Southern food is arguably the most recognizable food in America, evoking images of iced tea and lemonade, cornbread and grits, fresh fruits and fruit pies, sweet potatoes, fried chicken and, of course, barbecue. In the Deep South we add seafood to the list of bounty – oysters and clams, crabs and shrimp, and many varieties of fin fish, not to mention Louisiana’s most acclaimed crustacean, the crawfish. These foods and the stories behind them are the seasonings that unify the American South.
This introduction, excerpted from one of the delightful exhibits on display at The Southern Food & Beverage Museum in New Orleans, is an apt way to lean into exploration of the gastronomic landscape of the city.
Originally located in the city’s Riverwalk Marketplace, then expanded and re-opened in 2014 in the former Dryades Street Market in the Fauberg Livaudais, The Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFAB for short), is a multifaceted food and drink emporium in a living history setting, of what makes the South’s culinary heritage so unique.
According to SoFab Founder and Curator Liz Williams, at one time there were over 30 markets in New Orleans, in each new neighborhood, but this practice stopped in the mid-20th century. That gave the resurrection and repurposing of this building into the museum even greater significance for the city.
A Wealth of History, One Forkful at a Time
From the history of the Popeye’s Chicken franchise to ubiquitous family recipes passed down for generations, the evolution of fishing methods, the story of celebrity chefs past and present, food purveyors and processors, inventors, and everything in between, visitors will be captivated and enveloped in one of the most iconic flavor and culinary tradition landscapes in the world.
All 50 states in the U.S. have separate exhibits here as well, with that for Louisiana being the largest. Additionally, in each you’ll find intentional open spaces which demonstrate how food permeated all boundaries – from geographic borders to the melding together of unique Southern food and drink traditions derived from French, African American, German, Caribbean, and other cultures.
Along one wall of the museum you will find The Museum of the American Cocktail’s (MOTAC). Because beverages go hand in hand with food, this is an apt place to feature this, especially given that the first cocktail, the Sazerac, as well as the Hurricane, the Ramos Gin Fizz, and Peychaud's Bitters, among others, were invented in New Orleans. This cocktail tradition flame is also being carried on at the annual Tales of the Cocktails, the world's premier series of cocktail festivals - highlighting what's now, new, and next in the spirits industry.
MOTAC is designed to increase consumer knowledge of mixology coupled with the importance of responsible drinking, with features including the initial uses of sugar, automatic ice machines, bottles, containers, cocktail making implements, and more.
La Galerie d’Absinthe—New Orleans also being the absinthe capital of the world—highlights an extensive collection of absinthe through the years, tying it to the long French and French-speaking history here in the city.
Order (Coming) Up!
For those desiring to delve into the epicurean culture here a little further, the museum also offers twice weekly Cajun and Creole classes. These offerings, which also include a tour the museum, are a great way to learn more about the city’s culinary culture and history, as well as how to create some of New Orleans’ classic, world-renown dishes like remoulade salad, jambalaya, and of course, Bananas Foster, just to name a few.
So if you’re into outstanding gastronomic adventurers in New Orleans, come to The Southern Food & Beverage Museum. Its “SoFab” Indeed!
Read on for more exciting aspects of The Big Easy!