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Where Y’Eat: A Calas Cart in Treme Revives a Street Food Classic

Calas are rice fritters with long roots in New Orleans.
Calas are rice fritters with long roots in New Orleans.

The neighbors already know about the calas cart on Treme Street by Armstrong Park, because its bright little upbeat presence can’t be missed.

But the creator of this cart, Brandon Pellerin, wants to make sure the visitors strolling through the Treme neighborhood don’t miss it either, because he’s convinced calas are just what they should experience. He eagerly waves down groups as they stroll the intersecting Treme streets.

Beignets are already on the bucket list for plenty of New Orleans visitors. The quest for calas, however, often starts with someone who remembers when these sugar-dusted rice fritters were more common on the local table.

 

The calas from this Treme cart have a craggy-crunchy surface and a soft interior aromatic with vanilla and nutmeg shot through the batter-bound rice.

 

Historians connect their roots to Africa. In New Orleans, calas were long linked to women of color who sold them on the city streets beginning in the era of slavery.

 

The dish lived on in some homes, and it turns up on menus here and there, like Elizabeth’s in the Bywater and the new Calliope Beer Works on Oak Street. The Old Coffee Pot restaurant in the French Quarter was famous for them, but has closed.

 

Now though, the calas cart is bringing them back to the streets, in a New Orleans neighborhood famous for its long Black heritage and deep cultural roots.

 

The calas cart operates pop-up style, decorated with old signs and pieces from Carnival floats. New Orleans jazz and blues tunes pipe through an outdoor speaker and a handful of cafe tables are arrayed under umbrellas. It’s all set up here Thursdays through Sundays, 11 to 4 near Treme and St. Phillip streets, by the side of Armstrong Park.

 

Some locals who walk up to the cart know all about calas. People who come once often return with others in tow; on Sundays, it’s common to see people arriving in groups straight from church.

 

Others exploring the Treme neighborhood though may be getting their first brush with calas and from his pop-up impresario. It’s a quick snack that embodies the whole spirit of street food, dusted in sugar and imbued with history.

 

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.