Jambalaya is yet another characteristic dish of New Orleans. Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook features a creole version of the dish made with andouille sausage, pickled pork or ham and shrimp on page 266. The book states that Jambalaya is one of the oldest of creole recipes. The dish seems to share origins between paellas, which are of Spanish origin, and traditional African rice dishes. Etymologically, the word Jambalaya is a combination of French and African Bantu terms. The French jambon means "ham", while the Bantu word "ya-ya" means rice.
Creole Jambalaya, as opposed to the Cajun version which does not feature tomatoes, originated in New Orleans' French Quarter according to Wikipedia. It evolved from Spanish paellas. A key spice in paellas, saffron, was difficult to acquire in the early days of the city due to the high cost of importing the spice from abroad. Creatively challenged, cooks began to substitute tomatoes, creating the dish we know today. The first printed reference to the word dates to 1872 while the 1909 edition of The Picayune's Creole Cookbook identifies the dish being of Spanish-Creole origin.
About.com, in an article by Diana Rattray, offers an alternate explanation to the origins of the dish with this colorful story taken from The Dictionary of American Food and Drink:
A gentleman stopped by a New Orleans inn late one night to find nothing left for him to dine upon. The owner thereupon told the cook, whose name was Jean, to "mix some things together" --balayez, in the dialect of Louisiana -- so the grateful guest pronounced the dish of odds-and-ends wonderful and named it "Jean Balayez.In Gonzales, Louisiana, a gentleman by the name of Steve Juneau developed the idea of naming the city the "Jambalaya Capitol in the World" with an accompanying annual festival in order to promote the city. The city's title was confirmed in 1968 by Governor John J. McKeithen. Held over Memorial Day weekend, the festival's main event is the Jambalaya Cooking Contest. Other activities include a carnival, live music, car show and the crowning of the Jambalaya King and Queen.
SOURCE: "Jambalaya" 03/31/08
SOURCE: "Southern Food: Jambalaya"
SOURCE: "The Jambalaya Festival" 2008
photo courtesy of MetalCowboy, used under this Creative Commons license