New Orleans, LA – If you looked at nothing but Census Bureau reports, you could conclude there's been just a small bump in the number of Latino people in the New Orleans area since Hurricane Katrina. But it seems the Census Bureau hasn't gone grocery shopping around town lately.
There has been a highly-visible surge of new grocery stores stocked with Hispanic food brands and Latin American produce, with business signs in Spanish and with queues of Latino people outside their doors. There are so many of them now, that some have cropped up on the same block as their competitors, or very close to conventional super markets, or even in settings that look more like apartments than groceries.
It all adds up to a new wave of diversity in the way New Orleanians of any ethnic background can make their groceries,
In a moment I'll tell you my favorite spots to shop for this type of food. But first, what makes these places different, and why are we seeing so many of them now?
Academics studying the area's post-Katrina demographics say the rise of these Latino markets is part of a classic trajectory for immigrants, and a sign that people drawn here for recovery work are starting to settle into the community.
These people don't always show up on official population surveys, but they have created a new demand for the tastes of home that is now being met by these markets. Further, the groceries can serve as networking hubs and safe havens in a foreign, often confusing and sometimes dangerous new city.
It's a pattern that has played out in New Orleans before. Earlier in the 20th century small Italian-run groceries were commonplace throughout the city's neighborhoods, and the foods they sold eventually became entwined with New Orleans culture. Instead of olive salad and pastas, today's newest immigrant grocers are selling tortillas, chorizo, queso blanco and central and south American produce. Lots and lots of produce, in fact.
Health advocates have long decried the lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables in some parts of town, where junk food and stark corner stores are the likely local shopping options. But so much processed and packaged food is unfamiliar to many among the immigrant clientele of these new Latino groceries, where it's more common to see shoppers hauling away armloads of raw staples to cook at home, including foods that are hard to find anywhere else.
For the curious, there are many options to check these places out. In New Orleans, I like Los Amigos Supermarket on Gentilly Boulevard near the Fair Grounds Race Course, or Ideal Market on South Broad Street, between Canal and Tulane Avenue. You could explore one of the largest local Latino groceries with a trip to Celina's, in Kenner on Williams Boulevard near West Esplanade. Or, just keep your eyes peeled as you travel around town. Chances are you'll see another of these new Latino food outposts soon.
Celina's International Supermarket
3601 Williams Blvd., Kenner
250 S. Broad St., New Orleans
Los Amigos Supermarket
1401 Gentilly Blvd., New Orleans