Eat Your Way Around the World

While there’s definitely room to grow, New Orleans has some strong international offerings.
Cheryl Gerber
La Boca Chef, Jared Ralls

The latest census data continues to show that New Orleans proper, despite its well-earned reputation as a melting pot in the 19th century, really isn’t much of one nowadays. The percentage of residents who are foreign-born is only 6 percent in Orleans Parish, versus 13 percent for the nation as a whole. New Orleans, very strange to say, is more American than America.

Now, if you want to see anything remotely Babel-like in these parts, you have to go to Jefferson Parish. There, the overall numbers match the nation, and Kenner in particular has become a popular place for foreign-born residents to settle.

Occasionally, when I have the desire for some eastern European foods, I go to the aptly named Eastern European Foods on Williams Boulevard. No other place I know of sells Hungarian slab bacon, Croatian chocolates and Russian butter. And, trust me, all those things are very good.

Similarly, a number of restaurants have the market more or less cornered on their particular national cuisine. Here are a few.

Argentina: South Americans take meat very seriously. La Boca is a testament to this. And it’s the place you go for Argentinian food, which is to say steak, sausage and wine.

Colombia: While Baru on Magazine Street serves Colombian food, among other things, only Mais Arepas on Carondelet is Colombian from head to toe. It’s also the only place you can order a bandeja paisa — a protein-packed Antioquian smorgasbord that happens to be Colombia’s national dish. That counts extra in my family, since my wife is Colombian.

Germany: One of the most grandiose restaurants in New Orleans history was German: Kolb’s on St. Charles Avenue, off Canal Street. It’s long gone now. Today, Jagerhaus on Conti in the French Quarter alone bears the Deutsch burden. Is there any other menu in New Orleans that features currywurst and three different schnitzels? Nein.

Greece: Acropolis Cuisine on Veterans in Metairie is perhaps the last remaining white-tablecloth Greek restaurant in the area. For a thoroughly Greek feast, Acropolis is aptly named: It stands out, and it stands alone.

Ireland: Irish House on St. Charles Avenue makes customers nostalgic for the old country even if they don’t have a drop of Irish blood. It also serves brunch on weekends. The wee ones like the bangers.

Israel: Shaya on Magazine Street. Many a shofar has heralded this place, which offers something unique to the New Orleans area. Nobody can accuse Alon Shaya of failing to put Israeli food on the map here.

Jamaica: Boswell’s Jamaican Grill on Tulane Avenue is understated, but there’s no question it’s authentically Jamaican. Owner Boswell Atkinson has been putting pepper on it for nearly two decades.

Of course, there are other lightly represented cuisines in the area. For instance, there is only a smattering of sub-Saharan African restaurants, which is hardly enough to cover the range of flavors from Guinea to Ethiopia to South Africa. Given the novelty and popularity of Peruvian cuisine, there are surprisingly few Peruvian restaurants in metro New Orleans. As for the Pacific Islands, the tiki-in-cheek Latitude 29 covers a lot of territory on its menu, but the main focus is on the cocktails. And you wouldn’t know one out of every five humans is Indian by looking at the New Orleans restaurant scene.

Some other interesting nationalities are altogether invisible. Where are the Russian restaurants? Where are the Persian restaurants? And, now that Milkfish no longer has a brick and mortar location where are the Filipino restaurants? And sure, English food is much tittered about, but who wouldn’t want fish and chips or some kind of buttery English pie-based entrée now and again? Or a nice pea soup into which to drop one’s monocle in surprise?

Finally, Australia has a whole continent to itself. Does it not have a national cuisine to offer people on the opposite side of the world? As things stand, we’re left to conclude that jars of vegemite and Outback Steakhouse are the extent of it. In other words, opportunity might be knocking, mate.
Or maybe the New Orleans area just isn’t international enough to muster such variety.

Categories: Food, The Magazine