Special Sauce, Special Spice

This is the latest in a series of posts about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.

You may be wondering about the food in New Orleans.  Well let me give you a tip.  A coworker who is a foodie had visited the city a month before I was there.  Her advice had been: “There are a million restaurants, and if you’re walking around all day in the sun, you can get really hungry and then you end up walking into whatever restaurant doesn’t have a line, and you can get crappy food, or great food.”  So her advice was to make time to research places to eat and have a couple on our list every day for those hungry moments.

We didn’t do that, and so we had some crappy food and some great food.  If you like deep-fried everything, you would love New Orleans, because that’s easy to find. Deep fried seafood—no texture anymore, so you can’t even tell what it was—and something called a Po’ Boy, which is a basically a submarine sandwich with beef but also comes filled with fried sea food.  Then of course there are the French fries, deep fried mushrooms, deep fried green beans … you get the picture.  The New Orleans signature sweet is a Beignet, which is a deep-fried pastry sprinkled with powdered sugar.  And just in case all the deep fried stuff doesn’t provide enough lubrication to grease your swallows, everything was accompanied by oily sauces.

Bad Fish Beignet

My son, Vince, who has been a cook for many years, says that if food is deep fried by a competent cook—and this means submerged quickly into very hot oil—it’s not very greasy at all.  That’s not the kind of deep fried food we had. The kind we had was the kind where the first bite is delicious because you’ve waited so long to eat, and then all the bites after that just taste like grease.  My stomach feels queasy just thinking about it.

To accompany all this unnaturally brown food, New Orleans offers up unnaturally colored drinks. These seem to contain mostly sugar and food coloring, with a splash of bottom-shelf alcohol.

red drink Green Drinks

But there was also good food, which I define as simple and tasty, which we found by accident about 50% of the time.  I’m a seafood lover who lives in the middle of the North American continent, so I don’t often have shrimp or scallops that weren’t frozen and defrosted.

But here we were so near to the Gulf of Mexico.  This meal below satisfied; the fish is Redfish, which I’d never heard of.  It’s blackened, which is a southern cooking technique using Cajun spices; the butter gives the fish a blackened appearance and trust me, it is delicious.

Good Fish

There were crawfish boils everywhere. For 10 bucks you could gorge yourself on a peel ‘n’ eat platter of them.

Crawfish boil

When I was a kid I used to catch what we called cray fish in the Mississippi River, but the river was so polluted then we couldn’t eat our catch.

There was a wonderful food hall across the street from our B&B which had stalls serving Vietnamese, Thai, and local dishes, and this is where we had our best meals.  My favorite was a curried crawfish dish.

There are two dishes associated with the south: Jumbalaya and Gumbo.  Gumbo is a spicy stew with southern vegetables like okra and peppers and with chicken, crawfish, shrimp and/or Andouille, a pork sausage that’s a New Orleans staple.  Jambalaya is a rice dish with similar ingredients.  Both are pick-and-choose kind of recipes; there’s no “right” way to make them—it’s about the spice.

I don’t eat pork.  If I had been in Minnesota, there would have been vegan and vegetarian and gluten-free and artisanal options available, but this was New Orleans.  Every iteration of Gumbo and Jambalaya contained Andouille, so I never tried either dish.  And in case you think I’m kidding about the artisanal gumbo, a week after I came home Vince and I ate out and by chance walked into a southern-style restaurant, at which I was able to order gumbo with vegan Andouille.

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