Here's a food you should know, if you don't already: the muffuletta! It's a giant and delicious New Orleans classic that you really must try if you ever have the chance. But what, exactly, is a muffuletta? Here are a few mouthwatering descriptions:
As big as a hubcap and layered with ham, salami, provolone cheese and — critically — olive salad, a single muffuletta sandwich can feed four grown adults. (NOLA.com)
Comprised of Sicilian sesame (or Italian) bread, garlic aioli, spicy olive filling and a mix of deli meats and cheeses, it's exactly what you want after a day drinking hurricanes while watching the Mardi Gras floats go by. (Parade.com)
A mammoth sandwich of round sesame bread layered with Genoa salami, ham, mortadella, cheese, and olive salad. (64 Parishes)
64 Parishes provides this excellent history of the muffuletta sandwich—it's definitely worth a read. It's one of New Orleans's signature dishes that was created by Sicilian immigrants. While the bread exists in Italy, the sandwich doesn't—it's New Orleans through and through:
It is a New Orleans tradition, born and bred in the city, and a testament to the Sicilian community that settled there in the late 1880s and early 1900s. Farmers, vendors, dockworkers, and street hawkers set up shop close to the French Market in an area that became known as "Little Palermo." At the turn of the twentieth century, there were more than a dozen macaroni factories, several Italian bakeries, and a multitude of importers and small grocers in the neighborhood. It was the symbiotic relationship between these people, their recipes, customs, and traditions that shaped the story of the muffuletta.
It's hard to pin down its exact origin moment, but many believe it was first created by Salvatore Lupo in 1906, who owned Central Grocery on Decatur Street in the French Quarter, which is still a favorite spot to buy a muffuletta or any of the ingredients that comprise it—including their famous olive salad. 64 Parishes explains:
According to his daughter, Marie Lupo Tusa, "At lunchtime farmers would go to my father's grocery and would buy small quantities of Italian cold cuts, cheese, and olive salad. My father also sold a round, puffy, Sicilian-style bread called muffuletta that was baked in small quantities by a Sicilian baker in the neighborhood. In the beginning, the farmers ate the bread along with the cold cuts, cheese, and olive salad. Eventually, my father suggested to his customers that he put it all together as a sandwich for them. The sandwich was referred to as a muffuletta because that was the name of the bread. In Sicily, there was no such thing as a muffuletta sandwich—only the muffuletta bread."
While Central Grocery usually gets credit for inventing the muffuletta, the truth is we don't really know. NOLA.com explains:
A 1971 States-Item interview with Charlie Tusa, the son of one Central Grocery's founders, casts doubt on that claim. "Nobody has ever been able to figure out for sure how the muffuletta started," he said.
The muffuletta is only one of many culinary gifts that Italian immigrants bestowed upon New Orleans. The city offers a plethora of Italian delights. Again, NOLA.com:
The muffuletta is just one of the ways Italian immigrants changed New Orleans cuisine. At Angelo Brocato's, you can order gelato, cannoli and fig cookies. Italian cooking here means Creole Italian, a variety heavy with red sauce and plenty of Gulf seafood. And families such as the Dorignacs and Zuppardos continue the tradition of Italian-run groceries.
The next time you're in New Orleans, here's a list of the best muffulettas the city has to offer. And in the meantime, enjoy this episode of "Good Gumbo," which features muffulettas and other Italian culinary treats in New Orleans.