New Orleans’ Best Ethnic Restaurants
By Ann Benoit
Photography by Ann Benoit
Pelican Publishing Inc. (Gretna 2014)
Taking as her premise the notion that the story of cuisine is the story of immigration, New Orleans native commercial food photographer and culinary writer Ann Benoit has compiled a collection of recipes from her favorite ethnic restaurants in New Orleans and its suburbs. Breaking down New Orleans area immigrant populations into the broad geographic categories of Africa and The Middle East, The Americas, Asia, and Europe, she highlights restaurants that she chose, in part, by “looking for people who were trying, who were doing more, who were making the extra effort in their food.”
In an introductory section called “Beginnings . . . a Brief Culinary Immigration History of New Orleans,” Benoit gives a simplified timeline of the arrival of immigrants to the area, from the French settlement of New Orleans in the 17th post-Katrina to do construction work and stayed to start restaurants. It’s an object lesson in how people fleeing political events like the expulsion of the French from British Nova Scotia in 1750, Castro’s ascent to power, the Vietnam War, unrest in the Middle East, and of course World War I and World War II, all changed New Orleans’ cuisine—and culture, of course.
Some of Benoit’s inclusions seem a bit arbitrary and overbroad. Under The Americas, it’s surprising to find Antoine’s and Galatoire’s listed, but they’re deemed “Creole,” while the more typically ethnic restaurant Baru Bistro & Tapas, for example, serves Colombian food. Soul Food is another subcategory of The Americas. It includes the usual suspects of The Praline Connection and Lil’ Dizzy’s Café, with a file’ gumbo recipe from The Praline Connection and a crabmeat omelet representing Lil’ Dizzy’s. But The Americas category does include a smattering of Honduran, Salvadoran, Caribbean, and Mexican restaurants. The Americas, we’re big!
On the whole, though one might not think of “ethnic” as including a French bakery like Maple Street Patisserie or a German restaurant like Jagerhaus, the categories make sense. We were all immigrants, mostly, after all. And who can resist the recipes from any of the 20 Italian restaurants listed, like Shrimp Mosca from the venerable Mosca’s on the West Bank of New Orleans? Or Chicken Shawama from Lebanon’s Café? One caveat: I would have really appreciated addresses for the restaurants listed, which are by no means all in New Orleans proper.
If you’re looking for cutting-edge, hipster restaurants, though, this isn’t the place. This isn’t a trendy tribute to the new food trucks, for example, or Filipino pop-ups behind bars in the Marigny (although Benoit does include a recipe for red pierogi from Kukyna at Siberia, New Orleans’ only Polish restaurant in a music club!). It’s pretty much a collection of established recipes from established restaurants, but it does give a taste, so to speak, of the numerous ethnic cuisines flourishing in New Orleans and its suburbs. The photographs are bright and colorful, and Benoit’s enthusiasm for her subject is obvious; the text contains an abundance of exclamation points! And you’re probably not going to find a recipe for Vietnamese quail from Tan Dinh in Gretna, or Korean bulgogi from Little Korea, anywhere else. New Orleans’ Best Ethnic Restaurants takes us around the world, right here in New Orleans.