Afang soup (gnetum)
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What: Gumbo is perhaps the dish most associated with New Orleans, and for good reason: It perfectly encompasses the multicultural hodgepodge that is NOLA cuisine. Its likely origins are in West Africa (see soupe kandja in Senegal), it always starts with a roux (thank you, France), it generally incorporates vegetables, seafood, and/or meat (see also: gumbo ya-ya), and it’s thickened with filé powder, which is ground sassafras leaves, a Native American component. (Sometimes you will see “filé gumbo” on menus.) One point of contention surrounds the inclusion of tomatoes: Creole chefs (mostly in the city) use it; Cajun chefs (mostly in the country) shun it. Gumbo is different things to different people, but it’s always hearty comfort food—a well-spiced, full-bodied stew served over rice.
Where: Our picture is from dive bar Coop’s Place (504-525-9053; 1109 Decatur St., map) in the French Quarter, where the gumbo has a greenish hue and is made with fresh okra, filé powder, and seafood (crab claws, shrimp, whole oysters), served with rice. We are big okra fans, and loved the soupy consistency, rich seafood taste, and spicy finish.
When: Daily, 11am-midnight (bar closes around 1am)
Alternatively: The gumbo debate always rages in NOLA; if time permitted, we would’ve tried the seafood gumbo at these places, too: in the Quarter, at K-Paul’s (416 Chartres St., map) and/or Gumbo Shop (630 St. Peter St., map); in Mid-City, at Dooky Chase’s (2301 Orleans Ave., map) and Liuzza’s by the Track (1518 N. Lopez St., map); Uptown, at Casamento’s (closed June-August; 4330 Magazine St., map).
Good to know: Filé powder is available in groceries all over town, should you wish to cook gumbo at home.
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