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Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  520 ratings  ·  117 reviews
A cocktail is more than a segue to dinner when it’s a Sazerac, an anise-laced drink of rye whiskey and bitters indigenous to New Orleans. For Wisconsin native Sara Roahen, a Sazerac is also a fine accompaniment to raw oysters, a looking glass into the cocktail culture of her own family—and one more way to gain a foothold in her beloved adopted city.

Roahen’s stories of pers
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Hardcover, 294 pages
Published February 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published February 4th 2008)
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The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanKitchen Confidential by Anthony BourdainAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara KingsolverFast Food Nation by Eric SchlosserIn Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Food-Related Non-Fiction
97th out of 672 books — 1,282 voters
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy TooleA Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee WilliamsThe Awakening by Kate ChopinL'Immortalite by T.R. HeinanNine Lives by Dan Baum
Best New Orleans Books
19th out of 235 books — 190 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,189)
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Kay
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
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Lisa Collins
Full disclosure: I live in New Orleans. And I enjoyed the author's restaurant reviews when she worked for a local weekly paper. So I was intrigued when I saw this book on the store shelves.
Roahen does not disappoint. She explores the history of local foods and traditions. But she keeps it interesting by building chapters around people with a deep connection to the subject. A city obsession with snowball stands is illustrated by her patronage of a neighborhood staple- and her eventual friendship
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John
Mar 16, 2008 John rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who read well-written non-fiction
I had resisted reading this library book for quite a while; it'd been an impulse grab from the new books shelf. What more could the author really have to say about an "over-hyped cuisine"? Well ... lots ... and nary a mention of any "blackened fish" to boot! Roahen has selected topics (gumbo, red beans and rice, etc.), explaining the variety of experience within each from native (and some not-so-native) points of view.
It'd be missing the point, however, to classify the book solely as a food guid
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Lisa Lawless
The author explains her affection for New Orleans and the food and makes me hungry for gumbo. It's very sad that so many of her anecdotes end with "they haven't re-opened since the storm."
Caro
I really enjoyed some of the chapters and they brought back great memories for me. Plus, I wrote the author and she wrote me back, which is always a good sign of an appreciative writer.
Tania
Bought for 4 at House of Books, Moorgate, London.

Essays by Topic:
1. Gumbo - "There are at least as many definitive gumbos in Louisiana as there are accents, and like accents, definitive gumbos are established at home." No one can come to an agreement whether gumbo should be made with a roux or filé. Include shellfish/okra or not. Some chefs even use olive oil and tomatoes in theirs!

2. Sazerac - "The Sazerac is a cocktail so classic that it has never suffered a coming of age or a fall from grac
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Shawn
I truly wanted to enjoy this book about a city I love, but it's unfortunate that the author celebrates one region by subjectively denigrating the food and culture of another; despite her Wisconsin roots, her sweeping generalizations and frequent condemnation of Midwestern food and culture reveals shallow research. I appreciated the thoughtful turns of phrase and personal, touching anecdotes, but ultimately this book would have benefited from tighter editing.
Maria
This book made me really homesick and I had to read it in small doses. Sara Roahen really GOT New Orleans and New Orleanians. I appreciated her passion for the food, history and people. I feel as if I grew up doing things a certain way in NOLA and didn't know why such wacky ways of doing things were rooted. Sara filled me in and I am grateful!
Melanie
I made it through two chapters. Then I realized that each chapter would focus obsessively on one food item (gumbo, a certain cocktail...). It became boring.
Michelle
Well-written memoir about the food scene in New Orleans both pre- and post-Katrina.
Joy
I can't believe I missed all this New Orleans food. I feel schooled.
Lori
I love New Orleans. I love New Orleans food. So I wanted to love this book, but I didn't. In fact, I couldn't even finish it. I would start each chapter with enthusiasm and by the middle of the chapter I would find myself skimming, skipping pages and then just giving up and moving on to the next chapter with hopes that it would be somewhat more stimulating than the one I just finished.

If I had to pinpoint the problem, it would be that the author included much much too many minor details that wer
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Larry
I was hoping for a bit more out of this book. Although it is easily read and fairly well-written I would not tell anyone to run out and get it. We travel to New Orleans often. I was on a NO kick and grabbed this book.

She spends too much time gushing endlessly over a few obscure places and people without really bringing them into the whole story. She goes on and on and on about a shave ice place. Great, I get it. You really like ice with artificially-flavored & artificially-colored sugar wat
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Cinnamon
If you like food or New Orleans history/culture you'll find this book interesting. The author breaks the book up into quintessential dishes and weaves in a mixture of restaurant reviews (pre and post The Storm) with history, cooking tips, and cultural explanations. I enjoyed reading it and could see myself reading it again. And there are quite a few dishes I'll be figuring out how to make after reading this book.

I reread this book just before a trip to New Orleans and as I read I wrote down ever
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Jennifer
Lovely food-centric exploration of New Orleans. In other words, the book uses food as a lens through which to interpret the city and its residents. As a transplant who desperately wants to understand and belong in her adopted city, Roahen brings a unique perspective to the examination. She paints such a vivid picture of the food I found myself wanting to get up and make some gumbo right then and there! I love the way she weaves in history and personal stories too, making the city and its food co ...more
Bill Kte'pi
Reading a memoir of eating in New Orleans by someone who moved there just after I did (and missed out on the same things I did) - someone who likewise moved there from the north, at that - is weird and cool, and most of the book feels like I could have written it myself, right down to the author's feelings about Tom Fitzmorris.
Lauren
May 30, 2011 Lauren rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: New Orleanians
A book full of nostalgia and love of New Orleans living and cooking. It reminds me that anytime I feel lonesome for NOLA, all I have to do is cook up a mess of Louisiana cooking and invite over friends in order to bring back the best aspects of life in the Crescent City.

*Frankly, rereading Sara's exquisite book made it hard for me to read Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir. Her lucid writing, direct and pure passion for New Orleans and New Orleans cuisine is deeply felt on each page. I can't wait for h
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Jenaya
If, for some reason, you have an interest in who I am and how I got this way, you should read Gumbo Tales. I didn't know the author in New Orleans, although we resided in adjoining neighborhoods and had many of the same acquaintances. Roahen's education in po-boys, oysters, gumbo and other New Orleans specialties closely mirrored my own (although I had never heard of Ya-Ka-Mein). There is not one wrong note in this extremely charming and completely relevant look at eating - and living - in the m ...more
Anjali
Sep 25, 2008 Anjali rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Heidi
I think this is a very well-written book, perfect for a foodie or New Orleans-ophile. I didn't finish it though, since I got tired of reading about food after about 50 pages. There is, of course, more to this book than descriptions of food - the way the flavor of New Orleans is tied in with the flavor of the food is fascinating, so I will definitely re-attempt this book later. I must mention, that I've never been to New Orleans (though I plan to) so maybe that's a factor?
Brodi Miles
I have never read a book about food or the history of food and Sara a Roahen made me feel like I've been missing out! I loved every word, chapter and colorful exposition in this creative genius. Seriously, I was awestruck at how creative and captivating Sara was...maybe because I know her...but I do read LOTS of books! This is a must read and will have your jonesing for a trip to Nola...just to see the stories about food Sara does such a brilliant job of telling.
Pat
A wonderful appreciation of New Orleans and its food--its history, its culture, its charm, its variety, its characters. It's made accessible to an outsider because the author is an outsider who moved to New Orleans with a desire to learn by immersion. Each chapter ponders a particular dish or drink--gumbo, po-boys, Sazeracs, poisson meuniere amandine--and speaks of how the author came to learn about and love it . . . and sometimes about the experience of a food or restaurant before and after Kat ...more
Brokenshoelace
I only wish I had the opportunity to experience New Orleans like the author did. I am literally jealous that I never had the all encompassing passion for the city, the food, and the culture she had. My only visit to New Orleans took place a few months before Katrina. I never got eat or see a fraction of what was written. The storm took away more than I ever knew or will ever possibly know.
Elizabeth
Jun 02, 2014 Elizabeth rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: food foods foodies!
Shelves: 2014
I'm preparing for a trip to New Orleans where I plan on eating lots of gumbo and well, southern food in general. I thought I'd pick up a book to not only learn more about the dish but get some decent recs and food history. This book proved to be the perfect ticket. An in-depth review of not only restaurants in New Orleans but the surrounding areas also get a few shout outs. It's not just gumbo and it's all kinds of restaurants that make an appearance from the Grand Dames to the little shaved ice ...more
Sheri
This is a great book for anyone interested in the history of New Orleans cuisine. It also talks about some of the city's most well-known restaurants and deals with how they were impacted by Katrina. Having read this book, I am well equipped for tomorrow's trip to Louisiana!
Debra
OK, where's my plane ticket? I *need* me some chicory cafe au lait, some gumbo, a sazerac. This book has some self conscious prose, but it also boasts some elegant turns of phrase bringing alive some of the best of American food and community.
Melinda
I think this could have been a good book if the editing would have been a bit better. I love a good foodie book but this one just goes on a few pages too long each essay.
Rosanna
Surprise! I really liked this book. And I like the author who pours so much of herself into every page. So nice to read a positive take on this great old southern city.
Lyn nep
This book gives the "insider's view" of real New Orleans food, in restaurants and at home. It also gives insight into the heartbreak brought on by Hurricane Katrina, as well as the rebirth since Katrina. It certainly dispels lots of the stuff that's foisted on the tourists! No where in this book is there a mention of a Pat O'Brien's Hurricane, but the real New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac, is explained in great detail. The author shares her love of New Orleans so poignantly, that I almost cried ...more
Deno Marcum
This book makes me queer for Oyster Poor Boys and Sazeracs.
Allison
I visited New Orleans for the first time just recently, and had a second trip there within a month. Naturally when this collection of essays about the food of that city and its folkways crossed my desk at the library, I snagged it. It extended my visit, in a sense, and it was a pleasure to read.

Author Sara Roahen details the lore of various culinary traditions (gumbo, red gravy and po boys are examples) with reference to the complex settlement history of the area. There are also narratives of f
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“New Orleans was the ideal town for an underachiever, a place where whiling away Saturdays on the stoop or on projects so underproductive they wouldn’t count as hobbies in other cities was the norm. This environment suited me and other people who, like me, wanted to appear more industrious than average without doing much work.” 0 likes
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