Celebrating the Cherokee Community with Food | Cherokee, NC

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What Traditional and Modern Food Do the Cherokee Indians Eat?

Traditional Cherokee Food

Community is an important part of Cherokee culture, from ancient times until now, and food has always been a way to bring the community together. Many tribal social activities and interactions are centered around sharing meals and spending time together still today.

What Did the Cherokee Indians Eat?

Originally, before European contact, the Cherokee people lived throughout the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. The tribal diet commonly consisted of foods that were either gathered, grown, or hunted. The three sisters – corn, beans, and squash – were grown. Wild greens, mushrooms, ramps, nuts, and berries were collected. Deer, bears, birds, native fish, squirrels, groundhogs, and rabbits were all hunted. In the pre-contact era, many meals were one-pot stews made over an open fire. After contact, the tribe also began to grow fruit like watermelons and peaches and to eat farm animals like chicken, pigs, and cows. Cherokee food traditions not only teach you how to gather, hunt, and grow, but also how to store and preserve certain foods. Prior to the introduction of metal, cooking vessels were made of clay. Food was also sometimes buried in hot coals to cook.

Modern Cherokee Food

In today’s modern age, food in Cherokee is as diverse as anywhere else. Many foods are prepared by grilling, frying, boiling, baking, and occasionally over an open fire. Cherokee people still eat the three sisters and grow a variety of vegetables and fruits. People also get together for hot dogs, hamburgers, BBQ, turkey, ham, steaks, fish, etc. One more modern, local favorite is shared by many people in the Qualla Boundary and beyond: it is called fry bread.

Fry Bread – A Local Favorite

Fry bread is a modern tradition found in many tribes in North America, and, in Cherokee, there is a wide variety of recipes. Each person typically has their own recipe and preparation tricks. To make fry bread, sections of the dough must be pressed flat, and a hole is made in the center. The dough is then placed in hot oil and fried on each side until it is a golden brown. Fry bread can be eaten plain or with toppings like cheese, chili, hot sauce, hot peppers, lettuce, tomato, onion, sour cream, salsa, and more. It can also be used to create really delicious sweet treats when powdered sugar, honey, apple butter, or fresh berries are added.

What’s Happening in the Cherokee Food Scene


Cherokee Restaurants and Caterers Featuring Traditional Dishes?

Looking for restaurants and caterers that feature a variety of foods with unforgettable flavor? Don’t miss these gems:

  • Little Princess
  • Newfound Lodge
  • Paul’s Restaurant (Rabbit, pheasant, and buffalo are on the daily menu.)
  • Granny’s Kitchen
  • Harvey and David’s Catering
  • Deer Clan Production
  • North American Indian Women’s Association (NAIWA)

Local Food Events

Cherokee Indian Fair  - The Cherokee Indian Fair is the perfect opportunity to connect with the local community. The fair includes everything from arts and crafts to agriculture, music, and food. Visitors enjoy food contests between vendors as they compete to be named the best bean bread or fry bread.

Rainbows and Ramps - Rainbows and Ramps is a popular local food event held in the spring each year. The public is invited to attend this one-day festival and enjoy two of the most delicious things found in the mountains: ramps (wild leeks) and rainbow trout. Music and dancing is accompanied by fresh trout, potatoes, corn bread, and native ramps, which were once considered an important source of vitamins and minerals. According to The Cherokee One Feather, an online publication based in Cherokee, North Carolina, “ramps were traditionally consumed as the year’s first greens.” The Cherokee One Feather also features common recipes for ramps including :

  • Ramp Biscuits
  • Killed Ramps and Branch Lettuce
  • Fried Potatoes and Ramps
  • Ramp Cornbread

BBQ and Bluegrass Throwdown - In the fall, Cherokee is proud to host the BBQ and Bluegrass Throwdown. Enjoy local food and music, as well as an excellent BBQ competition. Come and let your taste buds go wild.

NAIWA’s Annual Strawberry and Blueberry Festivals - The North American Indian Women’s Association (NAIWA) Cherokee Chapter hosts annual blueberry and strawberry festivals every year in May and August. Full dishes are prepared, as well as other culinary delights like baked good and jams. Adults and youths can participate in competitions.

The Cherokee Experience - The Museum of the Cherokee Indian offers regular workshops for schools and groups. Workshops include all of the following:

  • music
  • storytelling
  • dance
  • crafting
  • traditional Cherokee food 
Sample Trips