If you enjoy jazz, food, and a good party, the city of New Orleans in the US state of Louisiana is a place you won’t want to miss. The main cuisines of Cajun and Creole share a common Afro-European heritage, as New Orleans and the surrounding territory was a French colony, then Spanish, and then briefly French again before being bought by the United States. This history and its diversity of people provide a rich cultural backdrop, which can be seen in the communities, the architecture, music and their way of celebrating. But today, let’s focus on some of the most popular dishes offered in the birthplace of jazz.
This iconic New Orleans stew is actually the official state cuisine. There are many varieties but in general it consists of a thick spiced broth, shellfish and meat (or in the case of ya-ya gumbo, chicken and andouille sausage) celery, bell peppers, and onions and is served with a scoop of rice. The flavors and complexity of this hearty stew come from all the spices used, like paprika, Cajun seasoning (cayenne pepper, garlic powder and oregano), bay leaf, dried thyme, hot sauce, parsley, cumin, sage, and Worcestershire sauce.
Anyone who has seen The Princess and the Frog, set in New Orleans, will already know about beignets. These small pillows of dough can be found in the legendary Café du Monde, and are truly otherworldly. Some might liken them to a doughnut but they are formed into a rectangular shape, fried in oil, drained, and sprinkled with copious amounts of powdered sugar. Best served warm alongside a cup of strong coffee with a touch of chicory.
Grits are a porridge made from boiled cornmeal and topped with cheese or even shrimp. Often served for breakfast, you can find this hearty snack at the flea market food stalls near Bourbon Street.
Similar to the Mexican rosca de Reyes, king cake is served at the beginning of the year from Epiphany to Carnival. This sweet ring of dough can be filled with creole custard and coated in green, purple, and yellow sugar stripes, the colors of the Three Kings and, accordingly, Mardi Gras. A small figurine representing the baby Jesus is hidden inside and whoever finds it in their slice is crowned king for a day. However, far from a pretext for power and luxuriating on the throne, the one crowned is tasked with hosting the next Mardi Gras party and providing the king cake. With great power comes great responsibility.
This is a dish that really shows its multicultural origins – with influences from Spanish paella, French pilaf, and Western African Jollof rice. Jambalaya is a one pot dish made from rice and rich spices and can include shellfish, peppers, chicken, and sausage. You can find very good jambalaya on Frenchmen Street, where there’s a variety of clubs with live music playing Dixieland, rock, funk, blues and, of course, jazz.
This signature sweet is made of sugar, milk, butter, and pecans and served in small round pieces. You’ll find them throughout the city, from your at arrival the charming Louis Armstrong Airport to the confectioneries along Royal and Decatur Streets, where you will also find jams made from various chilies (that’s right, chilies.)