Food isn’t the first thing that comes to mind on Hurricane Katrina anniversaries. And yet, for me, the story of how New Orleans people fought their way back after Katrina is entwined with tales of our food.
These are sense memories, anchored somewhere latent and deep, involuntarily evoked now by everyday life in this city.
The smell of burgers outside the French Quarter restaurant Port of Call never fails to conjure that surreal early fall of 2005, when we were tying to compute incalculable tragedies, but finding a restaurant back open was somehow a signal that all was not lost.
It can be a taco truck, where between lukewarm Mexican Coke and blazing hot green salsa there’s gratitude from when handmade meals like this meant a break from dusty work days cleaning up the mess.
Just let me catch a whiff of onion rings through the kitchen door at Liuzza’s Restaurant, and I’m back on the dark Mid-City street watching its vintage neon flicker back on.
The spice of a good crawfish boil can revives that the post-Kartina spring, when fresh green starting pushing through dead grass and gardens, when having friends over might for once mean peeling seafood instead of gutting walls.
Then there’s a certain type of barbecue - sweet, thick, red, New Orleans street party barbecue – and how it can summon the jubilation of homecoming gatherings as barren neighborhoods pulsed back to life, the way strangers might drag you in to join the party, simply out of fellowship for being back home.
Lift the lid on red beans and maybe in the steam there’s the quiet relief of finally cooking in your own home once again, in spite of it all.
These are happy memories, hardwired through hard times. In these times we have now, they remind me what it means to make it through, of what waits on the other side, all brought home with the immediacy of the next New Orleans meal.