Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with fry bread from South Dakota, which joined the union on November 2, 1889. To vote for Oregon's state food, go here.
South Dakota is one giant roadside attraction—home to the World’s Only Corn Palace
, Mt. Rushmore, a memorial to General Custer, Badlands and Wind Caves national parks, and the world's largest mountain carving, Crazy Horse Memorial. It's home to a store, Wall Drug
, that is famous only for the billboards advertising the store. But despite the fact that many visit, few actually live in the state with the nation's lowest cost of living: South Dakota's largest city, Sioux Falls, has a population of 159,000, about the size of Salem.
The food: Sherman Alexie calls fry bread, the Native American staple, the “story of our survival.” And for good reason. Its origins date back to about 150 years ago, when the U.S. government forced native tribes to embark on the "Long Walks" to reservations in different states, with years-long, starvation-rife stays in camps. The government gave the tribes canned, sometimes rancid white flour, processed sugar and lard— the makings of what would become fry bread. South Dakota, home to a large Sioux population, named it as its official state bread in 2005. In taste, fry bread is similar to funnel cake—though fluffier, and less sweet.
Other dishes considered and rejected: Kuchen (a traditional German pastry with a fruit or custard filling), potato salad, Chislic (cubed red meat), pheasant breasts, meatloaf and red hot dogs.
Get it from: Teepee’s food cart (4926 SE Division St., 971-777-1315), whose owner is Oglala Lakota Sioux. I tried both the sweet and salty versions of the bread: the Indian Taco and the cinnamon sugar. Either way, you can’t go wrong. The $8 Indian Taco is a hefty portion of lettuce, tomatoes, ground beef, refried beans and sour cream atop the chewy bread. For half that price, you can get the fry bread drenched in cinnamon and sugar. They’re both rich, for sure—split among three, the sweet and salty pair was difficult to finish—but much less oily than you might expect.
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.