Indian Fry Bread

1280px-FrybreadWhen I was in middle school (grades 6-8, about age 11-13; also called “junior high school”) and in high school (grades 9-12, about age 13-17), my friends and I would hang out (spend time) at the mall (shopping center with a lot of stores) on the weekends during our summer vacation. One of the things I looked forward to was the food.

We would often buy snacks and drinks from the stands selling food. Instead of a food court — an area in a mall with many fast food restaurants and shared tables for people to sit at to eat — these individual stands would be located throughout the mall, in the middle of the long walkways. A stand is simply a table, cart, or simple structure allowing customers to stand on one side and the employee to stand on the other to do business. To drink, my favorite was the Orange Julius stand, selling a very sweet orange drink that tasted as though it contained 1% orange juice and 99% sugar — delicious!

For food, my favorite was Indian fry bread. While Orange Julius is a national chain (company with many locations), the Indian fry bread stand was a local (belonging to this area or region) business. I didn’t know that when I was growing up. I assumed all Americans knew about and ate Indian fry bread, but of course I was wrong. Living in Tucson in southern Arizona, I was lucky to be introduced to this very yummy (delicious) snack because of the city’s proximity (nearness; close location) to the largest in area (land space) Indian reservations in the United States.

We’ve talked about Indian reservations in several podcast episodes (see, for example, English Cafe 139 and English Cafe 477). Indian reservations were pieces of land set aside (reserved) by the U.S. government for the purpose of forcibly (using force, against someone’s wishes) relocating (moving to a new place) Native American tribes off the land they occupied and onto less desirable (useful or wanted) land. Indian fry bread grew (developed) directly out of the establishment of reservations.

In 1864, one of the Native American tribes, the Navajo people, were forced by the government to leave their lands in Arizona and western New Mexico. The government forced the Navajo to walk 300 miles to a new area north, covering (including) parts of northeastern Arizona, southern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. This march was called the “Long Walk.”

On the new land, the Navajo could not grow the crops (fruits and vegetables grown for food) that previously had been the main part of their diet (what they ate): vegetables and beans. This not only changed their entire way of life, it also threatened (with the possibility of something bad happening) starvation (death because of the lack of food). The government did give them some food: canned goods (food stored in cans), white flour (powder made from grain used to make breads and cakes), processed sugar, and lard (fat from the stomach of a pig).

With these ingredients, the Navajo had to make do (do the best they could with the limited things they had) or die. This is how Indian fry bread was born (created). Indian fry bread is essentially (mainly) dough made from white flour and water deep fried in lard (cooked by placing it entirely in melted lard at high heat). A popular variety (type) — and my favorite — is sprinkled (for small amounts of a substance to be scattered (placed randomly) on top) with powdered sugar (sugar that is very fine (in very small pieces) and looks like dust).

Today, Indian fry bread is considered an integral (necessary and important) part of Navajo culture, and is popular among some of the other Native American tribes in the Southwest as well. It is an important part of cultural gatherings and celebrations called powwows. However, as you can imagine, a diet with a lot of deep-fried dough in lard is not very healthy, and in fact, poor health is a very big problem on many Indian reservations, including the Navajo Nation (reservations have their own governments).

While fry bread is an important part of the culture, it is controversial (a cause for disagreement), too. For some, it is a symbol (something that represents something else) of the government’s long history of ill-treatment (doing bad things to other people) toward Native Americans, one that continues to cause health problems for the Native Americans today. For others, though, it represents resilience (ability to stay alive even in very bad conditions).

If you visit Arizona or other parts of the America Southwest and see Indian fry bread for sale, I urge you to try a piece. But for the sake of (for the benefit of) your health, share it with nine of your closest friends.

– Lucy

P.S. There is a controversy (disagreement) about which term to use for the people who lived here before the arrival of Europeans. I’m using the term “Native Americans,” but Indian fry bread probably comes from the term “American Indians,” a term used less commonly nowadays (today). If you’re interested, you can read more about that controversy here.

Photo Credit: Frybread from Wikipedia

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10 Responses to Indian Fry Bread

  1. Dan says:

    Hi Lucy.

    Thank you for all the info packed into the post.
    I understand that for someone it might be the symbol of something negative, but what I want to take with me is the example of adaptability of humans to almost anything, like in the case of these people and the birth of frybread.

    As I always enjoy observing people, I find all this fascinating.

    I believe we have something similar to frybread in Italy as well with variation as you move from region to region.
    We have 20 regions here and you can find different ways of preparing dishes even between cities in the same region.

    Nevertheless, as I lead a simple lifestyle, I would dare to say frugal, I have a really simple diet, and I do not eat too much.

    Thanks bye.

  2. peter says:

    Man ,such a sad history behind a piece of bread.
    Hi Lucy,
    Seems like u were totally health conscious growing up with all the deep fried and sugar bombs:)
    Thanks for the history piece! Kind of bittersweet story :))

  3. peter says:

    Hi Lucy,
    The deep fried bread u r raving about we have it up here too.
    I mean if u r referring to the bread in the image.
    But , they are dated ,old fashioned if you will.
    I mean the bread was popular years ago.
    But it sharply lost its popularity mainly due to
    The Health concern wave in recent years .other words , People got wised up! U know what I mean?
    Nowadays , almost nobody goes for the sugar bomb orang juice u mentioned anymore.
    Sugar free beverages own the trend these days. A living proof of it is the sharp increase sale on diet beverages in the past decade. What is more ,people has substituted deep fried French fries for baked potato in their diet. People’s diet habits have changed dramatically over the past decades towards healthier products. If u don’t noticed , people check out the break down labels on product containers with pinpoint scrutiny 😉
    People got wised up Lucy! poor nutrition products is increasingly becoming a thing of past!
    It is where the general trend is heading.

    Pete , a sugar lover Canuck 🙂

  4. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Lucy is great with her subjects. Food is a tradition of all the people that lives or lived in this world. In my country, it is usual to have delicious food at the table in every meal. Vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and so on. For dessert we have comething sweet for instance cake, jelly, peas in syrup, and others that only in Brazil you can see. Some people however don’t eat healthy food, they would rather have junk food like snacks made in the streets, sandwiches, beer and so on. It is not recomended to eat junk food. Choose fresh food just cooked at home by grandmother. They know how to cook good food for their grandchildren. So was mine when I was a kid. I remember as it were today, my grandmother with an apron and a spoon calling me to feed. Wonderfull.

  5. Dan says:

    Hello everyone.

    This is out of topic and I apologize for that, but I was listening to Jeff on EC498 and when he mentioned the fireplace, somehow I knew he did not use it.
    He made me laughing when fantasizing about using his neighbor’s wooden fence for the fireplace.

    Something else I found hilarious is when he used the drone analogy for describing the nanny’s umbrella. I had never thought it that way.

    I like Jeff more on the ECs because he seems to have more freedom and room for jokes and personal anecdotes.


  6. Jacques says:

    Very interesting! It’s a pleasure to study english while we are learning cultural notes as well.
    Thanks Lucy and Jeff

  7. Dan says:

    Hey guys.

    I was just curious to know if anyone out there beside Lucy has ever tried that bread out and let us know whether is good or not.

    It probably is. Does it taste like a doughnut or what?

    Something I buy here at a local bakery, especially when I am working the morning shift, is krapfen. That’s the equivalent of doughnut, I guess.

    I would love to try some doughnuts in the US. I would like to taste the difference between those and the one we have over here.

    Since in the US it’s often the case that everything is blown out of proportions I would guess they are double the size, sweetness and ten times the calories.


  8. HILARIO says:


    Hi Dan, congratulations for your precise writing in English. I wish mine would be as good. This is for satisfying part of your curiosity.

    Here in Europe, South Spain, in the Andalusian region, where in the past and even today, existed and still exists some endemic poor areas, is very popular a similar dough as Indian Fry bread, and with same ingredients, but adding milled almond to the original recipe ones.

    They call them “polvorones” (you could I think, translate it into English as “dusty´s”), and there are an immense assorted range of (Cocoa, Peanuts, …), all of them are absolutely delicious treats, but as Lucy says you have to share the 30 pieces assorted box with at least ten of your family or friends. Otherwise you´re going to put on top of you a few pounds. It´s mainly a famous and typical Christmas dessert for Spaniards of Spain and Spanish of Latin America and Caribbean. I´m quite sure that Navajo people would like them very much indeed if they would try them.

    After all, Navajo people, helped very much to U.S government to success in Normandy during pre war operations in WW II, when the US Army hired them to send code messages in their Navajo language. Language experts, say that their language is almost “imposible to understand for outsiders.” By the way, the US militaries also hired Basque people for the same reason and purpose, but then after war, they paid them by leaving them out of work after three years, they lost their previous jobs as shepherds and the army left to them with no more than yummy “polvorones” to eat from time to time. Well, more or less like to Navajo people.

  9. peter says:

    I have created a method that works
    I transcribe English cafes as Jeff talking
    The compare my notes again his several times
    And correct my notes
    Very useful for my listening abilities

    Pete , a long time avid listener from Canada

  10. Dan says:

    Hi Hilario

    I was thinking that powdered it’s better than dusty for the translation of polvorones.
    Dusty gives the idea of something old with dusty and mold on it, something you don’t want to eat.

    Thanks! and write more.

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