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Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table Paperback – April 20, 2009


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Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table + Tom Fitzmorris's Hungry Town: A Culinary History of New Orleans, the City Where Food Is Almost Everything
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (April 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393335372
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393335378
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 4.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #341,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this gratifying love letter to her adopted home, food writer Roahen takes the French idea of terroir-the effect of a region's climate and geography on its wine grapes-as a jumping-off point, locating New Orlean's "emotional terroir" in its food. Though it's a nebulous concept, this culinary tour succeeds repeatedly in defining the indefinable with grace, wit and passion-especially in regards to the city's alluring, complex flavors and aromas. Beginning with gumbo, Roahen examines the Crescent City's signature dishes, offering a history of the cuisine, the people who shaped it and those who keep it alive. Readers will meet Ernest and Mary Hansen, crafters of "artisan" shaved-ice sno-balls; take a seat at Luizza's by the Track for transcendental BBQ shrimp po-boys; sample Miss Lovie's phenomenal Big Mama's Seafood Gumbo; and marvel at the ravenous characters populating Hawk's crawfish boil. An accomplished cook herself, Roahan periodically ushers readers into her kitchen for experiments like the daunting, superindulgent Turducken: a chicken stuffed inside a duck that is then stuffed inside a turkey. Hurricane Katrina is treated as a kind of recurring character, dogging the city and its inhabitants, and Roahen honors their struggle and loss. Those familiar with the city will smile and nod along; readers who've never had the pleasure may find themselves making travel arrangements long before the last page.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“[This] deeply informed and plainly heartfelt investigation into New Orleans’ finest food traditions taps into a cornucopia of cultural riches.” (Elle)

“An endearing collection of stories from the seven years [Sara Roahen] spent in the Crescent City, learning to embrace its unapologetically decadent cuisine. It is part culinary history, part memoir and part homage to places that have since been erased.” (Salon)

“Informative, engaging and amusing . . . Gumbo Tales has the not-surprising effect of leaving the reader’s mouth watering.” (Jonathan Yardley - Washington Post)

“This is the book to lead you, rejoicing, to your favorite restaurant, or fire up that kitchen stove to make a batch of gumbo for your mama ‘n’ dem. This book is a joy to read, a pleasure to pass along, a book to treasure. It leaves you hungry in your body, satisfied in your soul.” (New Orleans Times-Picayune)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 36 customer reviews
For New Orleans, it was food and music.
Kay A. Douglas
Sara Roahen's love of the the city's food is exceeded only by her love of the people who make it and their creation of a unique culture.
Robert Holland
Roahan's book was the perfect find for leaving-town-reading, for keeping the feeling of NOLA going even when you're far away.
E. L. Smith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By S. Lewis on February 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As a long-since transplanted--and not particularly "foodie"--native New Orleanian, "Gumbo Tales" reads like vivid, technicolor personal history to me: snowballs, Stage Planks, mirliton dressing, crawfish boil escapees... and how they all tie together a very specific, food-centered community. Since the hurricane, I've felt wierdly like part of my past was obliterated. (Yes, that's maudlin and self-indulgent considering what happened to those who lived in and around the city at the time of the storm, but there it is). This book can't bring back that missing part, but it certainly reminds me, all the more sharply, of what we've all lost.

A note about a previous reviewer's complaint of poor copy-editing: I can get pretty outraged about others' crimes against the language (while forgiving myself similar sins, of course). I spotted a few misdemeanors--and maybe a felony or two--in this book, as in a lot of published material. They didn't overwhelm my ability to enjoy it. You can best judge whether they'll overwhelm yours.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By i4abuy on March 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I learned of this book from Jonathan Yardley's review in the Washington Post. We were out of ideas for our son's Spring Break and we hit on New Orleans: an eating vacation with Sara Roahen as our guide. I studied the book on a stationery bicycle as I tried to lose 15 pounds to get into shape for six great meals at Commander's Palace, Herbsaint, Bayona, Palace Cafe, Antoine's, and Galatoire's (listed in order, from greatest to merely great). Plus a few po' boys, lesser meals, and snacks, constrained only by our appetites.

This is a delightful and worthy book. It is organized around New Orleans' principal food groups with chapters on gumbo, red beans and rice, po' boys, etc. For each Roahen researched vintage cookbooks to trace origins, variations, and controversies. She uses this framework to interweave stories of her life in New Orleans and her experiences with the food and the people who make it, eat it, and live by it. She is a good writer, and her book served my purpose well. Every meal tasted better because of the context she provided.

That said her "menu-item framework" is awkward for the story she is telling. The book needs introductory chapters to describe New Orleans cuisine today, its evolution, and why it is unique (and superior!)

The introduction should follow easily from her careful research, but she doesn't even take up the fundamental distinction between Cajun and Creole until a chapter about poisson meuniere amandine, 159 pages into the book. The introduction should lay out the basic taxonomy of New Orleans food purveyors from the traditional five star restaurants, through contemporary innovators, to cafes and po' boy shops and street vendors.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By James D. Miller on February 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sara Roahen has written a kind, sweet, humble, and humorous book on New Orleans food culture. Its full of wonderfully human stories about food passion and connection, the region and its people. One dreams of getting down there, and I could taste the food. Its a scrumptious book, and a great read. Each chapter is beautifully finished with the lines of its last sentence. Pass the red beans and rice, please.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By E. L. Smith on March 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I'm always searching for books about and related to New Orleans which can put me in a New Orleans state of mind even from the Northeast. It was fortuitous, then, that I selected Gumbo Tales as my most recent reading material.

I fell in love with the city of New Orleans on my first visit four years ago, and I try to visit as often as possible. When I can't, a book or a movie is the next best thing, and I eventually plan to call New Orleans my home. Gumbo Tales provides the perfect window into the culture of New Orleans, and I was sad the book was over when I finished.

One of the things I liked most about the book is that it's from the perspective of a non-native New Orleanian such as myself. That I could really identify with, moreso than I can with books and stories written by people who were born and raised. I identified with the process of coming from the outside, becoming enchanted, and wanting desperately to be part of the culture. I identified with Roahan's first experiences of New Orleans traditions as a newbie. I cackled out loud reading about her crawfish mishap. I cried several times because of the book, especially when she wrote about the city's struggling spirit in the wake of the events of 2005.

Besides the sentimental feelings the book gives you about the city, the descriptions of food are really the main ingredient here- and they are brilliant.

Roahan's book was the perfect find for leaving-town-reading, for keeping the feeling of NOLA going even when you're far away. Gumbo Takes made me feel not alone in my New Orleans experience and stubborn love for the place. I recommend this book to anyone who calls New Orleans home, once called it home, plans to call it home, or just wishes they did.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kay A. Douglas on December 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This proved the most insightful -- and unexpectedly useful -- book I read prior to going to New Orleans. In fact, you could say it provided a springboard for my exploration of the city.

See, I always need a focus when I travel. For New Orleans, it was food and music. (A no-brainer, I admit, but I ain't proud... sometimes the obvious is the also the best.) This book made me seek out muffalettas at Central Grocery, po'boys, mudbugs, bread pudding, sezeracs, and (of course) gumbo. Oh, and a "lucky bean" at a St. Joseph's day feast. (Read the book and find out what that is.)

Okay, 'nuff about me. About the book. What a banquet! There's so much here beyond the food -- it's a stew of rich experiences, well seasoned with humor, and garnished with verve and wit. Roahen's food writer's gift for vivid description extends to people and places as well. There's history here, too, to give it all perspective. And tragedy: Katrina.

I'll definitely be re-reading this one before my next trip to New Orleans. And, oh yes, there will be another trip.
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