J.J. O’Donoghue’s enticing review of the Osaka restaurant Southern Peas in the Aug. 27 edition (“Southern Peas: A little slice of New Orleans“) unfortunately perpetuates the popular but mistaken conflation of New Orleans Creole dishes, such as gumbo, with Cajun cooking. Cajun country lies miles to the west of New Orleans, geographically and culturally separated from the city by the mighty Mississippi; this land of bayous was settled by French-speaking Cajuns (or Acadians) who came to southern Louisiana as French-speaking exiles from eastern Canada in the 1750s. By contrast, New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French from France, then occupied by the Spanish, then again briefly by the French. These French and Spanish settlers were known as Louisiana Creoles.
Creole and Cajun dishes are both seafood-based cuisines thanks to their proximity to the Gulf of Mexico. In my experience a lot of the similarity ends there. In Cajun country, fish and seafood deep-fried in a batter is popular, whereas in New Orleans cooking, it is absent.
I’ve encountered authentic Creole gumbo only once in Japan, at a little outdoor stand port-side in Yokohama. Like O’Donoghue’s Osaka gumbo served on a bed of rice, the gumbo I have seen in Kanto also comes on a bed of rice in proportion of about two-thirds rice. This is not what gumbo in the rice-growing states of Louisiana and Mississippi is all about. The usual proportion of rice in a bowl of gumbo there is perhaps one-sixth. And the rice can be optional. The Creole French influence in New Orleans cuisine is evident in the flour-based roux and the fact that the gumbo is traditionally served with slices of French-style bread. Too much rice completely overwhelms the unique and delicate taste “out there on its own” which one can find only in gumbo with its “nexus of spices” so adroitly identify by O’Donoghue.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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