You can learn a lot about the history of Southern food by studying a bowl of gumbo. The very name conjures up a rich array of ingredients coming together in a single pot and melding into something rich and delicious. It represents the intersection of three cultures—European, Native American, and West African—that created what we know today as Southern cuisine.
In the case of gumbo, though, we really need to phrase it as the intersection of African, Native American, and European cultures, for that ordering more accurately captures the sequence in which the dish unfolded. These days, gumbo is closely associated with Louisiana and, more specifically, with Cajun cuisine, and for good reason. But it’s actually far older than the Cajun presence in Louisiana, and historically, it has a much broader regional footprint. It’s a prime example of how West African foodways took root in the Southern colonies and, over time, gave birth to some of the region’s most iconic dishes.