This September, the Native American Cultural Center began its Creating Community Cooking Series. This series is hosted every semester to bring together different communities on campus. In its third year, the center aims to give students a place to learn recipes and meet new people.
The first event in the series took place Sept. 19, and the exhibited dish was fry bread, a simple to make, yet culturally essential dish. As the name implies, fry bread is flatbread deep fried in oil, shortening or lard. Later events will feature food that is a little more complex, like tamales and stews.
“We definitely theme it. We’ll start out with something easy like fry bread … Generally, we’ll have a lot of people who want to try their hand in [cooking], and we’ll try to think of dishes that allow a lot of people to pitch in,” cultural center executive director Ora Marek-Martinez said. “We’ve also done yeast bread and tamales, which were really popular.”
Since she was raised on the Nez Perce Reservation in northern Idaho, the dishes made in these events hold sentimental value to Marek-Martinez. She said her community believed in everyone pitching in and had different feasts to celebrate times of the year.
“I learned to cook a lot of southwestern dishes and other Pueblo foods,” Marek-Martinez said. “That’s something I take as part of my role here: teaching students how to make these cultural foods, because it is important that they have a sense of who they are and what they do in their communities.”
Marek-Martinez is not the only person who was taught these dishes when she was young. Many students in attendance had been made dishes like fry bread beforehand. Freshman Makayla Jackson said she’s been making fry bread since she was young.
“Coming into this, I wanted to see how other people are making [fry bread],” Jackson said. “It has a technique to it, so it’s kind of funny seeing how [they] make it. I’ve been making fry bread since I was 7 years old.”
On the other hand, one of the student volunteers, junior Makamae Tan, has only been making fry bread for one year.
“It started when I was a peer mentor here. We did the stew fest, so I was taught by my fellow coworkers,” Tan said. “I’ve never tried different styles. I was only taught one way, and I have just been sticking to it. The ending texture is different every way — everyone makes [fry bread] differently. Some people like it gooey and sticky, some like it not, and some of it is really stretchy.”
Fry bread is one recipe Tan learned during her time at the Native American Cultural Center.
“This helps when making Navajo burgers and Indian tacos, because those aren’t strictly a Navajo thing,” Tan said. “Working here has also connected me to the culture, and being able to do something that is part of the culture, I feel more connected and more accepted.”
Tan is a regular at the cooking series and said she makes the effort to attend as many as she can. Her favorite dishes to make are fry bread and poi, which is made from taro root and is a part of her Hawaiian background.
The cooking series will host more sessions throughout the semester. The next session is scheduled for Oct. 9. Similar events will also be held at the Native American Cultural Center, such as the Decolonize Your Diet workshop.