Neeshjízhii is a Diné specialty food, and it is incredibly labor intensive to make. The corn, also called neeshjízhii, is smoky and complex, and has a slight hint of caramel after you bite into it (it’s similar to “chicos” in a New Mexican context). Making it takes several days, including harvesting the ears, steaming them on the cob in an earthen pit on cedar wood coals, shucking and drying the ears, and then removing the kernels from the cobs (southwest farmfresh.org). The corn is served in a simple broth with large chunks of mutton (dibé bitsį’ or sheep meat) on the bone, with salt as the only additional seasoning. It’s a deceptively simple meal, but don’t be fooled: paired with the grease and crunch of the frybread that comes on the side, it’s one of the most satisfying meals I’ve ever eaten (my friend refers to this stew as “Diné chapstick,” because it makes your lips greasy and shiny).
The sign in the window of the Grilled Food Café reads:
“When you buy from a small mom & pop business, you are not helping a CEO buy a third vacation home. You are helping a little girl get dance lessons, a little boy get his team jersey, a mom put food on the table, a dad pay a mortgage, or a student pay for college. Our customers are our shareholders, and they are the ones we strive to make happy. Thank you for supporting small businesses!”
A bowl of neeshjízhii with frybread or tortilla (your choice) will set you back between $11.00-$12.00, or about ½ the price of a high end entrée at your favorite restaurant. But the richness of the flavor, the sensory experience and the stories that come with it are priceless. Wherever you are, please consider supporting unique, local and artisanal food trucks and foodways.
NB: If you make the trip, please know that masking and social distancing are still fully in effect, per Navajo Tribal Law, on the Navajo Nation. Most food stands, and other flea market vendors, prefer cash, only.