Gumbo Tales: Sara Roahen

gumbo tales

‘Of all the follies I committed en route to becoming a New Orleanian–pronouncing Burgundy Street like the wine (in New Orleans-speak, the emphasis is on gun), locking my mountain bike on the front porch (once, before it disappeared), agreeing to work on Fat Tuesday–the most egregious was disrespecting the po-boy. Just a submarine sandwich, I’d sneer as another month passed without trying one.  But po-boys are as unavoidable in New Orleans as mousling cockroaches are, and in time the determination of both broke me. I don’t scream anymore when I see the cockroaches limbo-ing beneath the doorsill, and curiosity eventually drove me up Magazine Street to Guy’s Po-Boys.’

My first trip to New Orleans was a few years after Hurricane Katrina. Rebuilding was well under way in many neighborhoods, but there were still piles of rubble that were once homes sprinkled in every neighborhood of the city. And there were neighborhoods that were still nearly vacant. I fell in love with the city on that first trip and have loved it more with every visit since. Food and restaurants, being such a central part of the culture of New Orleans, have led the recovery in many ways. And food has changed in New Orleans since Katrina. You can still get anything fried and seafood with every meal, but there are also fresh vegetables growing in New Orleans and there is a growing movement to eat what is grown locally.

On my first visit I met Nat Turner, a teacher from New York who went to New Orleans after Katrina, then stayed to become part of its future.  Turner, as he likes to be called, is an imposing and charismatic figure who has become an integral part of the Lower Ninth Ward. He opened a school, Our School at Blair Grocery, to teach the local youth that growing and selling tomatoes is more profitable than dealing drugs. They are now selling their vegetables to the once again thriving restaurants of New Orleans.

On my way home from that first trip I picked up Gumbo Tales at the airport. It is, to date, my favorite book about New Orleans and as a newcomer to that amazing world, it was and is my best view in. While each chapter spins around one of the many foods that define New Orleans, the book is about much more than food. It is about the character and feel of the city and people who live there. Just read it.

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