Dancing the Shrimp Dry: How Chinese Immigrants Drove Louisiana Seafood (Gravy Ep. 45)

Man with a rake and drying shrimp. Photo courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection.

Imagine this: deep in the Louisiana wetlands, a wooden platform the size of three football fields, covered in shrimp, drying in the sun… which are being danced on by Chinese immigrants, to rid them of their brittle shrimp shells. Now multiply that vision by a hundred, and you have some idea of the vast dried shrimp industry that existed in South Louisiana in the late 19th century. In the new episode of Gravy, Laine Kaplan Levenson, host of Tripod, brings us a story of Chinese immigration, family businesses, and how dried shrimp globalized Louisiana’s seafood industry.

Bob Hoy in his home, holding a framed Green Dragon Brand dried shrimp label. The Quong Sun Company sealed their barrels with these labels, and this is one of the only ones left. Photo by Laine Kaplan Levenson.
Bob Hoy in his home, holding a framed Green Dragon Brand dried shrimp label. The Quong Sun Company sealed their barrels with these labels, and this is one of the only ones left. Photo by Laine Kaplan Levenson.

You can listen to Tripod, Laine Kaplan Levenson’s podcast for WWNO, which produced its own version of this story, here.

View of a portion of one of the wooden platforms and a building at Manilla Village, established in 1873 by Chinese and Fillipinos and located about 20 miles southeast of Lafitte in Barataria Bay.  Photo courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection.
View of a portion of one of the wooden platforms and a building at Manilla Village, established in 1873 by Chinese and Fillipinos and located about 20 miles southeast of Lafitte in Barataria Bay. Photo courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection.

You can read more of the oral history the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Sara Roahen did with Robert Collins here.  And the rest of the collection of bayou oral histories is here.

Patricia Alexi's house in Jean Lafitte, Louisiana.
Patricia Alexi’s house in Jean Lafitte, Louisiana.