Some people are surprised to find out that the historical center of New Orleans, the French Quarter, isn’t really very French! Though founded by the French, the architecture is mostly influenced by the 40 year rule of the Spanish. And a lot of the food is heavily influenced by the Italians! Italian immigration was high in the late 1800s and early 1900’s as men, women, and entire families fled the rural poverty of Southern Italy. At one time, the Quarter was even referred to as Little Italy or more specifically Little Palermo. Many Sicilian immigrants made a living as farmers selling their produce in the French Market, or even opening small shops and groceries of their own. One of which – Central Grocery – has become a French Quarter landmark and is credited with the invention of the now famous Muffaletta sandwhich!
Although Italian immigrants, (much like other immigrant populations like the Irish and Germans) were not quite received with open arms, their cuisine blended seamlessly with Cajun and Creole flavors and a new style of food emerged not found anywhere else in the country. One famous dish served by all the best restaurants that boast traditional New Orleans food is BBQ Shrimp. This dish is a direct result of the evolution of Italian cooking. The immigrant population embraced the Gulf seafood and Cajun spices available to them, and incorporated these ingredients into what was once a classic Scampi recipe, resulting in one of the tastiest and most famous dishes available in New Orleans!