Big, Easy: New Orleans’ Muffuletta

By John Mariani

Published on April 20, 2011

New Orleans' belly filler has Sicilian roots

By noontime, the line of people at Central Grocery stretches down Decatur Street. They're waiting for the muffuletta, a New Orleans sandwich of gargantuan flavor and proportions that was born at the store. Salvatore Lupo, who opened Central Grocery in 1906, created the muffuletta for the Sicilian farmers selling their goods at the French Quarter market. (The name derives from muffuliette, a Sicilian colloquialism for soft rolls.) In her cookbook, Marie's Melting Pot (T&M Publications, 1980), Marie Lupo Tusa, Lupo's daughter, describes how the farmers would "order some salami, some ham, a piece of cheese, a little olive salad," and bread. To make it all easier to eat, Lupo would "cut the bread and put every-thing on it like a sandwich."

The muffuletta's ham, Genoa salami, provolone, and mortadella aren't unusual, but the nine-inch-wide, sesame-seeded round loaf and the salad of pickled carrots, celery, peppers, cauliflower, and olives make the sandwich legendary. Unlike the counter help in the Quarter, when I concoct a muffuletta at home, I have time to let it marinate overnight, so that the flavors meld, for a lunch so pungent and evocative that I am transported back to New Orleans. —John Mariani, author of How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011)

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