Raised in the Cajun stronghold of Bayou Black, Ken Wells grew up knowing gumbo as local food, the hearty, humble home cooking of working class people. "Something this good being lovingly and patiently passed down through the generations spoke to the vibrancy and optimism of our ancestors and the culture they'd created."
Now gumbo is everywhere in the world's great cities: New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Sydney all feature restaurants serving credible versions of the dish. And food historians have made it clear that, as beloved as gumbo is among Cajuns, its roots lie in food brought from Africa by enslaved people.
So just how did a dish that, fifty years ago, was little known outside Southern Louisiana, become so popular and symbolic? Well's modern history of gumbo is more interested in cooks than it is in recipes, more concerned with meaning than measurements. It's vivid, not shy about rough-edged people and places. It seeks to evoke more than it does to define. And it's fun, confident, and charming.