TULSA, Okla. (AP) – Frybread was born of necessity. 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.
Today, an Oklahoma festival, fair or pow wow just wouldn’t be the same without a booth selling frybread topped with layers of chili, beans, lettuce, tomato and cheese.
Some say frybread was invented by the Navajo tribe, but it’s now hard to find a tribe that doesn’t lay claim to frybread or its culinary offshoot, the Indian taco.
Some American Indians wish this high-calorie, high-fat food would just go away. Others want to preserve the history of it and worry that younger generations may let the tradition slip away.
Young people make up a good portion of those interested in and entering the National Indian Taco Competition, sponsored by the Osage Nation, in Pawhuska. Cooks from across the country travel to this event to show off their frybread techniques and to assemble the best Indian tacos you’ve ever eaten.
Even those who don’t enter the contest realize the need to preserve the food. Take Daniel Jeffries, a senior at the University of Tulsa.
Jeffries grew up in Skiatook and never missed the biggest pow wow of the year where Indian tacos reigned supreme. He also remembers his aunt and uncles making them, but it wasn’t something he was very interested in himself, until recently.
On a trip to Woolaroc in Bartlesville, Jeffries came across the Ha-pah-shu-tse frybread mix made by the Redcorn family in Pawhuska. He picked up a package, deciding to give it a try.
Jeffries, who has traveled across Europe, believes it’s important to “eat what the locals eat” when traveling. When in Sardinia, Italy, he ate a whole octopus, so when back home in Oklahoma, he thought the same rules should apply.
Now he can add Indian tacos to his cooking repertoire. And he says you can, too. Just follow the recipe on the back of the frybread mix, which you can find at most local grocery stores, and then layer it with your favorite toppings.
Chili and beans or the two mixed together, often called simply “chili beans,” are a must. After that, it’s up to you. At the National Indian Taco Championship you’ll see everything from green onions and black olives to cilantro and salsa.