicacies. Bile was sprinkled on meat like white-man mustard. The kidneys were given to ailing tribe members.

What did Native Americans drink? ›

Surprisingly, there are a number of accounts of alcohol use among other American Indians and Alaska Natives. Beverages were limited to wine and beer, and included: balche, pulque, and "haren a pitahaya" wines, tulpi beer and other beverages.

Do Native Americans have tattoos? ›

Many tribes used body modification to convey status, accomplishment, and identity. Even today it's common practice for people of American Indian descent to have the individual art and symbols of their families and tribes memorialized on their bodies, just as their ancestors did.

What is a famous Native American dish? ›

1. Bison Pot Roast With Hominy. The American bison that once roamed the Great Plains were considered sacred animals by the Lakota and other people of the region, and served as a critical food source that was celebrated in ceremonies and honored in prayers.

Who invented fried dough? ›

Fry bread was invented by the Navajo tribe of the southwestern United States in 1864 using the flour, sugar, lard, and salt given to them by the U.S. government.

Is fry bread Indian or Native American? ›

Fry bread is a Native American bread that stretches back generations, particularly in the Navajo Nation with whom it originated. It's enjoyed all over the U.S. and is easily found throughout the Southwest.

Why do natives eat 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).

What is the history of bannock? ›

It is conventionally believed that Scottish fur traders called Selkirk settlers introduced bannock to the Indigenous peoples of North America during the 18th and 19th centuries. (See also Fur Trade in Canada.) The Scots cooked it in a griddle called a bannock stone, which they placed on the floor before a fire.

Who made the very first donut? ›

Hanson Gregory, an American, claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 aboard a lime-trading ship when he was 16 years old.

Why is a doughnut called a doughnut? ›

They were originally called "oily cakes."

The early Americans took the fact that the treats were fried in oil quite literally, naming them olykoeks, translating to "oily cakes." The word 'donut' came soon after when a woman is said to have put nuts in the dough before frying it.

How many donuts do Americans eat? ›

There are roughly 300 million Americans. For us to consume 10 billion doughnuts, that would mean each of us consumes about 33 a year on average. I don't eat that many doughnuts, but there are some Americans who eat multiple doughnuts every week, so it's certainly plausible that we eat 10 billion doughnuts per year.

What was Native American diet? ›

Many Native cultures harvested corn, beans, chile, squash, wild fruits and herbs, wild greens, nuts and meats. Those foods that could be dried were stored for later use throughout the year.

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.

What is considered Native American food? ›

Traditional Foods

The most significant and long lasting Native American crops include corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, wild rice, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, avocados, papayas, potatoes and cacao.

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.

Is fry bread healthy? ›

Health Problems

Fry bread can be eaten alone or as part of a meal, or can be dessert topped with butter, cinnamon and sugar or perhaps honey. Fry bread is tempting to most people because of the grease/lard/shortening ingredient and therein lies the problem. Not only is fry bread high in fat, it is also caloric.

What is Poyha? ›

Poyha is cross between a venison meatloaf and cornbread with wild onions, scallions, chokecherries, huckleberries and other wild berries. Poyha also appears in the cuisine of other Native American tribes: tribes from the Plains and from the Southwest replace the venison with bison.

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.

Did the Native Americans make bread? ›

A type of bannock, using available resources, such as flour made from maize, roots, tree sap and leavening agents, may have been produced by indigenous North Americans prior to contact with outsiders, similar to modern cornbread.

What language is bannock? ›

The word "bannock" comes from Northern and Scots dialects.

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