Monday, October 29, 2012


When mentioning Louisiana, most people think of the city of New Orleans.  Back in August 2006, I visited New Orleans on a church choir tour of the Southeast.  We spent the night just over the border in Mississippi.  As we drove into New Orleans for the day, we could see some of the damage from Hurricane Katrina that had hit a year earlier in August 2005.  However, as we drove into the French Quarter area of New Orleans, I couldn’t see any damage.  We had a fun day in New Orleans. 

Our first stop when we arrived in the French Quarter was the beautiful Andrew Jackson Square along the Mississippi River in front of St. Louis Cathedral.  It makes for a perfect picture backdrop too.  Be sure to visit.
Picture I took of Andrew Jackson Square
One place that we HAD to visit was Café Du Monde, and it did not disappoint.  Get a table outside, some beignets, a cup of hot coffee and you are set for a great meal and some awesome people watching.  The meal is so good that you won’t even care about how messy you might get eating the beignets with all the powdered sugar all over you.  No one can make them like Café Du Monde!  YUMMY!
My friends at Cafe Du Monde (me in the bright blue shirt)
We spent the rest of the day walking around the French Quarter, browsing through shops, and just people watching - observing the uniqueness that is New Orleans.  The French Quarter has to be one of the best places in the U.S. to people watch.  It’s a must see place!

For lunch, we ate lunch at The Gumbo Shop.  I can’t recall what I had to eat, but I do remember it tasted good.  Since my visit, there are quite a number of good restaurants that I’ve heard about that make for a possible 2nd trip to New Orleans some day.

I mentioned earlier this year that Arizona turns 100 years old this year.  However, Louisiana turns 200 years old this year!  From the French Fleur-de-Lis and the Spanish Bourbon banner to the British Union Jack and the American Stars and Stripes, Louisiana’s varied cultures are reflected in the flags that have flown over the territory.  The varied cultures are also reflected in Louisiana’s cuisine and music.

Two regional cuisines are Creole and Cajun.  Both come from French and Southern Cuisines.  However, Creole is refined city cooking with influences from Spain, Africa, Germany, Italy, the West Indies, etc.  It has rich sauces, local herbs, red ripe tomatoes, and the use of seafood caught in local waters.  One popular Creole dish is gumbo, which is a type of stew, seasoned with sassafras and bay leaves and served over rice.  There is no set recipe for the perfect gumbo – some have chicken, seafood, or andouille sausage.

The Gumbo Shop's Seafood Okra Gumbo
Cajun cuisine on the other hand is country-style food found along the Louisiana bayou.  It uses simple foods right from the land and uses more spices.  It’s a heavy, one-pot dish served over steaming rice.  One popular Cajun dish is Etouffee, which is made with crawfish most of the time. 

Over time, the two cuisines have evolved and it’s now harder to define what is Creole and what is Cajun.  Most of the time, the two words are used interchangeably.

One item from Louisiana bakeries that I want to try is the Mardi Gras King Cake.

The cake originated from Christmas time in the Middle Ages when they celebrated the Three Wise Men (or Kings) on the 12th night after the birth of Christ.  The cake often begins appearing during Christmas and is seen up until Fat Tuesday, the beginning of Lent.  It’s an oval-shaped braided coffee cake decorated with cinnamon sugar in the official Mardi Gras colors of gold (for power), green (for faith), and purple (for justice) and contains a tiny plastic or ceramic baby somewhere in it.  If you get the slice of cake with the baby, you must host the next party.  My friends that have tasted these cakes love them!

Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans dates back to 1699.  Mardi Gras has its roots in preparing for the season of Lent.  It starts on Epiphany (January 6th), but the celebrations are concentrated in the two weeks before Fat Tuesday.  It’s a season of parades with elaborate costumes and elaborate floats, masquerade balls, and parties.

Louisiana has its own various styles of music as well. Cajun music has roots in medieval France via Nova Scotia.  It later interacted with country music and blues, and adopted the accordion as its signature instrument.  Listen to the Balfa Brothers.  Another regional style is Zydeco, dance music of southwest Louisiana’s black, French-speaking community.  Its signature instrument is also the accordion; with Afro-Caribbean roots, it has elements of blues, country, and Cajun.  Take a listen to Clifton Chenier singing the Zydeco Cha Cha.

Louisiana’s diverse people, food, and music clearly give it a unique personality.  In my next post, I’ll list some of the places in Louisiana that I’d like to go and visit.
*Pictures found online

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