“Belle calas tout chaud, Madam, belle calas tout chaud,” calls out the calas lady selling fried rice fritters to the tourist and locals roaming New Orleans Streets. The calas lady is one of the most renowned street vendors in New Orleans history; second to the praline vendors in Jackson Square. The history of New Orleans is connected to the history of its food; it is a part of its character. New Orleans is known for many of its famous dishes such as gumbo, po-boys, beignets, and pralines; all of which have their own specific story, but many of them started as street foods. Today, the French market is considered one of New Orleans thriving street vendors, with food, clothes, books, and jewelry all next to each other.
Food vendors made their way into every neighborhood of the city. Interviews recorded by filmmaker Karen Snyder with elderly New Orleanians in the early 1980s captured stories of commercial life on the city streets in the 1910s and 20s. One example of a common street vendor in New Orleans is a vendor who sold over-ripe bananas. They were often sold throughout New Orleans, which served as one of the first entry points for the fruit. Some older New Orleanians remember finding bananas dumped on the street when they could no longer be sold. One man who grew up in the French Quarter in the 1930s remembers that he could tell whose family was having a hard time financially if during his school lunch break a classmate unwrapped an overripe banana po-boy on stale French bread.
As you walk through the streets of New Orleans take a moment to focus on the history of the people who have walked these streets before you. There have been many tourists, locals, and street vendors who have made their way on these streets. It is easy to see that the history of the street vendors is closely intertwined with the history of New Orleans.
Shown in the video section of this stop are segments from Karen Snyder's classic documentary “View From the Stoop,” presented with the permission of the filmmaker.