Gumbo and What?

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.

Tell me, what other Louisiana food rules do I need to know in order to pass as a local?

Kelly Vollmer
Kelly first moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, from which she earned a B.S. in Psychology and English and an M.A. in English. She quickly discovered New Orleans was the place where she had always belonged, and her high school sweetheart, Jeff, soon followed her here. They have now been married for 16 years and have two beautiful girls, Emma Jane (11) and Hannah (6), and 4 year-old pup named Ember. Kelly is a lover of all things nerdy, a proud fangirl, and she is a passionate high school English teacher.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here