Navajo: Fry Bread, Tacos, Pizza
For those unfamiliar with this awe-inspiring territory located in the Four Corners region of the country, the Navajo Nation covers more than 27,000 square miles in portions of northwestern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, and southeastern Utah. Its culture is a major influence on all aspects of the area.
One of those influences coming from this sovereign Native American nation — the largest of its kind — is the beauty, history, and flavor of the region’s food. It’s a true representative of the people and the land, offering a unique, yet recognizable, spin on what many of us consider comfort food.
Traditionally, the Navajo farmed vegetables, including beans, squash, and corn, which grew in many colors and was eaten dried (and ground) or fresh. The Navajo hunted deer and other small mammals for protein. Today sheep are raised in the territory for wool, and mutton is one of the tribe’s most popular food sources.
Navajo fry bread is still an inspired food of the nation’s people, and it can be found in many forms with various names around the southwest. To some of the region’s people, it’s considered a sacred tradition, while others associate it as a sweet fried bread found at state fairs around the southwest, sprinkled with powdered sugar and honey. In Navajo country, however, fry bread is used as the foundation of the famous "Indian taco” or “Navajo taco,” which is adorned with fried meats, ground beef, and other taco-style ingredients. It’s also eaten with honey or jam, and as a complement to any meal.
According to Navajo tradition, fry bread was created in 1864 using the flour, sugar, salt, and lard given to them by the government when the Navajo, living in Arizona, were forced to make the 300-mile journey known as the "Long Walk" and relocate to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico.
Despite its troubling origins, fry bread and Indian tacos are now popular at Native American gatherings in the Navajo region, and have even made it into restaurants in the area.
Closely related but less common in its reach is the Navajo pizza. And while it cannot be confirmed, not unlike most food lore, it is said that Twin Rocks Cafe in Bluff, Utah, actually invented the dish. (Read:"Utah’s Unexpected Pit Stops".) It seems to be the forerunner among a small number of restaurants in Utah, Arizona, and Colorado that offer Navajo pizza, which is rarely found outside of Navajo-inspired southwestern restaurants.
Regardless of where you are lucky enough to find it, expect a Navajo pizza to consist of traditional fry bread, topped with tomato sauce (ideally homemade), meats, vegetables, cheeses, and more, just like your favorite American style pizza, but with a Native American taste, color, and texture reminiscent of the very earth from which it was born.