According to New Orleans food expert Poppy Tooker, African women would carry baskets of calas on their heads through the French Quarter on Sundays after church, calling “Calas, calas, belles calas! Toutes chaudes!” (“Beautiful calas! Very hot!”) Selling calas, Tooker postulates, allowed some enslaved women to raise enough money to buy their freedom. Those street vendors gradually disappeared, and calas are now served as a sweet or savory breakfast or snack in many New Orleans restaurants and home kitchens. It’s said that the name calas comes from an African word meaning “fried cake.” —JJ Johnson, from his new cookbook, The Simple Art of Rice
Read our interview with Johnson here.