They recently published a list of 175 Events, People & Things that shaped New Orleans.
The article below by Laura Maggi on Italian Immigrants was one of the 175.
The tourists waiting patiently for muffulettas in the aisles of Central Grocery likely have no idea they are surrounded by what was once a standard fixture of many New Orleans neighborhoods: the Italian-owned corner store.
These grocery stores once dotted the city’s landscape, built by immigrants who flocked to New Orleans and surrounding parishes beginning in the late 1800s. Unlike Italian immigrants to other major American cities — who hailed from all over the then recently unified country — New Orleans’ immigrants came almost entirely from the poverty-stricken island of Sicily.
The Sicilian transplants found work on sugar plantations upriver or toiling on New Orleans docks. Many who stayed in the city settled in the lower French Quarter, creating what was known at one point as Little Palermo. Macaroni factories popped up around the neighborhood, while Italian vendors sold fruit at the French Market.
Eventually, some immigrants were able to open small businesses, such as corner stores or restaurants. Some didn’t stay small, such as Progresso Foods, the soup and condiment giant, which began as a New Orleans import company.
As Italians prospered, many followed the path of earlier immigrants, leaving the city for suburban parishes. Their culinary traditions, New Orleans twists on Italian food, can be seen all over the metropolitan region. These traditions include, of course, the muffuletta: a sandwich of deli meat and cheeses smothered in olive salad. Many local kitchens offer up red gravy, a long-simmered tomato sauce.
Each March, local families descended from Sicilian immigrants erect elaborate altars laden with bread, cookies and other food in honor of St. Joseph’s Day. St. Joseph’s has also been adopted as one of the few non-Carnival days of celebration for the city’s Mardi Gras Indian tribes, which don their elaborate suits in the evening and parade in the streets.