There is perhaps no greater sign of Louisiana's culinary heritage than the mélange of aromas that wafts from a pot of simmering gumbo—a cornerstone of creole cooking from as far back as the time of the Louisiana Purchase. Nearly every recipe calls for some kind of roux, a traditional French sauce that consists of butter, oil, or some other fat mixed with flour. Beyond that, the specific spices and ingredients vary wildly, but most versions of gumbo fall into one of three general categories. Seafood gumbos feature oysters, crawfish, and other catches simmered with okra and vegetables, whereas filé gumbo uses a spicy herb made from ground sassafras leaves to highlight the savory flavor of andouille, poultry, ham, or smoked links. The third variant is known as gumbo z'herbes, a vegetarian recipe traditionally served during Lent.
Despite its indisputable creole ties, gumbo can't actually be traced to a single cultural tradition; the version using filé powder, for instance, originally derives from Native American cultures. Either way, the name itself comes from the West African term “gombo,” which means “okra”—a plant native to Africa that the French colonists of Louisiana likely introduced to North America in the early 1700s.