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Navajo Taco: The Native American Sandwich

June 15, 2010 7:01 am · Posted by Nancy Einhart

Beans and meat wrapped in a tortilla is a taco, but the same ingredients piled on a piece of fry bread qualifies as a sandwich. At least, "sandwich" is how you'll hear folks refer to the Navajo taco, aka Indian taco, despite the "taco" in the name.

I've convinced myself that the defining factor of sandwichness is bread, so I tested the theory at The Fry Bread House in Phoenix. The Navajo taco arrives swaddled like a papoose, the corners of its butcher-paper blanket tenderly knotted at the top. Undo the wrapping, and out springs a frisbee-sized cushion of traditional Navajo fry bread, covered by a bed of refried beans, smooth red salsa, chopped red onions and iceberg lettuce, strips of mild green chiles, and shredded cheddar cheese of the blandest bagged variety. The lack of adornment extends to the Fry Bread House’s décor, with formica tabletops the color of its creamy homemade beans and Styrofoam sodas in two sizes: medium and “chief."

The fry bread is aggressively bread-like, with a flavor somewhere between a thick, gyro-type pita and barely sweetened funnel cake. The fresh, pillowy bread only gets tastier when folded around the filling, deliciously deflating as it soaks up the saucy mess. By the end I am uncomfortably full but perfectly comfortable, I decide, calling this thing a sandwich.


Though there are thousands of sandwich recipes native to the United States, the Navajo taco is a Native American sandwich in different sense. Arizona Republic readers voted the Navajo taco the official state dish in 1995, but neither the fry bread nor the sandwich is any more native to Navajo culture than the shredded cheese on top. Most food historians credit the invention of fry bread to the thousands of Navajo who were forced off their land in the so-called Long Walk to Arizona’s Fort Sumner, where they were incarcerated in 1864. Without corn, the people made fry bread using government rations of white flour, sugar, and lard, and when they were allowed to return to their now government-defined land four years later, the new tradition stuck.

Have you ever tried a Navajo taco?

posted by

you betcha and I love it. especially the version you tried here in sunny hot az. first one I ever had was in a rinky dink little six table restaurant on the rez and it was love at first bite.

fry bread is somehat reminiscent of a sopapilla.

posted by Anonymous

i am native and i live w/ navajo's. THAT is not the navajo tacos they serve in my neck of the woods. I know if you go to the rez you will get something that seriously does NOT look like that. That looks totally americanized and greaseless and like you said: Gyro looking. Go find some real natives that aren't catering to city business (unless frybread house is owned by non-natives) and try one where the bread is fried a little more golden brown, in actual lard, (that looks like it was cooked w/ some type of oil that is healthier than what they actually use for oil). the beans and meat is standard, you probably got some standard flavor they put into it, and of course the usual other ingredients you stated.

I love Navajo tacos (the ones my motherinlaw cooks), those are real!

As for the idea of frybread, I'm against it b/c to me it reminds me of how Navajos were basically KICKED away and forced to LIVE in a world that they STILL don't understand. It's going to take a few generations for Native American's to fully assimilate. We are doing that more every day....but man, to me the frybread is the epitome of why so many Native's struggle and still struggle today. and THAT is not a real Navajo Taco. :)

posted by

"it reminds me of how Navajos were basically KICKED away and forced to LIVE in a world that they STILL don't understand."

please elaborate on this. the navajo rez is located on their ancestral homelands, delineated by their four sacred peaks.

and, no, the "taco" pictured above does not resemble (so much) an "authentic" navajo taco as served on the rez, but it is not far off. I'd like to think you can put whatever the hell you want on it, just like any other taco or snad.

posted by

Believe me, if I could taste the Navajo tacos that the anonymous poster's mother-in-law makes, I would! Unfortunately the Fry Bread House was my only foray, and I'm not claiming it's the gold standard or anything. I look forward to trying more authentic Navajo tacos someday.

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