A lot of people seem to have difficulty identifying exactly what “American” food is, and what typical American dishes are. Traditional foods from other places in the world are more obvious. Italy has pasta and pizza, France has cheese and wine, India has an incredible varieties of curries.
But most people, Americans and other alike, seem to think that the culinary legacy of America ends with McDonald’s hamburgers and Coca Cola, or even worse, that there is no real “American” food. But anyone who thinks this has forgotten about the great tradition of Cajun cooking.
I have always loved Cajun food, before I even knew what it was. We didn’t eat a lot of traditional southern food growing up, save for the red beans and rice that my mother learned to make from watching her mother, who grew up in New Orleans. But the New Orleanian blood must be pulsing strong. From the time I was little, I never tried a Cajun or southern food I didn’t like. Grits – loved ’em. Collard greens – would die for some cooked with bacon. Crawfish – once ate so many when I was 11 years old that I made myself sick.
So when I made last-minute plans to go to New Orelans to visit a friend, I felt both excited and prematurely guilty for the weekend of all out gluttony (and more than a little debauchery) that I was certain was awaiting me. New Orleans is no place for self restraint. Where else can you eat deep fried chicken livers, boudin, and beignets, all in a day’s time?
And that’s why you have to do it all when you’re there. (Though I did, at least, avoid the poisonous potion that often portends terrible life-altering decisions, know as hand grenades) I could only hope that we would do enough wandering around that I wouldn’t return to Houston a couple pounds heavier.
In addition to serving the staples of Cajun cooking, there are a lot of restaurants that offer unique twists with Cajun flavors and ingredients. Take, for example the sweet potato duck hash served with jalapeno jelly atop a cornbread waffle at Elizabeth’s. Lots of words in this dish, and lots of flavor. Perhaps even more unique, and beloved by locals, was the praline bacon – so wrong it could only be right.
Rum House, though far from standard Louisianian fare, served really fun and delicious Caribbean-inspired food. Every taco was fantastic, but I was equally impressed with the Rum House salad and its delightful cumin-y salad dressing.
One huge reason why I love the food of New Orleans is because of its deep French influences. One of the very best French bakeries I’ve found outside of France is La Boulangerie, in Uptown. I didn’t get a chance to stop by until rather late for a bakery’s standards, not until around 3 pm. And so by the time I arrived, literally every single loaf of bread had been sold. But I consoled myself with one of their adorable cheesecakes (very un-French, but very delicious) and chocolate moelleux.
I always feel a little sad when I leave the delicious, debaucherous, often bizarre swampland that is New Orleans. Maybe that’s in part because I’ve put myself on a post-NOLA diet for the next couple of days to pay for this weekend’s hedonism. But I’ll be thinking of shrimp and grits, oysters, and fried chicken with every bit of steamed broccoli I take.