Last semester one of my friends and I had the pleasure of watching “Smoke Signals” for a class we were taking together (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120321/). Based off of the lives of several youths living on an Indian reservation, the movie explores cliches about Indians that are well known throughout the U.S. such as alcoholism, poor living conditions, traditional Indian practices, and spirituality to name a few. Ironically, in comparison to something like, say, “Dances with Wolves”, it almost seems less “authentic” in its Native American-ness because there aren’t as many theatrics. Of course, that’s the case with most Hollywood movies; more theatrics, less reality.
The movie (Smoke Signals) is based off a screen play by Sherman Alexie who creates (in my opinion) a rather unremarkable character named Victor Joseph, and a completely enthralling character, Thomas Builds-the-Fire. Since I didn’t intend for this post to turn into a movie review, I’ll just say that in several shots, Thomas is wearing a shirt that says “Frybread Power”. It sort of looks like a Superman shirt. Fry bread actually becomes a pretty significant part of the film for several reasons but mostly, its one of the few similarities that the viewer can initially find between Victor and Thomas in an otherwise very strange relationship between two personality opposites; they both love frybread.
So anyways…my friend and I wanted to try out this food that’s sort of deified in the movie. Our professor sent a really cool link that has frybread recipes from different Native American tribes, each with their own twist (http://www.manataka.org/page180.html). We tried the Cherokee one and it turned out really well. A few tidbits of advice however. Firstly, make sure your oil is super hot (obvious advice for most, but being a frying newb and all, I had to learn from experience). Also, roll the dough balls out as thin as you can. We both agreed the thicker ones weren’t as tasty. As for toppings, the website has lots of recommendations. We tried strawberry jam, powdered sugar, apple butter, honey, and rice. I really liked the rice and apple butter and my friend preferred the honey.
I feel like I should put up some sort of disclaimer that my intent in this post isn’t to become a kind of food orientalist and exoticize the traditional food of Native Americans. Whenever I make food that’s not from my own culture I realize I’m removing it from its cultural context, so creating a kind of balance between respect and curiosity is always tricky. However, this website seems to show a lot of pride in their food traditions and since they’ve posted it on the internet, seemingly with the intent of sharing, I thought it was okay. I really enjoyed trying these recipes out and the nice thing about breads like these (similar to other flat breads) is that you can kind of dress them up or down. Pairing them with something sweeter like honey pulls out a different flavor from the frybread than pairing them with something more savory like rice. Either way, I thought they were delicious.