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A Hopi Tradition: Piki Bread

The indigenous Hopi have been farming the dry arid land of the southwestern United States for centuries — a nearly impossible task in a region that gets less than six-and-a-half inches of annual rain. They grow sixteen varieties of corn along with beans, sunflowers, wheat, chilies and melons. An authentic meal includes dishes prepared from the harvest.

Piki Bread, Hopi lands in Arizona
Piki Bread

Piki bread is the ancient traditional staple of the Hopi people. Mastering the technique to make the thin dry rolled bread is difficult and therefore has been passed down from mothers to daughters for generations. I had the privilege of watching Iva Honyestewa make the traditional bread in her own piki house on the Hopi lands in Arizona.

Piki Bread House,  Hopi lands in Arizona
Piki Bread House

Piki takes several days to make from scratch, but Iva started her preparations early. She ground blue cornmeal down to a fine powder and obtained culinary ash from burnt juniper trees.

I watched as she lit a fire of cedar wood below her stone cooktop.

Lighting the Fire,  Hopi lands in Arizona
Lighting the Fire

Adding Water,  Hopi lands in Arizona
Adding Water

Then she mixed the grayish blue cornmeal with hot water and added the ash through a fine sieve. The mush looked like sticky play dough, but she added more water to make it very thin. Iva eventually used her hand to finish mixing.

Hand Mixing,  Hopi lands in Arizona
Hand Mixing

Smearing the Batter,  Hopi lands in Arizona
Smearing the Batter

She brushed her stone with oil (traditionally from sheep brains) and ran her hand over it, checking the heat.

The thin batter was then smeared by hand over the stone into a translucent layer. She repeatedly dipped her fingers in the batter and back to the stone to cover any holes and smooth it out.

The batter started to bake instantly and in a very short time became dry enough to lift or peel off. Iva then transferred the near-weightless sheet of bread to her table.

Removing a Sheet,  Hopi lands in Arizona
Removing a Sheet

Folded Bread,  Hopi lands in Arizona
Folded Bread

When three or four wafer-thin individual sheets are made, they are folded and wrapped together. If necessary they are placed back on the stone for a few seconds to reheat, and then folded.

If you get the opportunity to taste this bread, do not hesitate. While Piki looks unusual, it tastes much like corn and truly melts in your mouth. The Hopi Cultural Center on the Second Mesa occasionally offers Piki bread for sale.

If you go:
The Hopi people live in Arizona on land surrounded by the Navajo Nation.

The Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites, the first motel to be built on Hopi tribal land in 50 years, makes an ideal spot to start a day tour. The hotel near Tuba City is dedicated to helping visitors learn more about the Hopi Culture and connect tourists with guides.

Hopi Tours:

Hopi Meal,  Hopi lands in Arizona
Hopi Meal


One Comment

  1. Piki Bread are best cook on old wooden oven then gas cooktops.

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