The southern city of soul and spice, New Orleans is famed for its Creole and Cajun cuisine. Decanter.com has teamed up with Lonely Planet and its latest book, Food Trails, to bring you the best places to eat to get a flavour of its history and culture...
Food Trails: Where to eat in New Orleans
Louisiana is a sizzling cooking pot of immigrant and colonial influences, which manifest in New Orleans’ local take on Creole cuisine, and in the bayous of nearby Cajun Country.
Southern Food & Beverage Museum
To kick off your southern food journey head to New Orleans’ Southern Food & Beverage Museum in Central City, which charts the culinary heritage of the southern United States. In the mid-1800s, this spot housed the vibrant Dryades Market, a farmers’ market that catered to African Americans and Jewish, German and Italian immigrants.
Highlights include artefacts from Antoine’s – the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the US run by the same family – which opened in New Orleans in 1840, and a replica of the French Quarter’s still-standing Old Absinthe House as it appeared in the 1890s. At one time this potent green liquor, infamous for its alleged hallucinogenic properties, was so beloved by the fun-loving New Orleans locals that the city became the absinthe-drinking capital of the US.
1504 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard
Tel +1 504 569 0405
For lunch head to Dooky Chase in the Tremé – New Orleans’ oldest African American neighbourhood. In 2016 chef Leah Chase, who’s still in the kitchen in her 90s, was given a lifetime achievement award by the US’s prestigious James Beard Foundation, and her Creole food is the real deal: stuffed peppers, stuffed jalapenos and stuffed chicken, stews, jambalaya and oyster dressing. This typical New Orleans cuisine has French and Spanish roots, as well as African influences, and derives primarily from urban settlers, white and black, and their descendants.
A community gathering spot in the Tremé since 1941, Dooky Chase has hosted civil-rights leaders and presidents. Hot sausages and fried chicken hold court at the robust lunch buffet in a dining room outfitted with colourful African American art.
Also on the menu is red beans and rice, a simple dish traditionally served across New Orleans on Mondays – laundry day for homemakers who were then too busy to cook.
2301 Orleans Ave, Tremé
Tel +1 504 821 0600
Parkway Bakery & Tavern
Round off day one with a New Orleans classic: the po’boy. This messy sandwich of French bread – baked locally and slightly chewy – stuffed with roast beef, fried oysters or fried shrimp, was born during the Depression when two former streetcar workers opened a coffee and sandwich shop during a New Orleans streetcar transit strike. The two filled their bread with beef gravy and sliced potatoes and gave them free to strikers, and so a New Orleans food legend was born.
The best are dressed with mayonnaise, tomato, shredded lettuce and pickles. Today, Parkway Bakery & Tavern in Mid-City is famed for its roast beef po’boy; a gravied mess on a crusty bun. For dinner, squeeze into the vintage tavern and enjoy a cocktail with your meal, or order at the counter at the back and join a communal table. Napkins are an absolute necessity.
538 Hagan Ave, Mid-City
Tel +1504 482 3047
New Orleans School of Cooking
Start your second day at the popular New Orleans School of Cooking in the French Quarter for a lesson in Cajun and Creole cooking. Pre-book a hands-on class or join the daily Food, Fun & Folklore cooking demo – a 2½-hour session with a living room feel, in which chefs entertain students with stories tied to regional and culinary history, while preparing a meal of classic southern Louisiana fare.
This is a great opportunity to see how locals prepare gumbo, a spicy, full-bodied stew served over steamed rice, typically overflowing with seafood, sausage or chicken. The stew’s thick dark gravy is sometimes made with okra, a vegetable with a gummy pod brought to New Orleans by West African slaves. Jambalaya, a rice dish that resembles Spanish paella, is another class favourite. The demo finishes with a chance to eat the meal that you’ve just watched being cooked up.
524 St Louis Street, French Quarter
Tel +1 504 525 2665
Succulent slices of tender roast beef tumble from the bun. Fried eggs, messy cheeses and kicky sauces slather their way onto Instagram feeds. Yep, the sandwich is king at Chef Donald Link’s rustically chic deli, butcher shop and wine bar in the Warehouse District. It’s a simple but satisfying dinner after an afternoon wandering nearby museums. House-made meats and sausages are the all-stars at the butcher shop, which sells Cajun favourites such as andouille sausage, a spicy smoked pork sausage often found in gumbo, and tasso, a tasty cured pork used to flavour gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice.
930 Tchoupitoulas Street, Warehouse District
Tel +1 504 588 7675; 930
End the day with a trip to Freret Street, where a clutch of hopping new restaurants, bars and music venues strut their stuff. Located in the University District in New Orleans’ Uptown, it’s a fun place to wander in the evening.
Named for 19th-century cotton baron William Freret, the street was a prosperous commercial strip in the 1920s and 1930s. White flight, violent crime and extensive Hurricane Katrina damage drove out these businesses, and 10 years ago the street was in a state of serious decay. In 2007, a few committed locals started the Freret Street Market. Two years later, entrepreneurs Neal Bodenheimer and Matthew Kohnke opened a craft cocktail bar Cure in a 100-year-old former fire station.
With Cure’s success, development snowballed and today 19 new restaurants, bakeries and watering holes are open between Jefferson Ave and Napoleon Ave, making Freret Street one of the city’s biggest post-Katrina success stories.
Freret Street, Uptown, University District
The next day, hit the road and head west into the southern Louisiana countryside, following the Mississippi upriver. In Vacherie, about 50 miles from New Orleans, you’ll find Laura Plantation, a unique sugarcane estate established in 1805 and managed by four generations of Creole women (unlike many of its neighbours, which were Anglo-owned). you may see sugarcane as it’s planted, growing or harvested. You can sample their cane syrup and cane molasses, which are sold on-site.
To see how sugarcane is used to make rum, continue on to Donner-Peltier Distillery down the road in Thibodeaux. In the tasting room you can buy and drink Rougaroux rum, named for a legendary swamp werewolf.
2247 Highway 18, Vacherie
Tel +1 225 265 7690
The French Press
Take a road trip down bayou backroads to Lafayette, where breakfasts (served til 2pm) at the French Press are a party on the plate – or as the Cajuns might call it, a fais do-do. Take the Sweet Baby Breesus, named for New Orleans Saints football quarterback Drew Brees: three buttermilk biscuits layered with Steen’s cane syrup, bacon and fried boudin balls. Boudin is a popular Cajun sausage – often sold at mom-and-pop convenience stores – made from pork scraps, seasonings and rice stuffed into pig intestines.
Today, tours explore the canary-bright Big House and the slave cabins, and explain how Louisiana sugarcane has historically been used to make products such as cane syrup and molasses. Depending on the season, Order this artery-clogging ensemble with an equally indulgent side of cheddar cheese grits (coarsely ground grains cooked with water and typically served as a side dish in the South). Distressed walls, exposed piping and decorative typeface pieces keep the restaurant, a former printing plant, invitingly shabby.
214 E Vermilion Street, Lafayette
Tel +1 337 233 9449
The Fruit Stand
According to legend, lobsters followed the Acadians south when they fled Canada in the 1700s – shrinking during their long swim to Louisiana’s bayous. Resembling tiny lobsters, crawfish, also called mudbugs, are served fresh-boiled or as pre-peeled tail meat. The latter is mixed into jambalaya or smothered in a stew-like gravy to make a local dish called étouffée.
Crawfish are popular in season from early December to mid-July. If you can, finangle an invitation to a crawfish boil; a community gathering where crawfish and Cajun seasonings are tossed into a giant pot and typically boiled with potatoes and other vegetables.
For the next best thing, drive 9 miles east from Lafayette to the Fruit Stand in Breaux Bridge – dubbed the Crawfish Capital of the World – for the commercial version of a crawfish boil. Eat your crawfish on-site at Foti’s Café or get a sack to go. How to eat ’em? As Cajuns say: ‘Pinch de’ tail and suck de’ head.’
200 West Mills Avenue, Breaux Bridge
Tel +1 337 332 4636
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Edited by Laura Seal for Decanter.com
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