Facts About Gumbo, The South Louisianian Dish That Traces Its Roots To West African Cuisine

Gumbo | How Africa News


Gumbo is a historically significant cuisine with origins dating back to the transatlantic slave trade and running as deep as the foundations of black history. This exquisite South Louisianian dish is a mainstay in African American cuisine, appearing everywhere from cookouts to private family dinners to enormous vivid celebrations. The word gumbo is a derivative of the West African term “ki ngombo” for okra, reflecting the West African culture’s supremacy over the other two cultures that influenced the creation of this soul dish, Native American and European.

Gumbo’s origins can be traced back to enslaved Africans transporting seeds of their native okra vegetable to the United States and the Caribbean. They couldn’t live without one of their favorite cuisines if they were being separated from their roots. The okra seeds were planted soon after they came in order to retain their traditions and to stay linked to their roots in some way.

To spice up their stew-like gumbo, West Africans typically use okra seasoned with a sauce comprised of pepper, tomato, pork, salted fish, and sometimes hot palm oil. Native People spice their gumbo with file powder and sassafras and thicken it while it is on fire. Yet, in a European context, roux, which is used as a base for gumbo, is primarily a French cooking technique used to thicken food by adding a touch of butter and frying flour and letting it to brown. Gumbo is produced in South Louisiana with seafood or pork, veggies, a thickener, and a flavorful stock. However, the recipe depends on the cook and any ingredients they add to make it “extra.”

The amount of time each side of the divide spends preparing gumbo is a significant difference. It takes a little longer to make the dish in a typical West African environment than it would in Louisiana. Time is spent treating the fresh market ingredients, and each element, including fish, veggies, and okra slices, follows a meticulous order of entering the cooking pot. Yet, in the United States, many materials are fully processed and do not require much labor in their preparation. Its preparation also lacks the sequential approach.

Gumbo may stand out as a symbol to the people of Louisiana in the United States because it distinguishes them from other states, but its West African roots should not be overlooked. Whether in Ghana, Benin, or Nigeria, eating this delicacy creates an unexplainable kinship. Its advent in the Caribbean and the United States may trigger memories of slavery, but its flavor more than compensates for the historical blight.


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