When you think of New Orleans, what comes to mind? Is it the Saints? Maybe Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street? Or is it the amazing cuisine found anywhere in the city?
Whatever brings you to New Orleans, food should be at the forefront of your trip. The city has so much to offer. Known for their gumbo, po’ boys and beignets, this city has some iconic dishes, but what is the most iconic? Let’s meet the contenders.
According to What’s Cooking America, beignets are believed to be brought by the Ursuline Nuns to Louisiana in 1727 . Beignets are squares of fried dough covered in powdered sugar, which is essentially a donut. I don’t think that represents New Orleans enough to be the most iconic food item.
Now don’t get me wrong, beignets are delicious and Café Du Monde has some of the best on the planet, but beignets are French-born and French all the way through.
With that being said, NOLA is home to Café Du Monde. Café Du Monde has been open since 1862. There is literally only one thing on the menu and that is beignets.
The only other item you can order is dark coffee with chicory, which is a must-try if you’ve never had it before.
Po’ boys are considered to be founded by the Martin brothers, Benny and Clovis. They moved from Raceland, LA to New Orleans in the early years of the 20th century. T
he name came in the 1930s during the Great Depression. There were so many laborers on strike that the brothers decided they would help feed the strikers. They served sandwiches out the back door for about 5 cents and they consisted of beef scraps and gravy inside a small loaf.
When the strikers kept coming one after another, one of the brothers yelled, “There’s another po’ boy!” and the name was born! The picture below is an actual telegram describing the event that was sent to a friend.
Po’ boys can be made with, hot roast beef and gravy (The Original), fried, grilled or blackened seafood, and even ham and cheese. Po’ boys are what you make it so have fun with it.
Again, this is more common across the country than beignets. Some could argue that beignets can only be executed in New Orleans, which may be true but the popularity of the po’ boy reigns supreme. New Orleans is also home to the official po’ boy bread made by the Leidenheimer Baking Company.
Although beignets predate gumbo. Gumbo is the grand daddy of them all when it comes to new Orleans cuisine. French explorer C.C. Robin told of his tales eating the dish at a soiree on the Acadian coast in 1803/1804. Gumbos were mostly squirrel gumbos as Cajuns did not consume that much seafood before the 20th century.
I believe gumbo to be most home to New Orleans for the fact of its many variations and changes. When you go to a Creole/Cajun restaurant anywhere in the country, they will always have gumbo on the menu, which is paying homage to the original roots back in New Orleans.
The key to a good gumbo is in the roux, which is a mix of butter/oil and flour. It is used to give thickness to the gumbo as well as flavor. Gumbo came originally from bouillabaisse, which is a seasoned fish stew.
The only problem was the new settlers did not have access to the usual ingredients for a French bouillabaisse. So there was room for innovation. As more cultures came into the region they all had their own contribution to the stew and it became the gumbo we know today.
Yes, gumbo did originally start as a French dish, but it evolved into its own unlike the beignet. There you have it: Gumbo is the most iconic dish to New Orleans, Louisiana.