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What exactly is Native American cuisine?

I know that Native Americans used corn heavily as one of their staples, and perhaps lots of game meat (e.g. deer, rabbit, etc.).

But beyond that I'm not really clear as to what constitutes Native American food or dishes?

And, are there any cities that have a good concentration of Native American eateries?

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  1. Think regional / tribal and you might get some useful answers. There is no one Native cuisine just as there is no one Native culture.

    1. andytee is right, the food varies a lot by region and by what produce and meats are avaliable. Here in N CA we studied the Yahi Indians in school. One project was to collect acorns from the local live oaks, cookthem in a fire, grind them, and...yuck. Not something I'd eat again. I also tried fry bread on a reservation in New Mexico and buffalo in Montana. I'd guess that reservations, not cities, offer more choices.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Glencora

        We tried to prepare acorns in California for school in the 50s. You have to lime the ground flour. Still...yuck!

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          Squirrels bury them as did Native Americans to get rid of the bitterness.

        2. re: Glencora

          you're supposed to run water through acorns to remove the toxic tannins that make them bitter, the native americans did this

          1. re: peanuttree

            Yeah, you have to leech them. My family and I did this a few years ago as an experiment, We came up with a mush that was not at all bitter and kind of like a nutty polenta. So we served it under my dad's rabbit stew. Yum! It's a lot of work so it can't be done that often but it sure was delicious.

        3. There's an excellent aboriginal restaurant in Ottawa: http://www.sweetgrassbistro.ca/

          1. Thinking about different staples provides a view of diversity:

            1. Maize, domesticated by native peoples, from North America through Central America
            2. Acorns in the coast range and foothills of the Sierra Nevada; add pinon nuts in the Sierras
            3. Cassava in the Amazon
            4. Beans, potatoes, and amaranths in the Andes
            5. Native Americans also domesticated squash, tomatoes, chilis, others--as well as llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs

            Food systems varied widely by agricultural ecosystem from hunting and gathering to irrigated agriculture.

            Change came with contact with Europeans--steel implements allowed the Kwakiutl and other NW Pacific coast groups to potlatch slaves, canoes, bear grease, and salmon--overexploiting their environments for the first time. The horse allowed the plains populations to grow based on buffalo hunting.

            Today's more accessible Native American cuisines (all changed since contact with Europeans) include those of the Navajo, the Andes, the Amazon, and parts of Mexico and Guatemala.

            1. Years ago, we were part of the entertainment for a NA scholarshio benefit. It took place in Manhattan, so I assume it was a New York tribe.

              They served rattlesnake chile, wild boar, bear, (rare, spicy tasting), wild turkey with sage sauce, (the most flavorful turkey I've ever had), vennison, rabbit stew, squash, grits I think, and salad. There must have been other vegetables, but I don't remember.

              1. IIRC there's a very informative chapter on that in Waverly Root's Eating in America.

                1. If you're ever in the DC area, the Smithsonian's new Native America museum is worth checking out, especially for the cafeteria.


                  Food is divided by different regions. The hardest part is knowing which to try.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: chowser

                    I'll second a meal at the NA museum cafeteria... Some of the dishes are a little "fancied up" but most are pretty traditional, and that I've tried are good.

                  2. Well, it is American food ... salmon, turkey, wild rice, cranberries, blueberries, maple syrup, chilies, corn on the cob, etc, etc, etc. White man took that as his own too.

                    A cookbook called The Art of American Indian Cooking talks about the Zuni Indians making battered squash blossoms ... which ironically I once had at Zuni restaurant in SF. Full circle, eh? This link to the book on Amazon allows you too look inside the book

                    Here's a list of what seems to be every restaurant in North American that has anything to do with Native American food.

                    It seems like an excellent site that has everything you want to know about Native American food like what it is, history, recipes, etc.

                    When people ask your question, the answer ...

                    "When I turn the question back on the questioners, people tend to answer: "Oh, they used to eat nut and berries, roots and small mammals, didn’t they?" In fact, I tell them that they are probably fixing and eating Native American foods in their own kitchens every day. "

                    That site has an excellent list of Native American cookbooks. I stopped counting at fifty.

                    A few sites

                    This site has some good Native American food links as well as videos on how to prepare food like frye bread and a culinary class video

                    NativeTech: Indigenous Food and Traditional Recipes

                    Native American Recipes

                    While this has recipes like Cherokee Huckleberry Bread ... so that's who I blame for huckleberries on every menu ... the Cherokee revenge ... and Frye Bread pudding ... did Native Amercans give us bread pudding too? ... Hopi corn and bean sprouts ... bean sprouts too?

                    ... It also has a few exotic recipes like Taos beaver tail roast and Hopi baked prairie dog ... guess those recipes didn't take ... yet.

                    Traditional Native American Recipes

                    Native American Recipes

                    One Feather either has done some creative cooking or we might owe popovers to Native Americans too ... there's a blueberry popover recipe.

                    WIISINIWAN -- Food Recipes

                    Native American Recipes

                    1. Some of the best writing on this topic was published in 2003 for the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition. There's one about the journal kept during the trip that starts with the White House dinner given in honor of the explorers by Jefferson and follows them as they run out of provisions and are forced to live off the land with the assistance of their native guides and the Indians they befriend along the way west. Several other books have useable recipes with American native food products that based on the dishes that were consumed on the expedition.
                      The foods reflected in these books were those uninfluenced by Europeans, before westward expansion had brought different foods and cooking methods to the Indians and long before the reservations were established.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: MakingSense

                        Just a note: from my reading, the OP asked about Native American cuisine. I took that to mean the Americas and all the original Native Americans, from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          Yes, you are correct Sam ... all of the Americas (not just U.S. portion of North America).

                          And thanks to everyone for their thoughtful and insightful posts.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            Sure, but that's like saying "what exactly is native Asian food?" I think you have to deal with Native American food in a very regional way. Inuit foodways and those of the Andes are pretty far apart.
                            I used just one example, the Lewis and Clark expedition, because it covered a pretty broad swath of the northern US, dealt with different types of tribal groups and how some educated explorers interacted with them and learned to adapt to their ways, keeping a journal of the experience.
                            I'm sure there are other historical records of early contacts that would show similar records of what other Native American cultures were like.

                            1. re: MakingSense

                              MS, the different native Asian foods continue as they have over time. They were influenced but not destroyed or replaced by European contact.

                              We agree completely in terms of the regional variation of native American foods--Inuit to Yanamamo are world's apart. The Lewis and Clark expedition provided a great chonicle of much of what has been lost in what is now a part of the US.

                              What is nice, I think, is that Native American food is still a living, dynamic phenomena where Native Americans still survive somewhat as they did prior to contact--in the Andes, the polar regions, parts of Mexico and Guatemala, the Amazon, ...

                          2. re: MakingSense

                            "The foods reflected in these books were those uninfluenced by Europeans, before westward expansion"

                            But does that define Native American food?

                            If you took a snapshot of European food at that time would that define the cuisine? Italian food without tomatoes ... Eastern European / Irish food without potatoes? France without frites?

                            Or even a snapshot of Asian food would not reflect the contributions of the Americas, especially chilis. What WAS Schezwan food in those days?

                            Lewis and Clarke territory is only one section of the many Native American nations. Growing up in New England I was quite aware of the strong Native American influence in that area with a very different cuisine.

                            It seems Native American cuisine had a far bigger impact on European cuisine than visa versa. Other than alcohol, what would you say the influence of Europeans was on Native American cuisine?

                            Is Nuevo Native American cuisine any less valid? Well, there's the European influence I guess.

                            Kai at the Sheraton Wild Horse Resort has a Native American chef whose dishes are influenced by the Pima and Maricopa tribes. It uses locally farmed ingredients from the Gila River Indian Reservation. Some dishes include ...
                            - tribally raised buffalo with raspberry and tomatillo salsa
                            - warm fry bread topped with Kahlua ice cream

                            So there you go ... Native American cuisine.

                            1. re: rworange

                              The Lewis and Clarke expedition was only one example of contact with a series of tribal groups. Even In New England, your culture would have been influenced by many tribes who would have been different, not a single influence. Coastal tribes differed from upland groups who hunted and gathered or those who had primitive agriculture. They would have been very different from the Indians in the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana where I grew up or the mound builders in the north of our State. I think we have a tendency to ignore their diversity.

                              In the US, we changed their culture and their foodways changed with it. We gave them firewater but many tribes had alcohol - grains and fruit ferment and they did that. The Spanish brought horses and then they traded things for guns which changed the way they hunted. They got new domesticated animals and crops, lived closer to settlements where they could trade for food products that they had never had before. They worked in settlers homes and learned new ways of cooking which influenced their own. They intermarried and adopted new ways of eating. Food in reservation stores today is just like in regular grocery stores. If you attend a pow-wow, they sell hamburgers and funnel cakes.

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                I remember being excited about going to a Pow Wow in elementary school and being disappointed by the funnel cake offered but I did fall in love with fresh roasted corn.

                          3. My only experience was eating in a restaurant on an Arizona reservation one afternoon and having a catered group meal that evening in Utah. I don't remember too many specifics but the food was not highly seasoned - bland, in fact - and the lamb/mutton dish I had was very watery. The fry bread was also not too tasty, but was very greasy.

                            As I watched the preparations for the "Indian Taco" dinner that night I nudged the Spouse and we both ran off to take some antacids before the meal. The food was heavy, greasy, and again, not seasoned. We were the only two in our group who did not have bad indigestion all night.

                            I'm sure this experience doesn't speak for all Southwestern US Native American cuisine, but it's not an experience I'm eager to repeat.

                            1. I'm glad you asked because really I was going with the Plains Indian stereo-type of roots, berries, deer. If you asked me about Native American food today I'd probably say fry bread.

                              Also I had the picture of the poverty-level Native Americans whose diets and health have been ruined by cheap processed food.

                              But I had no clue about Nuevo Native American food and the Native American chefs making dishes like at Arizona Kitchen, Wigwam Resort ... Grilled Buffalo Tenderloin Guajillo Roasted Fingerling Potatoes Blueberry Foam

                              well, really, you gotta admit that's as Native American as you can get

                              Other dishes on the menu .. Chile Rubbed Maple Leaf Duck ... Yellow Mole ... Sweet Potato and Roasted Corn Hash ... chile ice cream

                              Well, you gotta take a look at this joint ... love the creme fraiche-topped dessert enclosed in what I'm guessing is a sugar-stick wigwam


                              That and some of the food that is thought of traditionally Native American make me want to do a reverse Lewis and Clark ... setting out across the country to try some of this stuff.

                              Some highlights

                              - Jakes Bakery, NM ... "the best Pueblo bread ever eaten in his wood fired hornos. These round loaves have a crispy crust with a hint of mesquite wood that fires his oven."

                              - Agave at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, AZ ... Grilled Hopi Bread with Roasted Eggplant Butter ... Roasted Squash, Bean and Mais with Balsamic Vinegar ... Nuevo here.

                              - Corn Dance Cafe, NM ... buffalo chili in a jalapeno bread bowl ... venison shanks with garlic mashed potatoes ... grilled salmon with rosehip puree ... wild turkey with corn bread, and grilled corn with chili oil.

                              - Buffalo Grill, OR ... owned and run by a Lakota Sioux ... buffalo pot pie, buffalo burgers, etc

                              - Spirits Native American Restaurant, NC ... hmmm, not sure if I'm up for the poorly-named, IMO, buffalo chips and gator nuggets, though the fry bread sundae has potential. Also Raven's Reward Wild Meat Sampler - Buffalo, Alligator, Rattlesnake & Pheasant ... Azasazi Chips ... buffalo chili with fry bread ... Wild Rice & Anasazi Bean Burrito (as well as gator & buffalo burritos) ... maize salad ... franchises available

                              - Dream DancePotawatomi Bingo Casino, WI ... "reservations recommended" ... heh, nice turnaround ... Dream Dance Venison Rossini Spiced organic honey beets, hazelnut barley, bitter chocolate bordelaise

                              It seems more about Wisconson cuisine from various ethnicities ... but ... Apfelpfannkuchen German Apple Pancake Carr Valley 10 Year Aged cheddar ice cream ... I want that... it really looks fantastic ... located in a Native American casino

                              - Tillicum Village, WA ... Traditional Indian Style Baked Salmon

                              - Cuny Table Cafe, SD ... I don't care if the food is good ... the place seems worthwihile just for ambiance ... top of a large badland mesa on a gravel road run by two Indian ladies in a brown sheet metal building with a Homecooking sign with two booths and a table where you can eat Indian fry bread tacos.

                              - Bluestem, OK ... Monthly traditional American Indian dinners including grape dumplings, corn soup, meat pies and fry bread

                              - Saddle Peak Lodge, CA ... where the deer and the antelope plate ... Wild Boar Cranberry hash ...Three game sausages ... Roasted buffalo New York with pommes douphines, melted St. Agur blue cheese, onion soubise “French soup style” and wilted arugula ... tho more about Native American game than cuisine

                              - Indigo Grill, San Diego ... Native food reinterpreted from Alaska Oaxaca like Alderwood Plank Salmon with Smoked Oaxacan Cheese

                              - Fry Bread House, Az ... hand-stretched traditional made-to-order fry bread topped with chile or slatered with butter and chocolate

                              - Angelina's Mexican Food Restaurant ... "a recipe handed down through generations ... The bread emerges glistening, puffy, crisp-edged and steaming hot"

                              - Miccosukee Restaurant, FL ... the Miccosukee Platter has a sampling of native dishes, including gator bites ... bite them gators before they bite you

                              - Cedar Pass Lodge, SD ... Sioux Indian Taco made from fry bread and seasoned buffalo

                              Amaya Hotel, NM ... more of a contemporary menu with native ingrediants ... the most out there dish ... Tiwa Taco Indian Fried Bread Topped with Ground Buffalo, Black Beans, Baby Greens, Cheddar Cheese, Guacamole and Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

                              Navajo Hogan ... This seems to be the place ot go for fry bread ... reviewed by Gourmet Magazine if that means anything

                              As the infomercials say ... but wait, there's more. And if all else fails ... supposedly the Cheesecake Factory serves a chicken sandwich on "Indian Fry Bread".

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: rworange

                                Regarding Saddlepeak.... food is pretty good, splendid location... hundreds of carcasses hanging on the wall... but the culinary approach is not Native American be any extent. Its more like French meets Game.... plus some rotating fad accents to excite the surprisingly unsavvy Hollywood Elite diners that tend to show up incognito.

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  Yeah, I'd have to agree with you about Saddlepeak Lodge.

                                2. re: rworange

                                  I've been to Indigo Grill and had a very good dinner there in the summer of 2005. Completely absurdly humongous portions, though. I thought that "Native" referred to the ingredients, but I could be wrong. The methods struck me as modern "creative" cuisine, but did indeed emphasize American ingredients. I had the cedar-planked salmon and liked it.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    I greatly enjoy the Fry Bread House in Phoenix. You can feel your arteries snap shut in self-defense if you so much as look at the fry bread with chocolate and butter, but oh MAN is it ever good stuff!

                                    1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                                      Several years ago while crossing southern Utah I bought both fry bread and 'dry' bread from a shop in Mexican Hat. Dry bread is the same dough, but cooked on the grill rather than in deep fat. Alton's Feasting on Asphalt also showed the making of dry bread during their stop on the Rez.

                                      We ate both at a lunch stop on top of the Mokee Dugway. In ways I liked the dry bread better. Both are best freshly cooked, but the dry bread keeps better. I've only found a few references on the web to dry bread. In ways it's just a thick flour tortilla.


                                  2. I'm hardly an expert, but I do know that in Minnesota (it might be more fair to say in the upper Midwest and Canadian prairieland) Native American diets relied heavily on wild rice:



                                    1. Hello,

                                      I know this thread has been dormant over a week, but I never really got a chance to respond to it. Unfortunately, with Native American cuisine we kind of fly in the dark because we don't have great cookbooks remaining from the Pre-Colombian eras. In the U.S. & Canada... a lot of time went by between Colombus and the first thorough writings on Native American culture... and even then the most advanced tribes like the Iriquois & Navajo were already in a cultural demise and their whole world had turn around... so what they were eating in the 19th century isn't necessarily what they were eating in the 16th century.

                                      We have a little better luck in Mesoamerica because there are documentaries dating back to the 16th & 17th centuries as well as a plethora of archeological evidence, and the fact that many cultures remained closer to their Pre-Colombian life than did their counterparts in North America.

                                      What we know of Mesoamerican cuisine - and there are certainly some knowledge gaps - is that if you strip out non-native ingredients and techniques (which often are inconsequential) it highly resembles a lot of the contemporary cooking of Mexico & Guatemala. Many foreign ingredients in use today are simply economic & not culinary subsitutions (as is often assumed). For example, the widespread use of Cilantro in Mexico is not the result of an absence of quality herbs in Mesoamerican cuisine but a reflection of Cilantro's productivity. It grows so well & abundantly in Mexico that it came to be a cheaper replacement for native herbs like Basil, Verbena, Papaloquelite, Epazote, Hoja Santa, Chipilin etc., but it still gets used much the same way that Mesoamericans used Mexican Basil & Papaloquelite. Other changes in the same vein include:

                                      > Replacing Duck & Turkey with Chicken
                                      > Replacing Xoloscuintles (a type of hairless dog raised for its culinary delights) with Beef
                                      > Replacing hunting Wild Rabbits, Deer, Sheep & Boars with Lamb & Pigs
                                      > Replacing "spicy" herbs like Hoja Santa & Romeritos with Spice Route spices like Black Pepper & Cumin

                                      Overall when you compare the related Post-Colombian dishes with their Pre-Colombian examples we find that Mesoamerican cuisine is a bit more rounded & delicate. While most people - including many leading Mexican culinary stars - ignorantly assume that Mesoamerican cuisine was very limited without Post-Colombian ingredients... its actually not true. Not having lard, olive oil, spice route spices & old world domesticated protein only challenged the Mesoamerican cooks to come up with ingenious techniques & flavor combinations that produced intriguing results not unlike what many contemporary haute cuisine chefs seek.

                                      Now to get more specific of what Native Mesoamerican cuisine is:

                                      > Sauces Reign Supreme. Mesoamerican cuisine is all about sauces. According to various historical accounts it wasn't uncommon for Moctezuma to sit at a table with several hundred sauces presented to him. These include what the Aztecs called Mullis (the linguistic precurssor of Mole)... which were typically thick sauces of every chile, herb, nut & grain combination available with little bits of beast, vegetables or beans cooked in them. Cooking methods typically involved searing meats and/or vegetables on volcanic rock with continuous saucing to keep them from sticking (remember we are talking naturally lean wild meats and no lard/oils available)... then adding the rest of the sauce to thicken.

                                      Some Mullis were served hot, others room temperature. In either case they were typically served with Tamales which were slightly different than contemporary version as they didn't have any lard in them, and often had beans, amaranth or nut butter mixed in with the masa. As you might imagine these low fat tamales were not as spongy as today's instead they were moist like the center of a thick Salvadoran tortilla. When they weren't served with Tamales.... they were served with tortillas.

                                      In addition to the Mullis another important technique was & is the Mixiote. Mixiotes are pouches made from the "skin" of an Agave variety.... meats, vegetables & chili-herb pastes were wrapped in the pouch, then steamed over aromatic liquids including Pulque, Corn Beer, Salt Water, Chile Water & others. Variations on this included using Corn Husks, Banana Leaves & Hoja Santa leaves as the wrappers.

                                      Barbacoa / Pibil is another important technique. A hunk of beast is marinaded in a chile based paste overnight. Meanwhile volcanic rocks are heated & smokey wood rounded up. The red hot rocks go in the bottom of an underground pit, over the rocks goes the wood, above the wood a pot with liquid & vegetables, above the pot goes the marinaded beast laced with avocado leaves & wrapped in agave leaves, the pit is then covered.... and it slow cooks over 6 to 10 hours dripping juices into the pot. After its done the meat is butchered up and served with bowls of soup made from its juices, as well as some Nopales salad, a spicy roasted tomatillo salsa & tortillas cooked over a smokey fire.

                                      In addition to these methods there was all types of grilling & griddling of thin meats going on... as well as fire roasting of birds & rabbits etc.,... and of course hundreds of uses of corn masa. An important one.. is what Nahuatl speakers today call quesadillas... which are oxymoronically cheeseless. A big thin tortilla is hand patted and put to cook on a hot griddle... before flipping, an endless number of fillings are added off-center then folded over to create a relative flat turnover... sometimes these were drowned in a chile sauce and there it is pre-hispanic Enchiladas.

                                      Another common technique was to roast a wide variety of chiles, stuff them with a wide variety of leftoevers... and then drizzle them with thickened versions of leftover Mullis.

                                      There was of course a lot more to Mesoamerican cuisine than my brief examples... but you can pretty much see that most traditional food served in Mexico that isn't overtly of Iberian, Asian or African decent (such as Rice, Pasta, Sausage or Stuffed Loin dishes) is Native American cuisine.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                        Wow, terrific and informative post. Thanks so much for posting that.

                                        The only comment I'd have which I said elsewhere in this topic is that what Europeans and Asians were eating in the 19th century isn't necessarily what they were eating in the 16th century. I doubt there are any French, Italian, Spanish ... etc restaurants today that are serving the cuisine of the period prior to the discovery of the Americas. Maybe the one exception is the handful of Medevil type of English restaurants, but that is more gimmick than anything to do with food.

                                        1. re: rworange

                                          I had an outstanding meal in Italy years ago that was an exception to that. A restaurant owned by a couple. She had completed a doctorate in history before studying at the Cordon Bleu, he did the wines. They offered special menus from the early Italian Renaissance. 14th and 15th Centuries. Farro, honey, etc. No corn, no tomatoes. Specialty wines produced from local vineyards with old grape varieties. Great meal and wonderful history and cultural lesson.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            Very, very true. I think the majority of people don't know much about the Pre-Colombian cuisine and don't give full credit & acknowledgment to it (but they were just a bunch of indians).... so I like establishing the Pre-Colombian pedigree first. Otherwise, I have found that many foodies / writers that first approach Mexico hold a belief that Mexican cuisine is worthwhile because it has Spanish & French influences (at least that is what I have detected).

                                            But you are absolutely correct, in a world without historical baggage, prejudice or elitist views... cooks of Native American should have the same right as other peoples to incorporate outside & new influences while making them their own.

                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                              The narrative "Naufragios" by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca gives some examples of what Native Americans in Florida, along the Gulf coast, and into Texas were eating in the early 1500's. I'd quote some for you, but my copy of the book is not in my home. I remember passages about the poorer tribes waiting desparately for various nuts and tunas to develop. He also mentions the poorest people not only eating every bit of animals they caught, but also grinding the bones to a powder to be consumed as well.
                                              If you do not know the story of Cabeza de Vaca, it is, IMO, one of the most fascinating true-life adventure stories in human history. His detailing of his 7-year journey is hardly focused on food, but it offers amazing insight into what life was like in the present-day U.S. southeast before the mass arrival of Europeans.

                                              1. re: maestra

                                                I remember reading an excerpt from "Los Naufragios" in high school and happen to have a copy on hand. What a coincidence--the chapter we read is entitled "Como los indios nos trajeron de comer" or "How the Indians fed us." (Disclaimer: my copy is in the original Spanish and my translation skills are now rusty.) According to Cabeza de Vaca, before they encountered the hospitable Indians (this is a relevant narrative at Thanksgiving time, now that I think about it!), the explorers had survived mostly on toasted or even raw corn, and they had eventually been forced to butcher their own horses. He says about the Indians: "nos trajeron mucho pescado y de unas raices que ellos comen, y son como nueces, algunas mayores o menores." So, a large quantity of fish and various nuts, if I am reading it correctly.

                                        2. Well, I'm not an expert, but I understand that there were a lot of New World domesticates that were kind of swept aside by the arrival of maize in eastern North America. I mention some of them, awkwardly, here just because, judging by the English names alone, they're foods I don't regret never having tried: erect knotweed, maygrass, American nightshade, little barley, chenopod and, my favorite, sumpweed. Yum!

                                          Also, there was a recent NPR Food piece on the aftermath of a whale hunt by Native Alaskans in Barrow: women boiling up huge pots of whale meat, blubber, etc, and distributing it.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: optimal forager

                                            For an insight into why Native American (North, South and Central) food never developed into a cuisine that is more than obscure, I suggest reading Guns,Germs and Steel. Among other reasons are the north/south axis of the New World as opposed to the East/West orientation of the Eurasian land mass. Crops could be imported and grown along the same latitude(climate) from China to France. Getting corn from its origin in Central America to the Mississipi Valley took thousands of years of acclimation so that corn only appeared in there around 1200 AD. Another
                                            factor was the absence of domesticable draft animals in North or South America. There were no oxen or horses to plough with, greatly limiting the efficiency of agriculture. There are many other reasons why, while it exists, one has to hunt for traces of pre-Columbian cuisine.

                                            1. re: LRunkle

                                              But even with the East/West orientation, we don't try to define a Eurasian cuisine that unites French and Chinese traditions.

                                              But this gets to more basic question, what is a cuisine? Isn't the term French? There is a well documented body of literature and a chef training tradition that defines classic French cooking. I suspect there was something comparable in China. But does it make sense to talk of the cooking traditions of a hunter/gatherer band of Crees in the Canadian forest in the same way? Did/do they think of themselves as having a cuisine? Do the cafeteria offerings of a museum define a cuisine, even if they use some ingredients that originated in the Americas?


                                          2. Create TV (PBS subchannel) has a Native American marathon today (Saturday)
                                            Main programs are a Seasoned with Spirit series, and several episodes of Taste of Louisiana

                                            1. The 3 sisters: corn, beans, and squash are common as are regional nuts and berries. My husband is part Abenaki and jokes that "vegan" (which we are) is an old Native American word meaning "lousy hunter".

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: lgss

                                                Yes, the Abenaki, Penobscot (passadumkeag means fast water), Passamaquoddy etc; huge clam middens dot the coast of Maine w/ the remnants of clams, lobster, crabs, and even sturgeon.
                                                Leave out the potatoes and the New England shore dinner is truely Native American. Honest Injun!
                                                Wasn't wampaum pierced sea shells.
                                                I enjoy the Franks, Native American Cooking: Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations
                                                ps The Pilgrims detested lobster!

                                              2. FRYBREAD! You haven't lived until you've tried frybread. Chilis and stews are also common. For SW tribes they eat things like posole (not really like mexican kind), turnovers (meat filled), tortillas, beans, and lots of corn.

                                                9 Replies
                                                1. re: kirinraj

                                                  However one of those 'Spirit' episodes lists a different menu:
                                                  "During a visit with the Tohono O'odham Tribe of Arizona, Loretta joins the tribe for their annual 3-day harvest of Saguaro Cactus fruit. She also joins Mildred Manuel to prepare Wild Spinach with Cholla Buds and Chiltepine Peppers, Tapary Beans with Ribs, Ash Bread (slow-cooked in the ashes of a mesquite fire), and for a sweet refreshing drink, Mesquite Juice."

                                                  For some Native Americans, frybread is more of a 'death sentence', in that it is part of a diet that may be responsible for a high incidence of diabetes (along with a possible genetic predisposition).

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    True, but you have to admit that because of economic circumstances, frybread and other foods like it are an important part of many Indian diets. Many of the traditional dishes are only prepared on holidays or festival days. Modern indian diets have changed greatly since the late 1800's/early 1900's and foods such as wild rice are no longer widely eaten. Traditional tribes such as the Hopi, Pueblos, and some Navajos tend to stay closer to their roots. Diabetes and obesity are so widespread on reservations because of the low quality processed foods available and crappy government commodity foods. The Tohono O'odham and other southwestern tribes are still very traditional and that is why the menu listed is unique and traditional, similar to native mexican dishes.

                                                    1. re: kirinraj

                                                      "foods such as wild rice are no longer widely eaten."

                                                      don't say that out loud-- i'd be afraid that winona la duke would ride in on a horse and kick yer butt! truly wild rice is increasingly protected, and is a major source of income for many individuals and tribes, who cooperatively harvest, roast and sell the rice, and also provide this staple ingredient to elderly and economically disadvantaged tribal members. wild rice and wild rice flour, along with other traditional foods, are actually going through a revival. yay!


                                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                                        Really? I had no idea. I thought it was just the health food community. That's great news.

                                                    2. re: paulj

                                                      Diabetes in the Native population (primarily with Nations which follow more 'modern' diets) is many times higher than the North American average (along with other things as well...). I know several medical experts who have devoted careers on the subject.
                                                      I don't think its necessarily fry bread, nor any one food, nor any one type of prep. Genetic predisposition, perhaps more accurate, is but a small part of the larger picture.
                                                      Native Americans ate a particular diet for perhaps 60 000 years (or 2400 generations). This has changed in the last 200 years and drastically so in the last 75 years (a measly 3 to 8 generations). Any wonder there's a correlation to high incidence of diabetes?

                                                      As for modern-day Natives (I'm talking about southern Canada, and most of the continental USA), most diets, give or take, are similar to the average North American. Traditional meals are eaten on special occasions, or perhaps once a week or so. I know this is a generalization, but is along the lines of my experience.

                                                      1. re: porker

                                                        There might be a genetic predisposition... but that has come under question with the Pima Indian studies. Some researches learned that the Pimas of Arizona have huge problems with obesity and diabetes... yet their genetically identical (only 150 years removed) counterparts in Maycoba, Sonora have very low rates of diabetes & obesity. While there are some indications that diet contributes to the problems, as well as a gene that helps desert peoples avoid starvation during droughts... the main causal factor found.... excercise. The Pimas in Mexico are still very active in farming, hunting, ritual dancing... walking 5 to 8 miles a day in the rugged mountain terrain.. while their Arizona Reservation bretheren have no hunting grounds, have very little reason or motivation to farm, and don't have the resources to set up gyms & soccer fields in their place.

                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                          Yeah, this makes sense - both diet and exercise. Or, I guess, another catchphrase would be lifestyle. Once again 2400 generations of a particular lifestyle changed 'overnight'...somethings gotta give.

                                                          1. re: porker

                                                            Thinking about it... diet does play an important role... the Kiliwa (I believe they are referred to as Apaches north of the border) in Baja.... exhibited a similar change in lifestyle after non-Indian land grabs in the 20th century turned them into day laborers etc., BUT for them diabetes & obesity are at normal levels... they aren't getting significant excercise (beyond what any blue collar worker anywhere might get)... but their diet is based heavily on Nopales and other desert cacti.... the magic plant (whose compounds are already being extracted for prescription only diabetic treatments) seems to be the main factor.

                                                  2. It will be heavily dependent on the geographic location of the "Native Americans." The cuisine will differ, based on what is available where you are referring. Go to the Desert SW and it will differ from the Carolinas, and from Michigan.

                                                    It's kinda' like Cajun cuisine. If the locale is on salt water, the fish will reflect that. If the water is fresh, or backish, then the fish will differ. Pork will often be used, as pigs thrived in the swampy surroundings, but cows did not. Throw in a 'possum, or other, and you start to get the idea. Same for "Native American." What was available?


                                                    1. I was doing some reading about this last summer. There was actually a lot of recipes I found with nuts (walnuts and hazelnuts here in BC).

                                                      Try them in a stew this autumn. I was skeptical, but actually, hazelnuts give a really nice flavour and an interesting crunch in some dishes. I had a bison stew going while camping and threw in some hazelnuts. Toast them first and throw them in whole.

                                                      Bannock is a big one in the regions around me. Basically, a lot of these native foods were built around food preservation and survival so you are going to see a lot of rustic dishes that don't look incredibly interesting but taste great if you do em up right.

                                                      If you want to get a feel for it, just think about what would be in season right now, in your region, pre agriculture, and throw a bunch of that into your cooking pot.

                                                      8 Replies
                                                      1. re: jkhdsf

                                                        But are walnuts and hazelnuts native to BC? With biggest crops in places like Turkey and Iran, I'd say these are Old World nuts. I have driven through the hazelnut orchards near Harrison Hot Springs.

                                                        The use of acorns by Native Americans in California is well known, but oaks don't grow much beyond Oregon.

                                                        By bannock do you mean a wheat flour bread, either fried, or baked in a skillet, or something made with other starches? Camus is the main native starch that I am aware of, with some prairies in Idaho being the most productive.

                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          Walnuts and hazelnuts are native in NA and oaks grow up to the sub arctic.

                                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                            I stand corrected. There are several NA species of walnut (e.g. black) and hazelnut (American and Beaked).

                                                            A search on Corylus (hazel) on this http://herb.umd.umich.edu/ ethnobotany database turned up quite a few entries to the 2 hazelnuts, both medicinal and food. A guidebook that I have on PNW plants describes the Beaked Hazelnut as one of the few seeds eaten by area tribes. And I was reminded that one small town in northern BC with a good museum is named Hazelton, for the hazel bushes that were abundant. I don't recall any discussion of nuts at PNW NA exhibits. The food exhibits tend to focus on salmon, and sometimes oolichan (candlefish), and berries.

                                                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                              Which oak species grow up north. Nothing really jumps out in this list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_...

                                                              I wrote about oak with the California use in mind. It turns out though, that the Garry Oak does extend into the dry SW corner of British Columbia. And a PNW plant book mentions the Salish people in the Puget Sound ate the acorns (after soaking). You might even say it was farmed via intentional grass fires that kept the brush and douglas fir forest at bay.

                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                I lived 10 years in Norway and Finland and there were oaks in the subartic.

                                                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                  which species? Were the acorns used for food?

                                                                  Do school teachers still focus on the use of acorns by California tribes, and ignore their use else where?

                                                            2. re: paulj

                                                              I think ground maize was used by many as flour.

                                                              1. re: porker

                                                                jkhdsf made mention of BC (British Columbia). I don't think maize was grown in the Canadian (or American) west, though it was a staple among eastern tribes. Bannock is usually traced Scotts oatcakes and to North America via fur traders, and uses wheat flour. I haven't seen it used to describe the various maize preparations (corn cakes, jonnycake)

                                                                A 'bannock awareness' essay by a BC foresty official (2000
                                                                )He does include a cornflour recipe (though with baking powder it is more contemporary).

                                                          2. Really good thread... deserves resurrection

                                                            I crave the simplicity
                                                            of just planting the Trinity
                                                            of corn, squash, and beans
                                                            in the face of adversity.

                                                            The corn formed the pole
                                                            that the climbing beans followed
                                                            and the squash grew as a mulch
                                                            to help cool the soil.

                                                            With eyes to the skies these aborigines planted.
                                                            invoking their God to spare them disaster
                                                            and provide them good harvest.

                                                            I seek much the same
                                                            as I aspire in my garden.

                                                            5 Replies
                                                            1. re: FoodFuser

                                                              "the Trinity
                                                              of corn, squash, and beans"

                                                              Some nations call this the Three Sisters

                                                              1. re: porker

                                                                That's what they were predominantly called in Ohio. A couple of the native American historical sites contain gardens with just those vegetables.

                                                                1. re: Fibber McGee

                                                                  We kid around:
                                                                  "Gonna be doing the 3 Sisters in the garden this year.."
                                                                  "Oh yeah, whos that? The good, the bad, and the ugly?"

                                                              2. re: FoodFuser

                                                                I remember seeing small plots of the Trinity at the base of Canyon de Chelly in the autumn. Truly beautiful in that setting.

                                                                1. re: pine time

                                                                  Nice recall of the canyon, and its place shared in space with the Trinity. So subtle be beans, so firm be hard stalks of the corn, and gentle rotund be the pumpkin. Gift of the Trinity to be-sweet a good canyon.

                                                              3. I saw this blog post on an indigenous-only diet challenge for November's celebration of Indigenous/Native American Heritage month. Sounds like quite a challenge. The diet restricts participants to pre-colonial era foods, but doesn't limit geographic regions within the Americas. Very interesting. Puts a new twist on eating local.



                                                                This group in Canada has a similar project:


                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                  Going even more 'paleo', some anthropologists are arguing that cooking is what made us different from other apes - cooked food is a much better source of energy, permitting bigger brains, small guts, smaller teeth, and more social interaction.


                                                                  I didn't notice this on your links - are they focusing just on the source of the food, or also on the cooking methods?

                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                    Interesting video.

                                                                    I think with the Week of Indigenous Foods you can cook them however you want.

                                                                2. This article aired on public radio yesterday

                                                                  "The edible roots range from fuchsia to dark orange to a light yellow that fades all the way to dark purple, and they’re among the 700 hundred or so varieties of indigenous Peruvian crops known as oca, olluco and mashua.

                                                                  Peru has one of the most varied food cultures in the world, with highly diverse growing regions from here in the Andes to the Amazon rainforest in the east and the Pacific coast in the west....

                                                                  And the appetite for native Peruvian foods didn’t stop with potatoes. Acurio points to a native fruit called the camu camu as another example."

                                                                  1. Don't forget the indigenous people of the Caribbean.

                                                                    At the time that Columbus invaded the islands, their diet included lots of yuca and a variety of other tubers (yautía, boniato, etc), maize, beans, nuts, tropical fruits, fish and shellfish.

                                                                    And guess where barbecue and jerk foods came from!

                                                                    All these foods are still popular in the Caribbean (and here in South Florida).
                                                                    You can find a slew of tubers in all our local supermarkets that you won't find elsewhere in most of the mainland US.

                                                                    1. De las Casas refers to Columbus' now-lost logbooks:

                                                                      October 15, 1492
                                                                      "When I was in mid-channel ... I found a man alone in a canoe crossing from [one island to another]. He was carrying a lump of their bread, about the size of a fist, and a gourd of water and a bit of red earth which had been powdered and then kneaded; also some dried leaves which they must value very highly since they gave me a present of them."

                                                                      November 5, 1492
                                                                      "The Indians gave them a meal of boiled roots, which tasted like chestnuts...."
                                                                      "On the paths they had met a great number of people carrying burning coals in order to make fire with which to burn certain perfumed herbs they had wit them [tobacco]. On this fire they also boiled those roots which were their staple food.... They had also seen many fields of the staple root, and of kidney-beans, and another kind of bean, also of a grain like panic-grass that the Indians called maize. This grain had a very good taste when cooked, either roasted or ground and made into a gruel."

                                                                      November 13, 1492
                                                                      "Although these islands were uninhabited, there were remains of many fisherman's fires on their shores. For as we afterwards observed, bands of men came from Cuba in their canoes to visit these and countless other uninhabited islands near by, to feed on the fish they catch, and on birds, crabs and other things they find ashore. The Indians are accustomed to eating unclean things, such as large fat spiders and white worms that breed among decayed wood and other rotting matter. They eat some fish almost raw, and immediately on catching them. Before they boil them they tear out their eyes and eat them on the spot.... They go on these hunting and fishing expeditions at fixed seasons, moving from one ground to another, like sheep in search of new pasturage when they grow tired of the old."
                                                                      "The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus," JM Cohen ed & translator, Penguin 1969

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: racer x

                                                                        Nice. insightful. Must be a good book altogether.

                                                                        Our sphere would be lesser were it not for more publishers like Penguin.

                                                                      2. We have two books that may be of interest. Native Harvests: Recipes and Botanicals of the American Indian by Barrie Kavasch and Blue Corn and Chocolateby Elisabeth Rozin.

                                                                        1. I'm rather fond of pemmican

                                                                          1. What a fascinating thread.

                                                                            The distribution of commodities (e.g. dried meat and gubmint cheese) to tribal peoples has had its effect on pow wow and "old 49" food but here's a handy way to find and indulge in inexpensive local tribal food which of course varies greatly by region.

                                                                            Google the info for pow-wows in the area you are interested in. Pow wows are not usually the best place to scout for food, but note the smaller towns they most often occur in. Now google that town's name and "fair" or "fairgrounds." Circle the dates for fairs or carnivals or arts/crafts events. I once had an absolutely transcendent squash soup served from a truck at a fair in Anadarko, Oklahoma. Follow your nose past the typical funnel cake and corn dog stands and check out what the senior citizens are eating. Although hardly boasting pre-Colombian cred, a buffalo frybread taco is worth trying as well.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: gregsamsa

                                                                              If you can buy it, it probably is not very traditional.

                                                                            2. I guess the original Native foods were just about anything that cast a shadow.