By Danielle Boudreau
The last concept of local we should examine is a bit hard to articulate. It involves representing the concept of “local” for those who may be far from home. El Rinconcito, Taqueria Guererra, and even Canal Street Bistro, on some levels, all successfully accomplish this task for the immigrants and transplants who have been here since Hurricane Katrina. In terms of decor, el Rinconcito and Taqueria Guererra both remind me of the many restaurants I visited in Central America. Spacious, brightly colored, and with minimal decorations, the focus of the experience in these restaurants is on the authenticity of the food and the company one keeps while there.
Taqueria Guerrero is a restaurant that is “true” to the Mexican culture, offering up native dishes such as “Pollo Empanizado”, “Chiles Rellenos” and “Arroz con Frijoles” (a Mexican alternative to the New Orleanian Red Beans and Rice).It also serves as a place for local immigrants to maintain contact with their respective families back home- there is a separate counter where people can purchase prepaid calling cards and other items, a set-up similar to the Hispanic “pulpuria” (a convenience store sometimes located in restaurants or other popular gathering spots).
El Rinconcito translates literally to “the little corner”, and one can see that a more casual meaning of this restaurant’s name refers to the little corner of the world that it represents- that is, a loyal rendition of Central American cuisine. The name further translates to a place where the Central American immigrants find comfort in companionship after a hard day’s work. One does not find this place empty after 4pm- on the contrary- the bar has only room to stand, as does the room with the pool table, while the tables of the restaurant are full of those wishing to unwind and experience a little piece of “home” in their own little corner of the world, located in New Orleans, as well as local neighbors wishing to taste some “authentic” Central American cuisine.
As for Canal Street Bistro, Chef Peters attempts to use ingredients from the five native cultures of the Americas that may not be commonplace in our local New Orleanian culture. Not only do American residents get to taste and experience these other cultures, but it provides some familiarity and comfort for those who are immigrants to get an authentic taste of “home”.
By Danielle Boudreau
People would like for everything related to “culture” to specifically represent the city, but it is not that simple. Various ethnic backgrounds, some distinct and some blended, that inhabit a space, are what form the basis of our city culture that we try to “define”. Here in our Restaurant Row neighborhood, Hispanic culture is presented in myriad ways that all contribute to the collective society and success of the Mid City area. Since Hurricane Katrina, not only has the neighborhood of Mid City consistently thrived, but the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center shows that there has been an increase of residents in Orleans Parish who identify themselves as “Hispanic” of nearly 7%. We will examine five restaurants, El Rinconcito, Taqueria Guerrero, Felipe’s, Juan’s Flying Burrito, and Canal Street Bistro. They are all attempts to integrate Central American culture and cuisine into Restaurant Row, but each represents a varying shade of the spectrum, under the definition of “Hispanic” culture. In the following essays, we will look at a concept called “consumption of experience”, and we will see how these restaurants contribute to three different ideas about “local”- whether they use locally grown food, represent the local culture, or represent a “local” culture for those looking for a familiarity from home- i.e. their concept of “local” via ethnicity.
I had never really been to the Restaurant Row Recovery area other than as a quick drive by on my way towards other parts of the city. As it turns out this area houses so many culturally important destinations that at times I felt like I didn’t know the city at all. So often “we” rarely venture outside of our comfort zones and truly experience what else the city has to offer. I’d never heard much about many of these staples of New Orleans culture that were hidden gems in a sea of traffic and congestion. Yet, it seems like everyone already knew about these places, already understood their significance as a part of daily life. The almost limitless food options have made for a fun research experience.
So what and why should anthropologists care about food? I think it tells us about what we think is important, clearly not all of the options are nutritionally significant nor financially attainable for some but here you have all types of restaurants and people coming together in crowds to enjoy what this area has to offer. For the business owner, does this area attract people that would otherwise go elsewhere? With so many options what type of relationships are present? What, if any community organizations bind them together?
So why do these certain spaces attract people? What is it about the growth of this centrally located area that continues to grow and adapt to the major changes throughout the city? When we consider the disparity on what we spend our money on, we find that food and entertainment has a special place. Sometimes food as entertainment attracts us in ways we never thought of.
Thus far, some of the research teams have already delved into some of the big questions? Like why are these restaurants here? What are the relationships between them? As anthropologists, I think we want to know the hows and why, the histories and social structures behind what makes these restaurants tick but we rarely get to know their back stories. I’ve particularly enjoyed eating in many of these places in the process of initial “research” as a way to understand the clientele, the menus, the employees and even the environment.
It’s been said that we are what we eat and what we eat reflects who we are. To some extent understanding food and our relationship with it, gives us a better understanding of our culture and what it means here in New Orleans. To some, New Orleans cuisine is a masterpiece of culinary craftsmanship full of flavors and combinations otherwise unknown to the world at large… while to others, it is largely just a deep fried over gluttonous mountain of sauces masking the purity and natural flavors of whatever the given dish may be. It seems like our relationship with food is complex and fraught with challenging contradictions, whether you are a local, a tourist or a new transplant to the city. Despite being the wealthiest nation in the world, 45 million Americans will rely on food stamps this month to put food on the table for themselves and their families. Food hardship, or the inability to afford enough food, affects families around the country, particularly those with children and throughout this city. So how does an area full of choices impact not only the surrounding community but the entire city at large? This area has a multitude of interesting selections but it is home to many staples of New Orleans culture that somehow potentially touch us all. Through investigations on the how’s and why’s perhaps we can learn just a little bit more about ourselves and our city in the process.