A few weeks ago, Fox 8 posted a question on social media:
“Does potato salad go in the gumbo or on the side?”
Now, I’m not a local, but I first moved to the area nearly 20 years ago, and excepting a short stint in Alabama, I have lived here for a total of 15 years. Still, I had never heard or seen anyone do such a thing. I checked in with my fellow New Orleans Moms, who all confirmed that it was definitely “a thing,” and some of them expressed shock that I had never encountered it.
Maybe it’s simply because, when I was first introduced to Gumbo, it was presented as “Gumbo + Rice,” an inseparable pairing. No matter the type of Gumbo, seafood, chicken and sausage, okra, with or without tomatoes (I know!), it was always served with rice. And while I was always happy to grab a cup of gumbo at a festival, or as a side at a restaurant, I can’t say I was ever really aware that there were rules or alternatives to eating Gumbo, as I had learned there were for crawfish boils.
This new revelation made me eager to try potato salad with my Gumbo, but at the time, I was out of town and nowhere near a place where I could get some authentic Louisiana Gumbo. I decided I would have to wait until I was back in town and could find a local restaurant that served the combo. A week later, I was home, but with a pretty awful cold, so instead of going out, I decided to make some at home with the help of Jambalaya Girl and some Rouses’ potato salad. I got the mustard potato salad based on the guidance of a fellow New Orleans Mom.
So, what did I think?
Well, my husband loved it, but to be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed. I’m not a huge mustard fan, and I found the mustard-based potato salad was entirely too strong. It took away from, rather than added to, the Gumbo flavor, though it certainly helped clear my sinuses. That said, I do think that white potato salad would be delicious, and probably better than rice. Maybe that’s the influence of the hearty, but unseasoned, Pennsylvania Dutch food I grew up with. (I can hear y’all shaking your head at me and calling me a couillon).
Maybe it’s a blasphemous idea.
Either way, the girl who just made and ate Gumbo with potato salad is a far cry from the girl who barely put pepper on her food when she first arrived in New Orleans 20 years ago. I might not get it all right just yet, but this city has expanded my pallet and introduced new comfort foods with strong emotional ties, and I’ve even built up a tolerance for eye-watering crawfish boils.