When thinking of New Orleans’ cuisine, one typically conjures up images of gumbo, po’ boys, beignets… and carneadas?
The national dish of Honduras, along with other staples from the Central American country like pollo con tajadas and baleada, have recently become street food favorites in the Big Easy thanks to a wave of Honduran immigrants opening food truck down in the bayou.
While the food truck craze has taken off in cities like New York and Los Angeles, the Honduran twist in the epicenter of Creole culture has much to do with New Orleans' traditional ties to the Central American country.
"They're filling a need — they're getting food that people are familiar with, that they want to eat," Sarah Fouts, a doctoral candidate at Tulane University researching Latinos in the U.S. and their foodways, told NPR.
New Orleans has always been viewed by many in the United States as a bastion of French culture in the country, but the Spanish once controlled the city and the city has historical trade ties with places like Cuba and Central America. Honduras’ close ties with New Orleans is due in large part to the business ventures of two of the city’s most prominent companies, the Standard Fruit Company and the United Fruit Company.
Along with the two controversial companies setting up plantations in Honduras to grow bananas and having a great deal of sway over the politics in the country, many Hondurans moved to New Orleans to work as dockyard laborers. Many wealthy Hondurans also sent their children to the Crescent City to study at Catholic schools.
Over time, the Honduran population assimilated into the city’s culture and became one more part of the ethnic mélange in the Louisiana town.
"That created this early relationship with Hondurans and New Orleans," Fouts said. "So [the Hondurans] coming today [are] like, 'I know someone that's in New Orleans.' It's just word of mouth in having those early connections."
The city also saw another influx of Latino workers following Hurricane Katrina in 2006, when many moved to New Orleans to work in disaster relief and construction. This group – mostly young, unmarried men – made up the early base for many Honduran food vendors.
"Most aren't married, and they don't have someone to cook for them," Elizabeth Oviedo, a Honduran native who opened a café called Telemar shortly after moving to the city following Katrina. "They go to work, then they come here to eat."
Hondurans in New Orleans now know where to go for some home-cooking, but in order to attract a broader clientele some food vendors have been forced to attach the label “Mexican” to their trucks or restaurants.
"Marketingwise, the word 'Mexican' is more known in the United States," said José Castillo, who runs Norma’s Sweets Bakery. "People tend to think that all Latin food is Mexican!"
The marketing-ploy, however, seems to be working as Castillo and other Honduran chefs say they have seen more and more non-Latinos showing up for grub. Not all that surprising when rice-and-beans is a staple in both New Orleans and Tegucigalpa.
"Now we have a lot of Americans that come here," Castillo said. "They want to eat the beans and the baleadas. I'm happy when I see a new face, but I'm very happy when I see the same face come back."