I never pictured myself digging into a mountain of crawfish with my hands, having alligator as an appetizer or considering deep-fried pickles as normal (and delicious). Any food lover should savor Louisiana’s unique culinary history, which few – if any – US states can live up to. These ten signature dishes and drinks will get you started.
#1- Po’ Boy
As its name indicates, the Po’ Boy is anything but fancy; derived from “poor boy”, it came to life as a left-over sandwich served up to New Orleans’ less fortunate. Nowadays, Louisiana’s favorite sandwich can be filled with pretty much anything, from BBQ shrimp to classic roast beef and fried oysters. The common denominator is the french bread: crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside.
#2- Caneland Distillery
Louisiana is scattered with antebellum plantations, many of which used to thrive on sugar cane. Caneland Distillery in Baton Rouge shows how Louisiana’s most successful crop makes it from plantation to cocktail. After a free tour of the distillery, you can pick five of their eight varieties of rum, whiskey and vodka to taste.
Louisiana summers bring about eight months of unbearable heat and humidity. During this time, sno-balls come to the rescue. This typical Louisiana sweet treat is made of finely shaved ice and flavored cane sugar syrup. Flavors range from watermelon to cake batter and bubble gum, or rainbow for the undecided.
#4- Crawfish Boil
From January to April, the crawfish is the star of the weekend in Louisiana. Crawfish season brings an abundance of these little lobsters to the Louisiana waters, and an equally big crowd gathers to boil them alive. More than just a signature dish, a crawfish boil is an event shared with family and friends. The crawfish are cooked in a large casserole filled with spicy broth, accompanied by potatoes and corn- any additions depend on the cook’s creativity. Every local has his own technique to get the meat out of the shell, which makes it all the more confusing to a first-timer.
Gators are everywhere in Louisiana, including on the menu. They are typically served as an appetizer, in bite-sized pieces along with a dipping sauce. Variations include blackened, grilled and of course, deep-fried. Pair with a beer at the bar of a neighborhood staple like Sammy’s Grill.
#6- Fried Pickles
When I first moved to the Deep South, I took pictures of all the deep-fried items I would find on the menu. A couple weeks in and fried pickles were my number one appetizer. The South most certainly broadens your culinary horizon. The pickles are cut into thin slices, dipped in batter and deep-fried, served with ranch.
#7- Abita Beers
Abita Brewing Company is a brewery based in the sleepy town of Abita Springs. With beers like the Andygator and Big Easy IPA, you’re unmistakably diving into Louisiana culture. Pair with fried pickles, boudin balls and blackened alligator for a Louisiana-style after-work.
#8- Boudin Balls
It doesn’t get more Cajun than boudin balls. Cajun food dates back to the 1700s, when French settlers in the Acadia region of Canada were expelled from their land and relocated to Louisiana. They developed a rustic cuisine, characterized by tasty seasoning and the holy trinity; onion, celery and bell pepper make up the base for every Cajun dish. Louisiana boudin is a sausage made of Cajun seasoned “dirty” rice and ground pork, stuffed into pork casing. It wouldn’t be Louisiana if they didn’t have a deep-fried version of it. The casing is replaced by a layer of batter and fried into delicious boudin balls.
Gumbo represents the culinary melting pot that is Louisiana. Influences from Africa to France and the Caribbean come together in this delicious stew. There are many versions, but my favorite consists of a dark roux, okra, the Holy Trinity and lots of seafood, served over rice. New Orleans has a festival dedicated to Gumbo in all its variations every November. At any other time, New Orleans institution The Commander’s Palace serves up a great gumbo in style.
#10- Turtle Soup
Another speciality of this iconic restaurant is turtle soup. Just like gators, turtles can be found everywhere in Louisiana; turtle soup however cannot. It used to be a true delicacy, part of presidential dinners and Thanksgiving buffets. After it was commercialized into a Campbell Soup can, turtle soup started to loose its appeal. The Commander’s Palace in New Orleans serves it up classy just like in the good old days, topped off with a shot of sherry.