Gumbo starts the way any good Creole dish should: with the "holy trinity" of celery, capsicum and onions. This variation of the classic French mirepoix forms the base of so many hearty Creole classics often found in Louisiana, from jambalaya to fricassee to chicken Creole – and, of course, gumbo. Gumbo is a rich, soupy stew, using that holy trinity with strongly flavoured stock, plus meat or shellfish, and thickened with either okra, a roux, or a powder of dried sassafras leaves called file. It's usually served with rice.
Gumbo is southern US history in a bowl. There are actually two different styles: Cajun gumbo, developed by Acadian settlers in Louisiana's south-west; and Creole gumbo, which shows a mix of influences from French, Spanish and African settlement, plus local Native American practices, and was popular in the state's south. The dish originated in the early 18th century in the melting pot that was Louisiana. Okra is a classically African ingredient, file is Native American, mirepoix and roux are French, and the addition of capsicum has links to Spanish sofrito.
Gumbo is hard to find in Sydney. You can either make your own (goodfood.com.au), or try the seafood in Cajun sauce – close enough – at Kickin'Inn (kickininn.com.au). In Melbourne, call in to the Moldy Fig (themoldyfig.com.au) for classic gumbo.
ONE MORE THING
There's actually a third style of gumbo we haven't mentioned yet: gumbo z'herbes, a meatless variety popular among Louisiana's Catholic residents during Lent. To make this dish, turnips, mustard greens and spinach are cooked to mush and strained.