PHOENIX — Boiling pots of stew, fryers of hot oil and piles of crispy, golden fry bread make up the landscape of one of Phoenix's most famous Native American restaurants.
"It's dangerous to come back here," Richard Perry says as he weaves his way through the hot kitchen of The Fry Bread House.
The stews, many kinds of them, smell amazing. There's chili, beef stew, menudo, posole, and green chili stew... But they're all extras. The star of the show is the simplest thing on the menu; the fry bread.
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Fry bread has only four ingredients. In some places, only three. Flour, lard, salt, and baking powder; mix it, roll it, stretch it out and toss it in hot oil. What comes out of the simplest ingredients is what makes The Fry Bread House so famous.
The recipe was handed down to Cecilia Miller, Richards's mother, from her mother. She perfected it and opened the restaurant in 1992.
"My mother was a mother of five boys," Perry said. "So she had to really look for foods to feed us and one of them was fry bread. And from what I learned it was a survival food."
Fry Bread is arguably responsible for the survival of not just Perry and his siblings, but for Native Americans who were forced from their homes.
When tribes were being moved off their lands and onto reservations, they left behind land that had grown the crops they depended on for food. The reservations couldn't grow the same foods and so they became dependent on food given to them by the federal government: flour, lard, salt and baking powder.
"When the government started distributing flour and different ingredients," Perry said, "Native Americans figure out a way to create a source of food."
What they created with those ingredients, was fry bread.
Because of its origin, fry bread is somewhat controversial. It was invented by Native American tribes but at the cost of their own historical cuisine.
All the same, fry bread spread to almost every tribe. It was passed around and passed down, all the way to Cecilia Miller.
In 2012. The James Beard Foundation recognized Miller and The Fry Bread House with a James Beard Award as an American Classic. the James Beard Awards are like the Oscars of food. To this day, Richard Perry's not even sure his mother even applied for consideration.
"Apparently they called her at the restaurant one day to say they she have won and she didn't know who it was," Perry said. "She thought it was somebody trying to sell the restaurant something!"
The James Beard Award, though an amazing accomplishment, did not change The Fry Bread House. It's still small, the staff is still the same, and the food is unchanged. The prices are still the same (under $10) and the restaurant is as busy as ever.
“My mother wanted it to just be a place where Indian people, indigenous people could come here and enjoy a meal when they came into town, away from the reservation communities," Perry said.
Cecilia Miller died in 2020 at age 81. She lived to see her restaurant go from a fledgling business to a renowned success.
And she left a legacy of fry bread that her kids will pass on, just as she did.
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