Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Orleans! Where in the World Wednesday

Crawfish Boil!

After a brief sojourn, this week's Where in the World Wednesday brings us to delicious New Orleans. Miss Anjali is our foodie tour guide and she certainly has lots to share with us! Anjali lived in New Orleans for three years... it would have been four, but she had to move to Houston when Hurricane Katrina hit. First, she lived in the Warehouse District, then after the hurricane she lived in the Lower Garden District in New Orleans, right off St. Charles. She's lived in TN, which makes her an expert on biscuits, gravy, and jack daniels, and MD, which makes me an expert on crabcakes. :)

Get ready to get hungry... :)


(1) Are there any dishes that you think are traditionally “New Orleans”? Do you have a favorite (include a recipe if you'd like!)

Oh my, that's a big question. Most people know about gumbo and jambalaya, but the list extends past that. Red beans and rice are eaten every Monday, because historically, Monday was laundry day and housewives put on the pot of rice and red beans to cook the whole day.

Po' boys were created years ago to feed the "poor boys" of the Great Depression. They started as a hollowed baguette filled with fried shrimp, but have now progressed to all sorts! Everyone in NOLA loves to discuss where their favorite po' boy is. (Mine - Domilise's for fried shrimp, Parkway Bakery for alligator sausage, Crabby Jacks for fried green tomato, and Parasol's for everything else!)

One of my favorite NOLA foods is crawfish etoufee. There are two different types here: Cream based and tomato based. I love both! And finally, New Orleans to me is a good crawfish boil. Huge boiling pots of crawfish with TONS of spice, along with whole garlic blubs, artichokes, potatoes, and corn. Then you pour it all over a table covered with newspaper and everyone gathers around to enjoy. The spice, the garlic smashed on crackers, and the friends (and beer, preferable Abita), make it my absolute favorite NOLA good experience.

(2) Do you find that the food in New Orleans has been greatly influenced by certain ethnicities? If so, which ones?

One of my favorite things about New Orleans is the history and culture the city holds. Most people know of the French influence here, creating the Cajun cuisine, but there is more. The Spanish and African cultures have also had their hand in shaping our history, creating the Creole culture. Though not part of "traditional" NOLA cuisine, New Orleans has a large Vietnamese population, especially in the Eastern suburbs near the water, and tasty Vietnamese food can be found all around town.

(3) If you were putting together a food gift basket representative of New Orleans for a friend that was visiting you from somewhere else, what would you include in it?

A one way ticket to New Orleans. ;) Ok, fine, one basket, let's see. Cafe du Monde chickory coffee, a king cake from Carnival season, Abita beer, Zapp's potato chips in all flavors (Creole Tomato is the best), a Central Grocery muffaletta (the original muffaletta), praline candy, bananas foster, Creole cream cheese, ice cream from Creole Creamery, turtle soup, hot sauce, and crab boil.

(4) Was there anything that surprised you about NOLA eats when you first moved there?

I think what surprised me is how easily I became obsessed with it. I spent a large part of my life as a vegetarian and am famous for eating salads 24/7, but moving to New Orleans, I very quickly became a fan of butter, cream, meat, and dessert! I must say, I do absolutely love the respect NOLA has for food.

Beignets :)

(5) Say that you’re taking me around NOLA, where would we go for breakfast and what would we have? Where would we go to cap off the night for late night eats and what would we have?

The most obvious of breakfasts is beignets and coffee or a cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde. The French doughnuts with copious amounts of powdered sugar are divine and can also work as a midnight snack, since Cafe du Monde's original French Quarter location is open 24 hours a day. While there, you can enjoy the inevitable jazz band that will be playing on the street, the sight of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, and the smell of the Mississippi flowing past. Other tasty options for breakfast at Dante's Kitchen, Surrey's, which has amazing BBQ shrimp and grits and a fantastic take on eggs Benedict that has crab cakes and cilantro hollandaise, and Camelia Grille. Camelia is a small diner where you sit at the counter and watch the world's fastest short order cooks. The line is never less that around the corner. Before Katrina, this was open 24/7 and a popular late night spot, but one of the tragedies is the abridged hours post-K.

(6) When many people think of New Orleans, they think of Mardi Gras – are there any foods you can get only during Mardi Gras?

King cake is a traditional Carnival food. It is a sour dough cake that can be as simple as cinnamon flavored or filled with jelly/cream. It is always dusted purple, yellow, and green, the New Orleans/Mardi Gras colors. In every king cake is a small plastic baby, representing Baby Jesus, and the person who finds the baby has to buy the next King Cake! Abita beer makes a seasonal beer called Mardi Gras Bock for the season which is one of my favorites. Otherwise, it's standard NOLA food, and lots of it. ;) Mardi Gras means lots of parties at houses that are along parade routes and crawfish boils around town.

(7) How did Hurricane Katrina affect the food generally/ community/industry in NOLA?

Hurricane Katrina definitely hit the city hard, including the restaurant industry. Water and wind damage, along with looting, left these restaurants in shambles. The loss of power meant expensive ingredients and stellar wine cellars were lots. I came back months after and still many restaurants were making repairs. Wine lists suffered greatly, with the variety and quality slightly lacking. That said, the community came together, and there in addition to New Orleans institutions reopening, there were several new gems that opened, most notably, Cochon, a Donald Link creation, St. James Cheese Company, and several ice cream shops, such as La Divina Gelateria (featured on Food Network) and Sucre.

8) Where was your last amazing meal in NOLA and what was in it?

Fine dining - lunch at Cochon. My friend Amanda and I split the fried alligator with chilli garlic aioli, deviled crab and cheddar thyme crackers, spicy grilled pork ribs with watermelon rind pickle, eggplant and shrimp dressing, and washed it all down with Strawberry beer.

Casual - After grabbing a Bloody Mary from Igor's on St. Charles, we made it over to the French Quarter and got muffalettas and Barq's root beer from Central Grocery, then ate at the park in Jackson Sqaure while enjoying the sights and sounds of French Quarter Fest. Priceless.

(9) Where could you get a good meal and a drink for $20 and what would you get? (Given the current economic times!)

THIS IS HARD. NOLA does two things well. Cheap and fast (Po' boys, Fried anything) or Fine dining (Commander's, Galatoire's). The in between places are often mediocre. That being said, there are a few places where the food and atmosphere meet these criteria. NOLA loves its Lebanese/Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food, with Mona's and Byblos both offering hummus, chicken schwarma, and other delicadies for an affordable price. Ignatius, on Magazine, offers Cajun food in a very unpretentious environment - think brown paper table cloth and baguette on the table, but the atmosphere, food, and Abita beer do not disappoint. Slice Pizzeria never disappoints with it's salads and pizzas, and often has wine specials and tasting menus. Finally, St. James Cheese company is a fun place to grab a good lunch. BYO from The Wine Cellar next door and grab a charcuterie plate or one of their creative salads or sandwiches, sit on the porch, and enjoy.

(10) If you could pick one food item that you had in NOLA that you could have with you always, what would it be?

My pantry always has Abita beer (Amber, Strawberry Harvest, and Restoration Ale are my favorites), Tabasco, and Zapp's Creole Tomato chips. The one thing I don't have that I crave is good crawfish. People don't truly understand spice outside of NOLA.

(11) Any summer drinks?

Mint Julep on the porch of the Columns. Strawberry Harvest Abita. Pmm's Cup, Sazerac, and Rum Punch. And non-alcoholic - Abita root beer is actually the best I have ever had.

Thanks Anj ... so let's go to NOLA ASAP, k? :)

1 comment:

Tangled Noodle said...

Where do I start? As noted, gumbo and jambalaya are great but crawfish etoufee is awesome!! (Confession: I have never been to NOLA so my experiences with these dishes have been in restaurants in other states, notably NC & GA). I'm sure that the culinary scene there will come back bigger than ever - with that kind of food history behind it, how could it not? I hope I can find Abita in MN - Strawberry Harvest sounds intriguing.

Thanks for a great WWW - the mark of excellence is the drool all over my keyboard! 8-)