My gumbo and sweet potato fries from New Orleans Food Truck.
  • My gumbo and sweet potato fries from New Orleans Food Truck.
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

57 Degrees

1735 Hancock Street, Mission Hills

What's the difference between gumbo, jambalaya and étouffée? Tonight I've got a chance to find out. This is at 57 Degree's monthly food truck gathering (1735 Hancock Street, near Washington), and the last truck in the row in the parking lot turned out to be the New Orleans Food Truck.

Doing good business, too. I join the line as dusk gathers, and check out their menu. Ah, perfecto. They're doing all three, plus a shrimp and corn bisque ($5 small, $8 large), and an actual crab cake burger ($8), and sweet potato fries ($5). So when my turn comes, have to ask the Big Question. And wow. They have a proper chef aboard, with toque and white tunic, and a menu that checks all the right boxes when it comes to New Orleans chow.

Bobby Beigné and Jaime

Bobby Beigné and Jaime

Chef's name is Bobby Beigné and the guy taking the money is Jaime.

So, okay, what IS the difference between gumbo, jambalaya and étouffée?

"Talk to Bobby Beigné," says Jaime, at the order hatch. "He's the expert."

Bobby leans down so he can see through the serving hatch.

"Gumbo is the soup made with roux. Jambalaya is the spicy rice with sausage and chicken or beef. Étouffée is more like shrimp or crawfish with gravy."

I'm still trying to get this straight when the guy ahead of me in line recommends the gumbo. "It's a soup, but it's so thick you can just about eat it."

So I go ahead and order the $8 bowl (could have had the same size choices for jambalaya and étouffée), and add a basket of Cajun fries (sweet potato version). Two minutes later Bobby hands down this waxy paper pot brimming with the brown gloop, white rice sticking up, chunks of chicken, slices of sausage, and a slice of French bread to dip into it. Next to it, this paper plate of almost scarlet-red fries steams away.

The gumbo smells of...okra, I'm gonna guess, paprika, tomatoes, and the trinity of onions, bell peppers and, oh yeah, for sure: celery. The Cajuns call that trinity the "holy trinity" when they add garlic. For sure it's the full holy trinity in this mix. In texture it kinda reminds you of the muddy banks of the mighty Mississippi. Whereas jambalaya is a kind of paella.

Turns out the name "gumbo" probably comes from Africa, from "ki ngombo," the Bantu word for okra. But it just might have come from "kombo," the American Indian word for the Choctaw spice, filé, ground from dried sassafras leaves.

So a heckuva lot of history to each bite here. My favorite part is dipping the bread into it. Something about the bread and soup taste combo is magic.

But bottom line: this gumbo from the land of the mighty Mississippi is mighty mighty filling. Guess I'll have to come back for the jambalaya and étouffée some other time.

  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


HonestGovernment May 4, 2014 @ 5:54 p.m.

Sounds good. And when you want to economize and make your own, do what I do: From Amazon (eligible for free shipping if you have Prime), get 12 boxes of the best gumbo base in the world, Zatarain's, for $22:

I use a third of a pkg for two people and cut water accordingly; just add water, five or six boneless/skinless chicken thighs, 10 shrimp, sausage, and diced eggplant and tomatoes (I don't mess with okra, and believe me, you don't need to). Cheap. Cook some rice. You're good to go.

These boxes can be stored and used over years, or have a big gumbo party and use more than one box per every few months. It's delicious. I bet lots of restaurants use this base.


Ponzi May 5, 2014 @ 10:25 a.m.

Just buy some frozen okra, it's ready to cook.

Honest, can you find the Zatarain's in local stores? I have bought their other mixes for red beans & rice...


Ed Bedford May 7, 2014 @ 8:36 p.m.

Honest G., Ponzi. Great ideas! I'd heard the name Zatarain's come up. Think the gent at 6th and B mentioned them. And he's from N'Awlins and is one of the best Cajun etc cooks in town, by my books. But I'll definitely try this. Thanks


Sign in to comment

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader