Creole Culture & Food

Tony Chachere cooking Creole outsideCreole Culture

Unlike many other ethnic groups in the United States, Creoles did not migrate from another country. The Creole people by definition are descendants of French, Spanish, or Portuguese settlers living in the West Indies and Latin America. In Louisiana, Creole is best identified by French-speaking people of French or Spanish decent. Their ancestors were a separate caste of people who were Catholic and retained the traditional cultural traits of related social groups in France. Today, Creole has come to represent people of generally mixed background, generally French, African, Spanish, Native American, English, German and Italian.


Creole Cuisine

Louisiana Creole cuisine is recognized as it’s own unique style of cooking, which makes use of the “Holy Trinity” (chopped celery, bell peppers, and onions), but has a great variety of European, French, Caribbean, African, and American influences.

Gumbo is a traditional Creole dish. It was created in New Orleans by the French attempting to make bouillabaisse in the New World. The Spanish contributed onions, peppers, and tomatoes; the Indians contributed filé, or ground sassafras leaves; the French gave the roux to the stew and spices from the Caribbean. Over time, it became less of a bouillabaisse and more of what is called gumbo. Later the Italians blasted it with garlic. The Germans contributed potato salad as a side and even started the practice of eating gumbo with a scoop of potato salad in it; they also introduced the practice of eating gumbo with buttered french bread. It is a stew consisting of seafood gumbo (shrimp, crab, sausage, and oyster) or chicken-sausage gumbo (chicken, sausage). Both contain the “Holy Trinity” and are served over rice. It is often seasoned with filé.

Jambalaya is the second of famous Louisiana Creole dishes. It arose in the original European sector of New Orleans (the French Quarter, or Vieux Carré, in colonial days). It combines ham with sausage, rice and tomato. Today, jambalaya is prepared two ways: red and brown. Red jambalaya is native to New Orleans and its immediate environment, in parts of Iberia Parish, as well as in parts of St. Martin Parish. The red jambalaya has a tomato base but owes its color also to the use of shrimp stock. In Cajun areas, people prepare a “brown jambalaya”, which is roux based with tasso, a type of smoked pork. Jambalaya can also combine chicken, sausage, and fresh shrimp tails; or chicken and tasso.

Cooking and mealtime is a distinct activity in Creole homes. Where a dining is treated as a true celebration, not just a means of addressing your hunger.