Is Bobby Flay a Liar?
My boyfriend and I traveled around Arizona for the last few days. We were invited for a wedding (Hi Mrs. Gaul!) in Rio Verde, but decided to take spend extra time in the state, mostly to delay that almost-five-hour flight back. We first ate dinner in Scottsdale (yes to Buffalo Carpaccio at Cowboy Ciao) and then stayed at a hotel/casino in Fort McDowell, which is built on tribal land. We then drove north to Sedona to visit my cousins and then north again and hiked about a mile into the Grand Canyon.
As this is a food blog, I won’t bore you with the beauty of the red rocks in Sedona and the pure fucking insanity that is the Grand Canyon (I think I said “What the fuck?!” every few steps.) I will, however, let you know my limited dining choices. I say choices because the options were not limited. We just chose the same thing over and over again.
In the Southwest, we thought, we would enjoy Southwestern fare. We weren’t sure what that meant, but we were sure we would find out. Ends up, we ate bagels. We found a great bagel place near the hotel. We were hungover and needed something we could count on. Something familiar. The next morning, we were again in need of something carby. Something to settle our stomachs. We returned to bagels.
Once we got to Sedona my cousins asked us what we wanted for dinner and we said “Southwestern.” After living in Arizona for 40-plus years she told us she doesn’t know what that meant. “Do you want spicy? Do you want steaks?” As a health coach, she turned the questions back on us. I just kept thinking about Bobby Flay. Did he make this whole thing up? We ended up going out for Mexican.
But back to bagels. On our two-and-a-half hour drive to the Grand Canyon we stopped again at a bagel shop. Our third breakfast in a row of bagels. Packed with both salt (a necessary ingredient for hikes) and protein, I enjoyed whitefish salad on pumpernickel.
We never really learned what Arizonanians eat for breakfast. Or maybe we learned Southwestern food doesn’t exist.
Top photo by mccun934 / Arizona photos—Sedona; Interstate 17; Grand Canyon—by gansie via iPhone
further reminder that I need to visit the Grand Canon, still never been there and I don’t have any good excuses
Wow. I’m sad that you didn’t get to experience really good Arizona/Southwestern food. Regional Arizona fare is a combination of Mexican, Native American (primarily Navajo but including other tribes as well), and traditional “cowboy” foods. That your cousin has lived there for 40+ years and couldn’t tell you this or share the cuisine of the region with you is truly unfortunate.
There are so many things to list, but here are a few of my favorites:
Carne seca is a dried and reconstituted beef (think beef jerky, rehydrated) used in a lot of recipes – especially soft tacos (and you have to have homemade tortillas and green chile sauce).
Fry bread is a more recent traditional Navajo food and a lot of people eat it for breakfast with a little honey (much yummier than bagels, IMO). But it can be served at all meals either sweet or savory. To have gone to AZ and not eaten fry bread is a tragedy.
Posole (a hominy soup with pork and green chile) is another regional favorite. Posole is to Arizona what tortilla soup is to Colorado/New Mexico. Actually for that matter anything made with hominy is fairly Arizonan. 🙂
Chimichangas, although conscripted by the rest of the US (and badly at that) were created/invented/discovered in Arizona, or so rumor has it. Some of the best chimis can be found in little hole-in-the-wall AZMex places.
Pinon nuts (pine nuts) are native to the high plains of Arizona around Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. Sweet treats made with them are ubiquitous – pinon cakes made with pine nuts and honey and coarse corn meal are to DIE for.
Beans and rice and beans and corn and corn and squash and beans and squash (mix and match to your hearts content) are staple Native American dishes and variations from all the tribes are all over the state.
Mutton/lamb is a staple meat for the Navajo and many stews are traditionally made with mutton and green chile of some kind. There are also some amazing tacos to be had made with fry bread and lamb.
Prickly pear (nopales) sweets and syrups are fairly uniquely Arizonan, although probably a bit more commercially distributed than other things – kinda touristy. But if you can find local made nopales sweets and jellies, they’re pretty darned yummy
Really there’s a lot of overlap in the Four Corners area – SW Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah share much of the same native dishes – a blend of Indian (Hopi, Navajo, Havasuipi, etc) and Sonoran Mexican dishes.
If you ever have a chance to go back to AZ, I hope you get to try some Arizona foods … and not limit yourself to bagels and chain Mex food.
@kara. wow. i should have talked to you beforehand, huh.
well, i can say that we did try to go to a restaurant that served fry bread, but it was closed on monday.
thanks a lot! now I really, really, really want white fish salad 🙁
The fact that you were happy eating bagels while looking for Southwestern food is just so right. Kind of like eating a Big Mac and thinking “Hey, that’s gourmet food, yeah!” Glad you liked the bagels because you can get them at home and still save gas and think you’re eating fancy!!!!
I live in Phoenix. I have visited both the Grand Canyon and Sedona. Being a foodie I was/am so disappointed by the food available to us on our journey. I find it very difficult to find good food in AZ.
But, the bagels are good!