I bought Sara Raohen's Gumbo Tales at the airport on the day I was leaving New Orleans and, as I read, I wished that I had picked it up the day I arrived. Raohen is a master at bringing the eclectic tastes of New Orleans cuisine alive on the page and conveys the city's pride and heritage to the reader. I read this book hungrily on the flight back to Philadelphia and upon landing, immediately sought out local restaurants that may just deliver Roahen's described oyster po-boys, okra gumbo, and olive-salad muffalettas. Whether or not they will be accurate to Roahen's experience I'll never know until I go back to New Orleans (which I will) to sample from the restaurants she highlights.
My favorite part of the whole book is her explanation of why Monday's meal, in the whole of New Orleans, is red beans and rice. Roahen writes, "If there was a first pot of red beans in New Orleans, documentation of it has not been found. Everyone here knows, though, that whether truth or myth, red beans and rice became a Monday staple for two reasons: it made good use of the ham bone from Sunday dinner, and cooks could stir the low-maintenance dish infrequently while tending to housework back when Monday was laundry day and people still set their washtubs over charcoal furnaces in the backyard." To know that, even today, Monday's meal is red beans and rice where the washing machine and dryer will dutifully do New Orleans laundry any day of the week is so comforting to me, someone who likes to know what's coming up next. And the fact that the whole city participates shows the tight-knit community that is New Orleans.
I fell in love with New Orleans while I was there and Roahen's Gumbo Tales made me love it even more. If you want to get a little taste for this wonderful city, please read this book.
--Lucia Gunzel is the author/publisher of the children's book, Cranky Pants.