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Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  650 Ratings  ·  128 Reviews

Celebrating New Orleans’ food culture, one specialty at a time.

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
Hardcover, 294 pages
Published February 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published February 4th 2008)
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(showing 1-30)
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Feb 23, 2008 Kay rated it it was amazing
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
Lisa Collins
Jun 09, 2008 Lisa Collins rated it really liked it
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
Mar 12, 2008 John rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 06, 2008 Maria rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
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!
Lisa Lawless
May 29, 2008 Lisa Lawless rated it really liked it
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."
Apr 08, 2008 Caro rated it really liked it
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.
Nov 23, 2008 Larry rated it liked it
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
Aug 01, 2010 Lori rated it it was ok
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
Dec 29, 2012 Tania rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-stars, favorites
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 gra
Mar 25, 2009 Shawn rated it it was ok
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.
Dec 10, 2008 Melanie rated it did not like it
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.
Feb 18, 2008 Joy rated it really liked it
I can't believe I missed all this New Orleans food. I feel schooled.
Feb 24, 2008 Michelle rated it really liked it
Well-written memoir about the food scene in New Orleans both pre- and post-Katrina.
Apr 18, 2010 Cinnamon rated it really liked it
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
Aug 05, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it
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
Jan 22, 2008 Lauren rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jul 23, 2008 Jenaya rated it it was amazing
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
Brodi Miles
Oct 31, 2013 Brodi Miles rated it it was amazing
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.
Sep 05, 2008 Anjali rated it really liked it
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?
Sep 26, 2008 Brokenshoelace rated it it was amazing
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.
Bill Kte'pi
Mar 10, 2015 Bill Kte'pi rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 29, 2012 Sheri rated it really liked it
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!
May 24, 2008 Debra rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, food
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.
Feb 11, 2008 Rosanna rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 11, 2008 Melinda rated it it was ok
Shelves: food, 2008, unfinished
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.
Deno Marcum
Sep 24, 2008 Deno Marcum rated it it was amazing
This book makes me queer for Oyster Poor Boys and Sazeracs.
Jan 18, 2017 Adamdaigle rated it it was amazing
This book entertained me from cover to cover. The histories behind many of the foods we eat in south Louisiana were fascinating, as were the characters behind the famous restaurants in New Orleans. I think this book was a lot like "The Earl of Louisiana" -- just instead of writing about the state's politics, it's about food.

And I've decided. Next time we're in N.O., we're going to Dookie Chase's.
Dec 23, 2016 Diana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent look at the New Orleans food scene pre and post Hurricane Katrina
Nov 10, 2014 Pat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, food, the-south
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
Apr 18, 2013 Allison rated it really liked it
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
“Poppy Tooker, the efficacious leader of New Orleans’ Slow Food convivium, agreed: “As far as I’m concerned, a turducken is a medieval pile of poo. I’ve never seen one that, when carved, didn’t look like that and didn’t taste like a big pile of mish-mash-mush. Anyone who knows anything about food thinks the same.” 0 likes
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