Sarah Fouts is a graduate student at Tulane University's Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies, who studies New Orleans' changing Latino populations through the lens of food. Fouts spoke with Gambit about the history of grocery stores, the diversity of Latino food in the city and her favorite Honduran dishes.
How did you become interested in using food as a way to study Latino culture?
Fouts: My research focuses on the historical presence of Latino communities in New Orleans and how it is pan-ethnic — with a number of different cultures from Central America and Mexico — using food as a lens.
A big part of what I do is looking at old newspapers to find out where old grocery stores and restaurants were located and what they were selling to these populations. When I'm looking at post-(Hurricane) Katrina Latino populations that have moved in, I look at the political economies that they brought with them around food, from the tamale vendor on the street to brick-and-mortar Mexican restaurants and how they're either integrating or resisting New Orleans food trends.
Historically, where are the majority of Latino food ven- dors located?
F: Kenner has a huge historical connection as well as the West Bank, specifically the Algiers Market every week.
One of the biggest populations in New Orleans are Hondurans, but you really don't have much scholarship at all on Hondurans in the city, and to sell food, they often try to take a pan-Latino approach. In Abita Springs, there's a sign at a restaurant that says "Mexican restaurant" in English and in Spanish it says, "Honduran food." So, they're really trying to present themselves as something else for the mainstream.
Post-Katrina, you find these foods on the edges of the city, under overpasses and the backs of buildings. It's not because of permitting or anything, it's just because that's where that population is living or working — day laborers and such.
New taco places that charge $8 for a taco — that's really trying to marry New Orleans food culture with Mexican food. That's more of an intentional effort, and I don't think any of that influence will trickle down.
I'm able to look at menus to gauge who's here and who has been here over the decades. For instance, you can tell the difference between Mexican tacos and Honduran tacos. At Norma's, they have a spread of tamales, but they're all from different cultures — Mexican, Cuban, Honduran, Guatemalan.
What's your favorite Honduran dish that's served in New Orleans?
F: Baleadas is one of them; they have a thicker tortilla shell, beans, egg, cheese meat and avocado. It's a street food, traditionally. There also are a lot of really great soups, like conch soup.