New Orleans: where to find the city's best gumbo

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New Orleans is famous for many things: it’s the birthplace of jazz, the home of mardi gras, antebellum homes and a unique mélange of cross-cultural fusion found nowhere else in the United States. A 2009 Travel + Leisure poll of "America's Favorite Cities" ranked New Orleans first in ten categories, the most first-place rankings of the 30 cities included.

The most delightful way for travelers to experience the cultural bounty on offer here is by eating! Ideally with a local who’s tapped into the city’s culinary scene and knows the best places to indulge. Our guide Cassandra is a certified guide and long-time resident of New Orleans. Amongst other outings, she takes visitors on culinary excursions to experience the unique flavors of the Crescent City. Cassandra joins us today to explain the roots of New Orleans’ most famous dish.

What is the first dish that comes to mind when you think about New Orleans food? Gumbo, of course! As a New Orleans’ food aficionado I am always sleuthing out the best gumbo in town. But here’s the thing, not only is this thick, dark, rich soup delicious, its savory flavors tell the history of the people that have contributed to our unique culinary traditions.

The Gumbo Trio

You see, there are three different ways to thicken a gumbo - roux, okra and filé. Roux, influenced by French cuisine, is made from fat and flour. The flour is slowly added to oil (or sometimes butter). It’s lovingly stirred in until the desired color and consistency is reached. The darker the roux, the deeper and richer the flavor. Okra is another way to thicken gumbo. Okra was one of the food items that came to North America from Africa, via the Middle Passage. Okra has a gelatinous or binding quality when it is cooked down, the African contribution to gumbo. The third way to thicken a gumbo is with filé, dried and ground sassafras leaves. This is the Native American contribution to gumbo. The Choctaws were amongst the tribes living in South Eastern Louisiana that predated the French colonists. To this day, when I go the Crescent City Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning, occasionally there is a Native American man pounding out fresh filé in a huge mortar and pestle. Its wonderful aroma fills the air.

So...who makes it best?

There are so many different types of gumbo that naturally everyone in New Orleans has strong opinions about who makes it best. For me there are two places that reign supreme - Café Amelieand Liuzza's by the Track. Café Amelie has a Cajun style gumbo, made with Chicken and Andouille. Mmmmm, Andouille, that delicious smoked pork sausage that boldly flavors Cajun cooking. Luizza’s, my other favorite, has tomato in its soupy base, differentiating it as a Creole style gumbo. It’s chock full of chicken, sausage and shrimp. The Gulf shrimp are always added at the last minute to ensure their tender consistency. These two gumbos are delicacies not to be missed. But don’t take my word for it, come on down and I will take you to taste for yourself. Which gumbo will be your favorite? Bon appétit!

Thanks for the history and tips, Cassandra! Any travelers headed to New Orleans this fall or in 2018 should consider getting in touch with Cassandra to help plan your own culinary adventure in the Big Easy.
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