Just when you think you have a handle on gumbo and jambalaya basics, you linger a little longer in Louisiana. And learn that while this Southern state is, in many ways, typically Southern it is not, in fact, Deep South. Unless you’re up north. Confused? When it comes to food, the northern part of the state shares commonalities with the Deep South, while in Southern Louisiana, well - it’s a fabulous smorgasbord of international influence, a fascinating blend of French, Spanish, African, Caribbean, Italian, Native American and other assorted culinary traditions. Take, for example, the regional differences in gumbo, a soup usually served with rice that ranges from thin to thick and boasts an ever changing ingredient list that can include anything from squirrel to potato salad, sausage to seafood, depending on what’s close to the stew pot and one’s ancestry. In short, Louisiana is a culinary adventure, whether you stick to The Big Easy, New Orleans, venture up north or skulk hungrily along the sultry coast.
Based in New Orleans there’s an abundance of largely local foods to try, from red beans and rice to popular lunch sandwiches like shrimp po’boys and muffulettas. Wash it all down with a true Southern iced tea before moving on to a Bananas Foster or piece of bread pudding for desert. Having trouble settling on a specific spot for dinner? It will matter less after a pre-dinner drink like the Sazerac cocktail, a Vieux Carre or an all in, make the world spin, Hurricane. Then choosing between Oysters Rockefeller or Crawfish Etouffe or Shrimp and Andouille Sausage Samantha won’t seem quite so complicated. Plan, of course, to to liberally dose your dirty rice with Tabasco sauce as needed (Tabasco is, after all, made nearby), though with the emphasis on spice in these parts, one might do well to work up to this gradually. With sensory excitement in mind, make a mental note come Fat Tuesday, to get a taste of New Orleans King’s cake, a traditional Mardi Gras recipe.
A number of these eats can also be sampled throughout the southern part of the state, along with a good range of fish, reptiles and seafood, from catfish and speckled trout to yes, alligator, and frog legs. Head up north and find less seafood and more pork, as well as a wide selection of wild game, regular fish fries, assorted beans, peas and plenty of corn, the latter eaten green, yellow or roasted, ground and baked into hushpuppies, hot water bread, egg bread, biscuits and hominy. Clearly, whichever road you chose when it comes to Louisiana comestibles a bigger belt might be in order.