Although Creole food is found primarily in the United States in Louisiana, its heritage has many cultural influences which make it popular throughout the world. Creole food has cultural influences from all the countries on the American slave trade route. Slaves came from West Africa and traveled to the Caribbean, the eastern coast of South America and back to Louisiana. When they arrived in the New World, the slaves cooked things that were fed to slave owners and slaves for hundreds of years.
The cooking of West Africa, infused with cooking styles and food from the slave trade route, was brought to Louisiana and called Creole food. Almost all Creole food is heavily seasoned with some sort of pepper and is very spicy. The level of spice depends on who is preparing the dish. The basic ingredient of beginning of almost all Creole dishes are is a roux. A roux, French for “brown sauce,” is a base used for gravies and sauces in Creole cooking. A roux is made to use three of the most popular Creole dishes: red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo.
Many of the most popular Creole dishes have long histories behind them. For example, red beans and rice were traditionally made on Mondays. The tradition comes from a time in history when ham dinner was served on Sundays, and Mondays were wash days. The women could wash clothes while they let a pot of beans simmer all day long. Although the Monday tradition is not very popular, red beans and rice remain one of the dishes of choice for Mardi Gras celebrations and other large gatherings.
Another popular Creole dish for large celebrations is jambalaya. Jambalaya was a product of the Spanish influence in Louisiana and was meant to be a substitution for paella, which is Spain’s national dish that is made with saffron. With saffron not being readily available for a reasonable cost, tomatoes were substituted in the sausage, rice and vegetable dish.
Gumbo, also a popular dish for large celebrations, is a stew or soup that usually contains meat and/or shellfish such as shrimp or crawfish, and okra. The soup is thickened with the okra or with file powder, which is ground sassafras which is made by the Choctaw Indians. Gumbo also contains the bell peppers, onions and celery which is referred to as “the Trinity” in Creole food. Gumbo is stewed all day and served over rice.