I’ve always wanted to go to New Orleans. New Ahhhhlans. You have to say it like that. I’m serious.
A few weeks ago, to celebrate my wedding anniversary, I got my wish and the hubby and I headed down to NOLA! Truly, there’s no other place like it in the world.
New Orleans has such a rich history of food and culture—it really is a gumbo of so many different peoples—settlers, outcasts, colonists, slaves and natives—from French Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Native America—all simmered together to create a place and cuisine like no other.
Founded in 1718 by the French, Nouvelle-Orléans, is nestled in the bend of the Mississippi River, and well…it’s been called the “Vagabond Town”. For good reason too—the first French imports to NOLA were criminals and misfits. It was a penal colony.
Among the new New Orleaners were also a crowd of exiled aristocrats who were used to fine French food and wine. The women (of course) got so fed up that they staged the “Pettitcoat Revolution” and stormed the governor’s mansion–banging pots and pans on the front lawn and demanding better food! Love it! The governor set them up with lessons with his own cook who had learned from the Native Americans how to make use of the natural resources of the Louisiana bayou—crayfish and catfish—bottom dwellers were suddenly on the menu.
This sultry swampland attracted other outcasts too. The British expelled French Canadians from Nova Scotia and parts of Quebec—which used to be known as Acadia. These French speaking people, the Acadians, headed south to another French speaking colony…New Orleans—and before you knew it, became Cajuns.
So that’s the Cajun side. Cajun cuisine is more delicate, but very rich and decadent—think more French food.
I learned that Oysters Rockefeller was created in New Orleans by Jules Alciatore at Antoine’s Restaurant in 1899–a great example of culinary substitutions and creativity….there was a shortage of snails from France, but there were an abundance of oysters in NOLA!
The other side is the Creole…one word: COLORFUL. Think more spicy, more flavorful…in look, taste and ethnicity! Think Crawfish Etouffee and Spicy Cornmeal Fried Catfish. Paul Prudhomme of the Commanders Palace invented the method of “blackening” fish, with colorful and deep spices. It helps to throw in some spice when you’re working with mud fish!
There were slaves from Africa and the Caribbean that became cooks in the kitchens of plantation owners and brought the heat of their homeland into the food. Interesting fact—the word in French for okra is GOMBO. New Orleans gumbo has much in common with the okra stews and soups that come from Western Africa, where many of the Afro-Creoles trace their roots. Every gumbo starts with roux—(read about how I make mine in 50 Shades of Roux!) and uses different thickening agents–Creole versions rely on okra, while Cajuns have been known to use Gumbo File (fee-lay) or ground sassafras leaves to get the right consistency!
Here’s my analogy of Cajun and Creole cuisine with Italian-American food—it’s the same thing. It’s the same kind of evolution of dishes reinvented from home, in a far away place, working with what resources were available. Putting their own spin on it, putting their joys and sorrows into their food—a brand new cuisine was born. And it’s GOOD.
We had so many wonderful meals there!
I can’t recommend a trip to New Orleans enough—especially if you’re aiming to misbehave! 😉