Calas is a dish that embodies the frugality of Louisiana residents, a way of turning leftover rice into a tasty breakfast or snack. Calas are made by mixing flour, cooked rice, sugar, yeast and eggs into a batter that is best left to stand overnight to develop complexity. According to "The Dictionary of American Food & Drink," the word “Calas” was first printed in 1880, and comes from one or more African languages, such as the Nupe word kárá, or "fried cake." Calas were one of the many foods that both slaves and free women of color sold in the streets of New Orleans. Some slaves had to share the money they earned with their masters, but there is more than one instance of slaves saving enough money to not only buy their own freedom, but that of their children as well. Free women used the money they earned to support themselves and their families.
The Picayune Creole Cookbook (1901) takes a very romantic view of this occupation, and bemoans the absence of these women. “The Cala woman was a daily figure on the streets till within the last two or three years. She went her rounds in quaint bandana tignon, guinea blue dress and white apron, and carried on her head a covered bowl, in which were the dainty and hot Calas…Only two or three of the ancient Cala women remain. The cries of ‘Belle Cala Tout Chaud!’ (Beautiful Cala, All Hot!) are now few and far between. Once in a while, like some ghostly voice of the past, one starts up in bed of an early morning as the weak voice penetrates your chahmber. In a second more it is lost in the distance, and you turn over with a sigh for the good old times and quaint customs of old Creole days…”
What the author fails to note is that perhaps one of the reason so few women carried on the tradition of rising before dawn to fry calas and then hurry through the streets to sell them while still hot is because less backbreaking, more lucrative work became available. Still this recollection is an example of the larger market force these women participated in, seen in the assertion made by a writer in the New Orleans Bee in 1835: “Almost the whole of the purchasing and selling of edible articles for domestic consumption [is] transacted by colored persons.” Whether made in the home to sell or serve to loved ones, cala represent the impact of Africa upon local cuisine.