Leaving Austin behind was difficult, but we had the incredible luck to book a house sit in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and even though we’re not really the biggest partiers, it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures we just couldn’t pass up. In addition to witnessing all the outlandish revelry, we were really excited to dive into the world of food in New Orleans!
New Orleans Cuisine
Louisiana is a southern state bordered by Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico. Before the purchase of Louisiana (along with half the country) by the USA, it was both a French and a Spanish colony. This mixture of early ownership, along with the importation of African slaves and the long history of Native American inhabitants, gives Louisiana a very rich and varied culture that predates the formation of the United States.
This rich cultural history is reflected by the unique and varied nature of food in New Orleans. One of the most distinctive regional cuisines in the country, it is a mixture of traditional Southern or Comfort Food, Creole Cuisine, and Cajun Cuisine. Some famous dishes invented in New Orleans include the Po’ Boy sandwich, Gumbo, and Bananas Foster.
New Orleans Po’ Boy
Per the suggestion of our host, one of our first snacks was a Po’ Boy. Originating in Louisiana, these sandwiches are made of a hard-crusted bread and meat. I ordered the Dressed Fried-Shrimp Po’ Boy. A “dressed” Po’ Boy includes lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise. The bread was very crunchy on the outside and did a number on the roof of my mouth. However, the rest of the bread was very soft and paired very well with my tender little shrimps. Josh ordered the more traditional hot roast beef, which was tender and juicy from au jus. Overall, our impression of the Po’ boy was… meh. It was tasty, but I value my gums too much to risk eating this dish again.
Next up on our tour of the food of New Orleans was fried catfish topped with meuniere sauce and pecans. This dish was fantastic! The mashed potatoes were particularly special. They are first cooked in the seafood boil pot so they pick up a lot of extra fun flavors, then mashed and mixed with plenty of butter. We shared this dish along with a cup of gumbo (Louisiana’s official state dish) and a cup of crawfish corn chowder. The gumbo had just the right amount of heat, creating a little burn that served to enhance the other flavors. The chowder was creamy and thick and chock full of tasty crawfish bites. Although we’d never had any of these dishes before, each felt familiar and comforting. I could easily eat any of them every day for the rest of my life.
Another dish came about as we were visiting one of the major Mardi Gras parades. As we were waiting for it to begin, we noticed something unusual about the choice of food people brought to the parade – almost everyone was eating fried chicken. I have never seen anyone eat fried chicken at a parade before, so to see a whole city’s worth of people doing it was mind boggling. So, we had to order some chicken. Long story short, I will now be eating fried chicken at every parade from now on. I’ve been missing out.
I hadn’t intended on writing an entire post solely about food, but there was just no avoiding it. Eating the distinctive flavor combinations of the food of New Orleans really set the scene for our temporary home. The food was spicy, creative, and comforting, much like the city itself. We barely scratched the surface, and definitely missed out on a few local specialties (pralines and boudin come to mind). However, the few things we did have were so good that we now have no choice but to return for a proper food tour. My advice: if you’re going to New Orleans, pad out your food budget and make time to eat all of the things! Your stomach will thank you for it.