I had a list of food I wanted to try during our California/Arizona road trip. At the top of it was a bacon cheeseburger from In’n’Out in LA. The second was prime rib, which I managed twice – once in Phoenix and a second time in Maricopa. The third was a carne asada burrito which we managed in Torrance, CA. The fourth was a trip to the Olive Garden – that one I never made. But something I hadn’t expected and didn’t even know about was Indian Fry Bread.
Trucking up to the Mission San Xavier del Bac outside Tucson, Arizona, we were hungry. [Ever since I met a Jewish woman who had survived the Holocaust, I’ve been reluctant to use the word ‘starving’. I’ve never come close to experiencing starvation and feel I have no right to use the word in everyday conversation.] We hadn’t had breakfast and when we arrived, the smell of something delectable wafted through the air. Unusually for Tucson, there was snow on the ground and yet the sun was shining.
We wandered over. MW, being a tad more American than I could even claim to be, said he thought it smelled like Indian Fry Bread. To me, fry bread is a slice of white bread fried in bacon dripping. But this was Indian Fry Bread – another thing entirely.
By now, I was familiar with the Tohono O’odham and had started a love affair with their Man in the Maze. So when we ambled up to one of the food stalls outside the Church, I watch in awe as the woman deftly worked her piece of dough into a delectable piece of Indian Fry Bread that was then topped with sugar and cinnamon. It was a little too early for beans and chilli.
I can’t begin to describe how delicious Indian Fry Bread is. I’m a great fan of the Hungarian langyós. I love fried food. But this was more delicate and made with such dexterity. It was a joy to watch her wield her magic with a simple piece of dough. And as she twirled and stretched and twirled again, she explained what she was doing.
With so many cultural traditions going out of fashion, losing step in the technological race to posterity, it was wonderful to see someone plying their trade and making traditional food for those who’d come to wonder at and worship in the Mission San Xavier del Bac.
I’ve been converted. I’ve half an inkling to try out my own version of Indian Fry Bread in the village. But I’m not sure my hands could work the magic.