©2009 Renee Comet, Smithsonian Institution, & Restaurant Associates
To view a slide show of images from Denver's Tocabe and D.C.'s Mitsitam Café, click here.
When Ben Jacobs and Matt Chandra entered the fifth annual National Indian Taco Championship last spring, it was more than just their signature hominy salsa that caught the attention of their competitors. The cook-off, which draws entrants from around the country, pays homage to the Indian taco—heaps of beans, meat, and veggies piled on slightly sweet, wonderfully chewy fry bread, which is similar to puffy fried dough and made of milk, flour, and shortening.
"All the elder women came looking for us," says Jacobs, who together with Chandra took second place in the competition. "These Cheyenne and Arapaho women came saying, 'Where are the boys who can cook fry bread? I didn't know boys could cook fry bread.'" He adds, "It was a compliment because we learned to cook it from women." They used a recipe passed from Jacobs's grandmother to his mother.
Jacobs and Chandra—the owners of Tocabe, an American Indian fast-casual restaurant in Denver that serves stuffed tacos, sweet fry bread nuggets, and, of course, classic Indian tacos—are part of a larger movement that is bringing Native American foods to the fore. From the acclaimed Kai restaurant in Phoenix to Fernando and Marlene Divina's James Beard Award-winning cookbook, Foods of the Americas, to the White Earth Land Recovery Project, which sells traditional foods like wild rice and hominy, this long-overlooked is cuisine is slowly gaining traction in the broader culinary landscape.