TASTE OF AMERICA – NEW ORLEANS
New Orleans Food 101
Top Things To Try
- Po Boys
- Muffuletta Sandwich
- Best Fried Chicken! Willie Mae’s Scotch House
Greetings fellow ChronicFoodie!
There are many cities I’ve visited where it compels me to return again and again. I know I usually cover the cuisine of a country on my blogs but I cannot easily do a “Foods of America” blog without writing a series of novels. To be honest, this is often the case in any country where you try to cover the cuisines of the cultures that exist in one country. For my first foray into the cuisine of America, I cannot help but have my first blog about a city that is so uniquely delicious. Welcome to the flavours of New Orleans!
When you adventure through Louisiana, from Baton Rouge to the swamps, you will have a clear sense that this is a special and unique place in America. Before Louisiana became a part of the United States of America in 1803, it was a land that had the influence of the French, Spanish, Italians, Germans and others. From this influence, we now get to appreciate and indulge in the Creole and Cajun culture throughout the state but for me, it is all about the sights, sounds, culture and food of New Orleans that keeps me coming back. I know that the backstory of Louisiana can be quite political but for the purposes of this blog, we will keep things with things I love most… the food!
Creole or Cajun?
Probably the most misunderstood side of Louisiana I faced was discovering the similarities and differences between Creole and Cajun. I will sadly admit that I didn’t know much about the differences and almost treated it as one and the same. For that, I am embarrassed but glad to now know the unique distinctions. Both Cajun and Creole influences can be found throughout Louisiana and especially in New Orleans where it all comes together in delicious harmony.
Simply stated (really simply stated), Creole food and the people are city dwellers and Cajun are rural. Creole, in the beginning, was primarily referring to the French and then the Spanish settlers and when wealthy slave owners came, brought their slaves, African Americans were then brought under the umbrella of Creole. It gets a lot more in-depth than what I am sharing but this gives a very beginner understanding and I should note that Creole is also a language that is still spoken in Louisiana and also in Haiti.
Cajun, on the other hand, has a Canadian connection as they were from Acadia (modern-day Nova Scotia). They are the French colonist who left the Eastern region of Canada they occupied after the British took over back in the mid to late 1700’s. This group hung on to their French language and culture all the while, taking advantage of the agriculture in their new environment. The Holy Trinity of Cajun cuisine is the mix of onions, bell peppers and celery. A trio you will often see and a regional take on the French mirepoix which ordinarily has carrots rather than bell peppers in the mix.
Gumbo (Gombo in French)This is the official State dish of Louisianna and it is one of my favourite eats in New Orleans. There are variations but the key thing to note is the rich, deeply savoury roux/stock with the Holy Trinity (onions, bell peppers and celery) and depending on the tradition, you will find meats, sausage, fowl, seafood. Essentially it is this delicious and deeply savoury stew that is poured on top of a bed of white rice. Influences to this dish can be attributed to the French, Spanish, German, and Choctaw (Native Indigenous People of the region of Louisiana). When you hear the words “soul food”, this is not a bad place to start if you’re looking for some wonderful Southern comfort eats.
It should be noted that there are two general variations of this dish but one of the more popular ones that folks outside of Louisianna would be familiar with. There is both a Cajun and Creole take on Jambalaya and both versions are generally made spicy. The dish is a tribute to the name it was given because it is kind of a “jambalaya” when it comes to all that is put in the mix. The one clear distinction between Cajun and Creole Jambalaya is that traditionally, the Cajun take does not use tomatoes while with the Creole take, it is an important ingredient and probably much more common as more inland you were, the less available tomatoes became.
Like any dish, there are always personal takes on the ingredients but in general, Jambalaya is a mix rice dish that appears to have a little bit of everything: meats, sausage (most commonly: andouille), seafood and the rice is cooked with it altogether. For those who are familiar with Spanish paella, you will see some resemblance but minus one of the key ingredients in paella: saffron.
I’ve had Jambalaya at several places while in New Orleans and I haven’t found a place where I didn’t love it! It’s a dish that is taken with pride but do stay away from the fast-food chains not based in New Orleans as you may find yourself disappointed.
If you’re like me, there is something special about a good sandwich, whether you call it a sub, hoagie, or anything else, if the right combo is put together, it is something that can awaken the senses. The Po Boy is one of those things that if you’re in New Orleans, you have to sink your teeth into this Louisiana born sandwich. The varieties are numerous and it could take you days, if not weeks, to go and try every version available. Served either hot or cold, you can have Po Boys stuffed with deep-fried goodness such as shrimp, oysters, catfish, crawfish and chicken. You can also get ones with roast beef and even soft shell crab and crawfish (see below about crawfish). Pick your poison and you’ll be glad that you did. Traditional toppings or “dressed” will include lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo but you can customize this to your liking.
If there is a clear standout for me when it comes to my food experience in New Orleans and one was visiting the Acme Oyster House which is a long-time establishment since 1910 and just an all-around great place to get some great eats. One of the must-haves, when visiting Louisiana and to get your fill of Cajun food, crawfish and more specifically, the crawfish boil, is the must-do. What is crawfish? Just think of really tiny looking lobsters but this special shellfish comes from freshwater and its even texture is quite similar. But it is what the crawfish (aka mudbugs) are boiled in that makes it such a delicious Cajun dish. The spices are numerous and the crawfish are boiled in this spicy and delicious broth. Here’s a recipe that will give you a sense of what it all involves or you can just simply head down to Louisiana and try for yourself with all the surprises that come along with it: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/crawfish-boil-recipe-1947069
Note: Crawfish is not available year-round and do check if it is in season. There are no consistent times as it can heavily depend on how the weather is a huge factor if it will be available any given year.
If you do any homework about what to eat in New Orleans, one will be sure to find the Moufaletta Sandwich on many lists as the sandwich that is a must at but more specifically, you must have a Moufaletta from Central Grocery and Deli. I don’t know many who can polish this sandwich off on their own as it is enormous but you can sure give it a try. Muffuletta was originally a sesame-topped bread from Sicily but made famous in New Orleans as a sandwich by Italian immigrants back in 1906. This flavour-packed sandwich is stuffed with ham, salami, Provolone and a signature briny marinated olive salad filled with Kalamata and green olives and other yummy pickled veggies. I could easily have the olive salad every day without batting an eye. So so good and can satiate the biggest eater but not meant and designed for one person. Check them out!
With around 300 years of tradition, these delicious little morsels of goodness are another one of those French-influenced snacks that you can’t miss while in Louisiana. This deep-fried cornmeal based bite-size savoury snacks is a great compliment to any dish you eat in New Orleans. Wherever you are, you can always have a side order of these delectable bites and found everywhere in New Orleans.
Best Fried Chicken – Willie Mae’s Scotch House
I love fried chicken and when I heard this rumour of a place in New Orleans that is known serve up some of the best friend chicken in America, I had to make sure I found myself there ASAP! I have never missed the opportunity to sink my teeth into this delicious fried chicken each of the 3 times I visited this delicious city. I don’t know all the magic that is put into the recipe but frankly, I don’t need to know and just simply enjoy the magic of this chicken in this iconic spot located in a very unassuming neighbourhood outside of the hustle and bustle of the city. Oh, and if you must have anything to go with your chicken, you must have the butter beans. Oh man! That is some amazing spicy goodness that cannot be missed!
A trip to New Orleans is a complete miss unless you pay a visit to the world-famous Café Du Monde and grab a bunch of beignets. Simply the most delicious sweet taste that needs to be on everyone’s list when visiting New Orleans and the wait in line (up to an hour) is totally worth to sink your teeth in this beautiful French pastry and to wash it down with chicory coffee. It’s not an overly complicated snack but like most French pastries, it is the simplicity that makes it so complicated. Deep-fried dough that is sprinkled with a healthy amount of icing sugar.
I can’t wait to find myself back in New Orleans to just go gangbusters with all the delicious eats. I know that there have been some ups and some really big downs for New Orleans. Having visited both before and after Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. There is much to reflect on which is why I am so enthusiastic to encourage everyone to pay them a visit. Take in the food but besides that, the culture, history, music and people are all amazing reasons to visit. Nevermind the most celebrated festivities the city is most known for, Mardi Gras, there is always something on the go in the Big Easy and perfect any time of year. If you’ve not been, do yourself a great favour and go and take a big bite out of NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana)!
Till next time… Stay Hungry
Jusep, your ChronicFoodie