Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table
by Sara Roahen

W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. ISBN 978-0-393-06167-3.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 07/05/2008

Nonfiction: Food/Cooking/Kitchen; Nonfiction: Travel/Adventure

Wisconsin native Sara Roahen writes of her adopted home with a passion that jumps off of every page. Gumbo Tales is part travel guide, part history/culture lesson, part culinary exploration.

In 268 pages, Roahen takes readers through the neighborhoods of New Orleans to become acquainted with the foods, the people, and the history of a city—a history that is still being written thanks to the devastating effects of an act of nature.

Roahen has done a superb job of making the food, the place, the people, and even Hurricane Katrina characters in this initmate look at New Orleans. Each chapter holds the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of a different neighborhood in a city that harbors an amazing diversity. Roahen moves her readers from po'boy sandwiches to crawfish and from gumbo to sezeracs (a rye whiskey based drink) with ease and grace. Always mindful of the fact that she is a "transplant" to the area, she lends some insightful references to how her New Orleans life both mirrors and differs from her life in Wisconsin.

One cannot read Gumbo Tales without feeling an immediate urge to pack her bags and head to New Orleans to partake of these taste treats, hear the music of the area, and meet the people who make New Orleans what it was before Katrina and what it is striving to be once again.

Sara Roahen was a professional line cook before taking up food writing in an alternative newsweekly publication in New Orleans. Her published works have appeared in such magazines as Food & Wine, Oxford American, and Tin House. Working with Southern Foodways Alliance, she continues to document Louisiana's diverse foodways through oral history works.

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