A trip home to butcher a sheep

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I am a foodie. I love to eat and try new things. I enjoy being in restaurants and in the kitchen. So it’s safe to say food is a hobby and a passion of mine. I’ve eaten Korean, Ethiopian, Indian, Belgian, South American, German, Czech, Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, Afghan and Japanese food. Middle Eastern and Mexican foods are my favorite.

But I’ve never really explored the food that comes from the Navajo reservation, where I’m from.

On a recent trip home I got to experience a sheep butchering for the first time.

Witnessing this with my family was a great experience. I didn’t take part, physically, because I was taking photos most of the time. Next time I’ll get in there.

Kudos to the Miss Navajo contestants. They butcher sheep by themselves in front of an audience and judges while wearing a full dress and jewelry.

Navajo food doesn’t only come from the sheep. Historically Navajos hunted rabbits, deer, prairie dogs and elk. Navajos also grew corn, squash and beans. Our neighbors had a huge influence on our food too. From the Mexicans and Spanish we have Navajo tacos, pesolé and chile stews. Oh, and tortillas – every Navajo woman must know how to make fry bread and tortillas. We also consider tamales to be a delicacy, just like the Mexicans do, and they’re only made for special occasions.

A lot of our Navajo words for foods are actually Spanish words too. Geeso is how we say “cheese;” queso is how it’s said in Spanish, and it sounds the same. Mandagi’a is Navajo for “butter,” which is mantaquella in Spanish.

There is a wider variety of traditional Navajo foods including blue corn mush; ground blue corn cooked in hot water and salted or served with sugar; Navajo tea, which, to me, tastes like you took a fall in the weeds and got some of it in your mouth; and Navajo cake, a mix of ground corn and other sweet things that is baked underground and comes out dense and kind of tough – for a cake.

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