Possibly no other city on earth displays its roots with the sass and panache of New Orleans. In case you forget, every meal is going to wow your taste buds and confuse your brain, but this is a good thing. And that’s before we mention the drinks!
New Orleans the Big Easy takes you out to Eat. This is the city that regularly walks off with the prizes in the best of ( insert your own category here) competitions that travel magazines so love. A unique mix of southern hospitality and awesome food coupled with a lively cocktail culture make it one of the best cities for nightlife and people watching.
The world-famous New Orleans food pairs elegant French cuisine with local cooking to create the characteristic Creole and Cajun dishes that are its trademark. Influences from French, Spanish, African, Italian, Chinese, Cuban and Native American traditions combine with local Creole, Cajun, and New Orleans French cuisines for unique Louisiana flavor.
Different but Still the Same
At first taste, Cajun and Creole styles seem the same but you’ll quickly learn to spot the difference. Both start with the ‘holy trinity’ of green peppers, onions and celery, usually 50% onions, 25% celery, and 25% green pepper, but you can adjust to suit your taste. Cajun food’s country-style cooking began in the Louisiana bayou, marrying the French traditions with a Southern flavor. This is seen in dishes such a Gumbo and Boudin.
The more refined Creole food also comes from the French heritage but with European and African roots. Known for rich sauces and fresh seafood, dishes like Shrimp Creole and Turtle Soup are popular. Another classic dish would be Gumbo, a highly seasoned stew with either meat or seafood, but never mixed. Gumbo is often classified by the thickener used. Okra, filé powder (ground dried sassafras leaves), or a roux made of flour and fat are the common choices. It is the official state dish of Louisiana.
Classic in any Style
Jambalaya is a robust dish made in either Creole or Cajun style, using chicken and spicy Andouille sausage. Spanish in origin, Jambalaya is prepared in three parts. Meats and vegetables are browned and set aside. In the same pot, the trinity is sautéed, followed by stock and spices. The meats are returned to the pot and then left to simmer until cooked. For the final step, rice is added for the last half hour or so, much like Spanish paella.
Étouffée is another dish associated with New Orleans, using seafood. The most popular version is made with crawfish (crayfish or crawdads, freshwater shellfish like small lobsters) and served over rice. The name étouffée literally means, “smothered” and this dish is found in both Creole and Cajun versions.
When you’re about to faint from hunger and the line of tourists outside your chosen eatery isn’t moving, go get a Po’ boy (poor boy), a traditional New Orleans sub, usually filled with meat or fried seafood. What makes this sandwich so special is the incredible bread used. A baguette with a soft, fluffy center and crisp crust is filled with hot, crispy fried seafood, or roast beef. Spicy mayonnaise sauce with lettuce and tomato make up the final touches. Yum! Nothing fancy but so good, designed to fill up hungry workers, long ago.
Don’t feel like a Po’ boy? How about a Muffuletta? Similar to a Po’ boy, a Muffuletta loaf is a bit like focaccia. This bread is split and a special olive salad, Italian deli meats, Swiss cheese and provolone are layered inside. You can even buy whole, half or quarter Muffulettas, depending on your level of empty.
Yaka mein is not well known outside of New Orleans. It’s a type of beef noodle soup sometimes referred to as “Old Sober” ‘cause locals recommend it as a hangover cure. Stewed beef in beef broth is served over noodles with a garnish of half a hard-boiled egg and green onions.
In the French Quarter, grilled flavored corn sends out an irresistible smell to draw its victims in. Grilled corn is already awesome with a smoky taste; add spices with melted butter, just delish!
Wondering where the sweet dishes are? Try beignets any time of day or night. The most famous place to get them is Café du Monde, open ‘round the clock, 364 days of the year. These deep-fried squares of dough most resemble powdered sugar doughnuts. Eat them freshly made with café au lait for breakfast or later, if you’re in the mood for a snack. Desserts like Bananas Foster were also invented here in New Orleans and bread pudding is another local specialty.
The first week of January in New Orleans marks the start of King cake season. King cake is associated with the pre-Lenten revelries of Mardi Gras. The traditional King cake is a braided, rectangular coffee cake, covered with a simple icing and purple, green and gold sugar, the official colors of Mardi Gras. Inside each cake is a bean or tiny plastic baby and custom dictates that whoever finds this buys the next King cake or holds the next King cake party.
The famous candy, Almond Praline was brought to Louisiana by French settlers. Sometime in the 19th century, New Orleans chefs replaced the almonds with pecans and created the Southern classic, the Praline. There’s at least one tiny shop in the French Quarter where you can go to see them being made and afterwards, try a taster.
New Orleans cocktail culture is also celebrated and it should be. The Sazerac, cognac and bitters, supposedly America’s first cocktail, was created here before the Civil War. The well-known, Ramos Gin Fizz contains gin, lemon and lime juice, egg white, sugar, cream and orange flower water with a splash of soda. But for an effective start to a lazy brunch, brandy milk punch, poured over crushed ice is classic or you could have a Mimosa.
The food of New Orleans is just like its people! Unique, diverse and spicy. Experiencing one without the other doesn’t begin to convey the buzz of this amazing city. While you’re plotting your next visit, put something jazzy in the CD player, mix a cocktail or two and try out some Cajun cooking. Here’s one of my favorites to get you started.
Jambalaya (in the Crockpot/Slow Cooker)
The flavor is spot-on even if the method isn’t. You can adapt this to suit your taste buds. Different combinations of ingredients won’t change the authentic-ness of this meal. But the no-hassle cooking method is hard to beat.
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound Andouille sausage, diced (I’ve used chorizo in a pinch)
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning
1 teaspoon hot sauce (or to taste)
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound cooked shrimp
2 cups cooked rice
In a slow cooker, combine chicken, sausage, tomatoes, onion, green pepper, celery, and chicken broth. Stir in oregano, Cajun seasoning, hot sauce, bay leaves, and thyme.Cover, and cook on LOW for 7 hours or on HIGH for 3 hours. Mix the thawed shrimp in, cover and cook until all is heated, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Serve over cooked rice.