In the old days it was hardly feasible to get from New Orleans to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in any way other than by boat, and in the sultry summer the wealthy and middle class flocked to those cooler shores by the hoard. In fact those visitors were much of the economic engine that kept the small towns bustling, hotels full and restaurants crowded. The wealthy built elegant homes along the beach and those grand homes set the ambiance of the Gulf Coast until Katrina smashed most into tender in 2005, some having stood more than one hundred and fifty years.
There has been a Vietnamese restaurant on the corner of Reynoir Street and Division in Biloxi for as long as I can remember, and although it may have been called something else at even earlier times, it has been Kim Long Restaurant for at least twenty years. This part of Biloxi has been the economic center for South Mississippi’s Vietnamese community since it began to grow in the 1980s. Once, five thousand strong, it was centered here and in east Biloxi, the area called Point Cadet since the French arrived in 1699. Katrina displaced much of the community, but Kim Long and a few other businesses still thrive.
Those stout souls that harvest shrimp for a living, both from small boats and large, labor mightily and not without some danger to themselves too. On shore, the fishmonger deals with both captains of fishing boats, full to the gunnels or lightly loaded, and the mechanized processors, who work with hardly a human hand involved, and all walk a thin line to stay in business. Many hands are involved in bringing the bounty of the Gulf to our tables; many a back is bent in toil and much of what they do, on the deck of a lugger or trawler in the middle of the night, on the floor of a factory or back office of a fishmongers shop, goes unseen by most.
Overall, my experience in Oxford, Mississippi was fantastic. I reflected upon my visit during the 6-hour train ride back to New Orleans, and could not help but smile as I remembered some of the more quirky moments that I had with my fellow food scholars. One thing is certain: when you have a bunch of food-lovers in the same room, you are bound to eat well and have good conversation.