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WINNEBAGO, Neb. -- Standing outside his family's food stand during the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska's Powwow, Willy Bass, 30, is convinced he has discovered a breakthrough in contemporary Native American cuisine.

"My family has the only food stand that makes fry bread bites," he says, holding up a miniature version of the deep-fried flatbread commonly used for Indian tacos and burgers. "The fry bread bites are user-friendly because they don't make your hands greasy. Plus they're versatile since you can top them in all kinds of ingredients."

You can put ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream and homemade salsa onto the bite-sized fry bread for an order of Indian Taco Bites. Or you can add slivers of steak, peppers, onions, provolone and a zesty sauce for the ultimate Indian Philly Cheesesteak.

However, Bass' favorite variation is one that created on his own: Indian Pizza Bites.

"You line the fry bread bites at the bottom, while piling on plenty of pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni and Italian seasonings," he says, fixing a plate. "It's delicious."

Wait a minute, tacos, cheese steaks and pizzas don't sound very Native.

Bass agrees, adding that fry bread also wasn't something exclusive to Native Americans, either.

"Centuries ago, tribes didn't access to ingredients like flour and baking powder," he says. "Even though it's a beloved part of our cuisine, we can't take credit for it."

Much of Bass' menu mixes fixings from other cuisines.

"That's why we describe our food as Contemporary Native Cuisine," he says. "It is what sets us apart."

The Bass Family has named its food stand Waruc -- pronounced Wah-Dooch -- which means "to eat" in the Ho-Chunk language. It is run by Bass and his mom, Janet Bass.

"For many years, my parents ran a food stand at the Powwow," Janet Bass explains. "The stand went away after they got older. It became a hardship since nobody in the family wanted to take it over."

This all changed less than a decade ago when Janet Bass opened Waruc -- a food stand which is only open annually for the four-day powwow.

"My mother (Viola LaPointe) still comes by every morning to help with the dough," Janet Bass says. "We use her recipe and she knows her dough."

Janet Bass' husband, Greg Bass Sr., also helps by making a traditional Indian corn soup. 

In fact, Waruc utilizes many generations of the extended Bass family as kitchen help, taste testers and food scientists. 

"Each year, my family gets together to see what sells and what things we can make better," explains Bass, a Ho-Chunk Inc. training coordinator who is currently pursuing a master's degree from Concordia University. "I'd love to say everything was based on data-driven research but I don't think my family would agree with that."

If there's something delicious on Waruc's menu board and if people keep on ordering it, chances are good it will be back for 2019's Winnebago Powwow.

That includes some quirky non-Native items like the Hot Cheetos Nachos, Kool-Aid Pickles and the new-for-this-year Boba Lemonade, which contains tiny, edible balls of additional flavors.

This is fine by Bass, who enjoys the fact that powwows are a way in which Native families pass down recipes while more entrepreneurial-minded members can offer some outside-of-the-box creations.

"We'll always make our very traditional fry breads," he says, "but our fry bread bites just put a contemporary spin on some classic food." 

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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