DC Omnivore 100: #39, Gumbo

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘jeffreyw’

It’s time for another item on the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.

Let’s see, everyone’s a bit chilly and in need of some rib-sticking stew to belly up before digging yourself out of all this snow, and hey didn’t someone tell me a certain football team from New Orleans won some big deal game last night? So yes, I think it’s time for some gumbo!

Gumbo’s one of those culinary dishes that gives literal meaning to the phrase “America’s melting pot.” A wide variety of influences – Cajun, Creole, Indian, African, French – all come together in a substantial and delicious stew. There are as many different versions of gumbo as there are cooks; even the name’s origins are varied. Is “gumbo” from the Angolan word for okra, or the Choctaw word for sassafras? Should the predominant color be red or green?

There are a few key ingredients that everyone seems to agree have to be present – beyond that, it’s a dish you can have fun experimenting with! And if you aren’t culinarily inclined, there are several restaurants in DC that you can snuggle up in with a pot of gumbo and pretend you’re in New Orleans… so let’s dive in.

Most agree that gumbo as we know it originated in the grand city of New Orleans, my favorite American city after beloved DC, and its ingredients mirror the city’s merging cultures. You’ve got the French soup style of bouillabaisse marrying the Spanish “holy trinity” of onion, celery and bell pepper with the Choctaw sassafras or file powder spicing it all up – or instead of the file powder, the African vegetable okra, especially in the winter. I personally prefer the distinctive richness that okra gives gumbo.

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘carol.baby’

Besides the base of a roux, the trinity, and spice or okra, then you have the various protein combinations. Typically it’s an assortment of shellfish (mainly shrimp), chicken, and pork (mostly sausage like andouille). There’s even a version with just greens for the Lenten season (Gumbo Z’Herbes), though I’ve never seen that outside of New Orleans, it would be fun to try for the vegetarian chef. Gumbo is usually served over plain white rice – the proportions being left up to the cook. Crusty French bread completes the meal. Did I mention it’s substantial?

There are some great recipes out there, but let’s say you just aren’t in the mood to whip up a roux yourself. I have to sheepishly admit that my favorite place to get gumbo is actually downtown lunchtime spot Lawson’s, which features gumbo practically year-round as one of its three soup options at the salad bar. There are some hardcore lovers of this gumbo always lining up for the replacement pot, and I’m one of them as Lawson’s uses lots of okra, chicken and andouille sausage. In the mid-range, Bardia’s New Orleans Cafe serves it up (and you get the added benefit of being able to order gut-busting beignets afterwards), whereas for something more upscale hit Acadiana. And you can even get the file powder version at Johnny Half Shell.

So there you have it, the perfect stew for a wintery day. Please share your favorite places to get gumbo too!

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Writing for We Love DC restored her happiness after a life-threatening illness, and she’s grateful to you, dear readers. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

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7 thoughts on “DC Omnivore 100: #39, Gumbo

  1. for anyone making their own gumbo, may I suggest http://gumbopages.com/ . I made one of their recipes and it turned out quite well. It was the only time my one friend actually said “This tastes really good” as opposed to “This is good but it would be better if…”, so from him, that was a pretty glowing endorsement.

    Also, if you are making your own, you had better have an entire afternoon free. It is definately a multi hour endeavor, and not for the impatient. But, it is definitely worth the effort.

  2. As a New Orleans native (WHO DAT!) and a current DMV resident let me first suggest you ditch the andouille for a good spicy smoked sausage, add a bay leaf to your trinity, and Gumbo should not be red. Having the benefit of spending the first 23 years of my life in New Orleans your roux should be tan to a nice brown color. Never serve French bread in Gumbo, eww. Chicken gizzards should be added for flavor, I like them but many people don’t like to eat’em. With DC’s availability of blue crabs please add them to your gumbo. Crabs quartered and stewing for a few hours in a gumbo pot will make you forget about that last steamer you went to. Its cold out there, gumbo is a great way to stay warm.

    Laissez les bon temps rouler!

  3. Whether it’s “authentic” or not, I love the gumbo at Eatonville. It’s well worth the heartburn for me.

  4. Also a native of Louisiana, I am a huge gumbo lover. I did make one for my Superbowl party on Sunday, a chicken, andouille and smoked sausage version (straight from Jacob’s in Louisiana, might I add), and topped it with some file (also from Louisiana, and spiced with Tony’s and some homemade hot sauce. My guests were clamoring for the recipe. I was flattered!

    I agree with Journal, adding french bread to the gumbo is a no no. My uncle likes to say the roux should be golden brown, or “pecan-colored.”

    I also like to make a seafood gumbo with shrimp, crab and okra.

    I’ve had the gumbo at Brookings’ cafeteria- not too bad. Haven’t tried Lawson’s or Bardia’s yet.

  5. Yet another Louisiana native here… (WHO DAT!)

    I second Streyeder’s recommendation of Cajun Experience in Leesburg – the gumbo there was really good. Can’t beat the lunch special – bowl of gumbo, po-boy and beignets.

    Okra’s in Old Town Manassas makes a good gumbo, too – I preferred the seafood to the chicken and sausage.