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  • Native American Food

    Native American Food

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The culinary world is constantly reinventing itself, it seems like there is always the new ‘must-try’ food dominating the news stories. From the latest rainbow coloured snack to unicorn themed deserts, 2016 was the year of the viral food trend. But what about the traditional food, that’s been around for generations? Will that ever have a resurgence and warrant hours of queuing on the streets?

We’re talking about the Native American cuisine, which has provided so much inspiration behind traditional American food today. From cranberries to blueberries to turkey and cornbread, iconic American foods all stem from Native American cuisine.

What is Native American Cuisine?

It can be quite hard to define what pre-colonised Native American cuisine actually is. With over 500 recognised tribes in the USA, each with their own traditions and cooking methods, putting the cuisine in a neatly packaged box can prove difficult.

Tribes which lived in the plains, like Navajos wouldn’t have any idea how to fish. Tribes that resided in the Pacific North West, such as the Chinook tribe, would be expert fishermen.  Therefore, their diets and cuisine would be very different.

Different Cuisines of Native American Tribes

Men of the Navajo Tribe would hunt animals like deer and antelope, while the women would gather nuts and fruits. But the Navajos were mostly known for farming, where they would grow corn, beans and squash.

The Chinook Tribe originated from modern-day Washington and Oregon. Because of their proximity to the Pacific Ocean, they would mostly eat salmon, but would also catch other fish. They used canoes for fishing, but on the ground, they would hunt deer like the Navajos.

In California, the coastal Chumash Tribe also took advantage of their proximity to water. Their diet included a variety of different clams, oysters and snails.

One of the largest tribes in the USA is the Osage Nation, who lived in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. Their residency in the Great Plains means that they would have a very different cuisine and hunting style to the Chinook and Chumash tribes. The Osage men would hunt buffalo – initially by driving them off cliffs, but later horseback. The women of the tribe were heavily involved in agriculture. They would grow and eat pumpkin, beans, squash and corn.

Iconic Native American Foods

Even though there are many different tribes, and diets, there are ingredients that remain iconic to most Native American people.

Of all the Native American foods, maze is one of the most popular ingredients (maze is corn, in case you were thinking of actual mazes from country homes). Maze is used in many, many different Native American recipes. The most famous of which being the comforting cornbread and grits.

Frybread is a well-known Native American food, although it is relatively modern. It’s believed it was first made in 1864 by the Navajo Tribe, from flour, sugar, salt and lard given to them by the US government. The Navajos were forced to take the ‘Long Walk’ from where they lived in Arizona to New Mexico. The new land wouldn’t support their traditional vegetables and beans, so they were forced to come up with an alternative food source.

It’s served at Native American homes and gatherings, and represents a painful part of their history. While some Native Americans feel that frybread should be avoided, as it represents colonialism, others believe it’s important to continue with the tradition, as it links younger generations with their past.

Traditional Native American Ingredients

Meat would feature heavily in traditional Native American diets. For example, they would hunt bison, deer, turkeys and rabbits. This was regardless of whether they were tribes who relied on farming, or not. Tribes would make meals from ingredients they could easily grow and harvest. So, eggs, maple syrup, honey, nuts, blueberries and lots of beans and roots would feature heavily in their diet.

Native Americans ate very fresh food, as there wasn’t really any way to preserve it.

Where Can I Experience Native American Cuisine?

Now, plenty of Native American chefs are celebrating the food of their ancestors, with Native American restaurants becoming more and more popular.


If you’re travelling through Denver, make a pit stop at Tocabe. It’s the only restaurant in Metro Denver owned and operated by Native Americans, originating from members of the Osage Nation. When you visit, you must try their frybreads or bison ribs.

Pequot Café

In Massachusetts you can find the Pequot Café at the Pequot Museum.  Run by Chef Sherry Pocket, this is one of the best places to come for Native food with family friendly dining.

Which Native American foods will you try first? Your road trip just got a whole lot tastier!