When Bill Baca sits down at the balloon fiesta to eat his daily meal from Day’s Famous Indian Pueblo Fry Bread, there’s a certain choreography to his consumption.
“I eat the filling first, and the sopaipilla last,” says the 56-year-old balloon crew chief, who has dined upon Day’s dish at every Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta since he began attending in 1977. “That’s dessert.”
To demonstrate, Baca digs a plastic fork into a pile of beans, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, green chile and ground beef heaped high atop a frisbee-sized disc of fry bread.
As promised, the bread meets his mouth last.
“I don’t know what they do, but it’s one of the best on the field,” he says between bites. “Just the way they make it. . . . It’s different.”
The secret to this fry bread’s distinctiveness is just that: a secret.
No matter how many times you ask for the recipe, you’re never going to get it, says Dayleen Yepa-Grondalski, Day’s 38-year-old owner.
“Everybody asks me,” Yepa-Grondalski says. “That’s one thing I will never give out.”
Yepa-Grondalski has been protecting the recipe – which she inherited from her mother – since she was 4 years old and her parents were just starting up the business as a way to raise money for Native American sports teams in Albuquerque.
She took over the business – open only during the balloon fiesta and a few special events – in 1993.
Even though she now lives in Colorado, she still comes to Albuquerque every year to serve fiesta-goers thousands of her Indian Pueblo fry bread.
“It’s important to me to carry on what my parents started,” she says. “I’m going to keep it up until I grow old, and hopefully, when I have kids, maybe they’ll carry it on.”
Her 56-year-old mother, Doris Gallegos – who still lends a hand – says business was booming from day one.
“Every time we sold fry bread, we always sold out,” she says. “It always has been, always will be that way.”
The shop sells Indian Pueblo fry bread in various forms: as breakfast burritos, as tacos, as a dessert covered with powdered sugar, cinnamon or honey. There’s chile stew too.
“Everything I make is from scratch,” Yepa-Grondalski says. “It’s a lot of hard work.”
Inside a redwood shack that always shows up on lot number 76 of the fiesta grounds, she grabs a ball of soft dough and presses it into a thin, floppy disc.
In front of her, a thin layer of smoke wafts above oil kept warm in an eight-inch deep stainless steel container.
She pokes five holes in the disc of dough. “So the fry bread will puff up,” she says.
When the dough hits the hot oil, there’s bubbling and the promised puffing. Once the edges of the bread go golden brown, Yepa-Grondalski lifts it out with a pair of arm-length, black-tipped sticks – traditionally used for fry bread extraction – taken from Willow trees nearly 13 years ago.
She tilts the bread to drain the oil, then sets it atop a bed of paper towels.
“Wait about a good six seconds to 10 seconds,” she says, “and it’s ready to serve.”