Imagine a sea-pantry filled with every, single, underwater creature you’ve ever loved to eat. Then, mix the articles in that pantry with the indigenous foods and ideas of cultures from around the world—France, Spain, Africa, Canada, Germany, Haiti, and Santo Domingo, to name a few. Then, give it all some time to marinate together and that may begin to tell the story of seafood in New Orleans.
It all starts with local ingredients. Because of where it lives on the map, Louisiana is the number-one provider of shrimp, oysters, crab, crawfish, and alligator in America. And New Orleans is its heart. They’ve been catchin’, cookin’, and eatin’ seafood for generations here.
When you order a bowl of gumbo, it’s delicious for millions of reasons. Literally. Here’s why: A long time ago, Africans and American Indians mingled to form “Cajuns” (that’s Louisianian for “Acadian”). The original “Creoles” (Translation: “the first born in a new colony”) were the children of the French, Spanish, and Germans who settled the area. But modern Creoles are descendants of those exiled from Haiti and Santa Domingo.
You still with us? Good.
To further complicate things (and make them even more delicious), a crowd of French, free people of color, and slaves came to New Orleans and brought a Caribbean and French flare that included beans, rice, richer soups, and sauces made with roux, tomato, and slow cookin’ methods. (This was wayyyyyy before the crock-pot ever showed up.)
If that’s not enough, all of that was combined with sausages from the Germans and spices and rice from the Spanish. Native Americans threw in local vegetables and spices, including sassafras and the bay leaf. Africans brought with them a vegetable used to thicken and flavor soups. We call this vegetable "okra," but the Africans called it "gumbo," giving the famous soup its thickness and its name.
Next time, we’ll go beyond history and explore what else N’awlins does to make that bowl of gumbo so delicious.