Thursday, January 21, 2010

Exposing An Ignorant Foodie

I'm at the Sistine Chapel of the New World, the White Dove of the Desert. And all I can think about is food.

It's not that I'm hungry. It's that I love to explore a new place through its food, its people and its history.

And some of its people already told me that THE PLACE to get GREAT fry bread was at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a place steeped in 300 years of histories of many peoples, of Americans, Native Americans, Mexicans, Spaniards, Jesuits and Franciscans.

I'll absorb the history later, I think to myself. Show me the food!

Now, I really don't know what fry bread is, except it's a food found in Native American culture. And I imagine it's bread, maybe a whole grain or multi-grain bread, that's been fried. I don't know. I just want to eat some.

So I go in search of this food. I visually scout out the grounds of this impressive  working Catholic mission near Tucson, AZ, where people still pray and children go to school. To my left, I hear Mexican cantina music from a loud speaker. Ahead of me is the church itself, an impressive white beacon of faith, a source of comfort to thousands of Catholic pilgrims.

And then, to my right, there she is. A Tohono O'odham grandmother working under a hut with a thatched cactus roof, selling fresh fry bread. I'm so close, I'm giddy.

"Hi," I say, nearly breathless after hurrying up to see her. And I'm sure my grin looks stupid. "One fry bread with, um," I quick read the handwritten menu nailed to the hut support, "beans and cheese, please."

She nods, then turns away from me and washes her hands. She then picks up a ball of fresh dough and slaps it back and forth in her hands, working it like a small pizza crust. She then drops it into a vat of sizzling vegetable oil.

While the dough sizzles, I laugh to myself.  How naive I can be! It's just Fried Dough, the decadent State Fair dessert. Fry bread. Fried dough. Fry bread. Fried dough. Same, same. Only the State Fair delicacy NEVER wears beans and cheese, right? Only yummy sugars (which, by the way, is also on the menu here).

After the dough fries crispy, grandma puts in on a paper plate, ladles a generous helping of pinto beans on top, and sprinkles it with cheese. She then folds it over like a taco, only a huge taco.

That's my prize. My fry bread.

I savor the dish, then head to the church to feed on the history inside.

No comments: