French Quarter Balcony
New Orleans is located in the state of Louisiana, on the Mississippi River, near the Gulf of Mexico. The city is abbreviated, and affectionately referred to as NOLA. In addition, it has garnered many other nicknames including "The Big Easy,""The Birthplace of Jazz," "N'awlins," "Crescent City" and many more.
Perhaps the most visited place in NOLA is the French Quarter. Founded by the French in 1718, the Quarter is the oldest neighborhood, and the heart of the city. I personally love the gaslights that line many of the streets. The flames dance and flicker, casting shadows and creating a warm ambiance.
Andrew Jackson Statue
To start acquainting myself with the city, I took a long walk, starting on Bourbon Street through the French Quarter. In the center of the Quarter, I found the Andrew Jackson statue located in Jackson Square, a historic park designed after the 17th century Place des Vosges in Paris, France.
The 1853 statue of Andrew Jackson riding a rearing horse is the first, large, equestrian statue of a horse standing on only two legs. This is impressive from an engineering standpoint due to the difficulty of balancing so much weight on only two points, without using the tail or something else as an additional support.
St. Louis Cathedral
Next to the Andrew Jackson statue, is the St. Louis Cathedral. Built in 1727, the St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest, continuously active, Roman Catholic Church in the United States. The cathedral is one of the most famous NOLA landmarks.
On the back side of the St. Louis Cathedral is a statue of Jesus. After dark, floodlights project the statue's dramatic shadow onto the cathedral.
Joan of Arc Statue
Near the French Market, I found another statue of a horse and rider. The Joan of Arc statue, created in the late 1800s, was a gift from France, as are the two bronze cannons, dating back to 1813, that flank the statue.
In addition to the architecture, parks, churches and sculptures, the food scene is another reason to visit NOLA, and the main subject of this post. There are so many iconic dishes that reflect this city's history and the French, African and American influences that make the cuisine here so unique. Here are some foods I discovered during my visit that are uniquely NOLA-esque.
My first stop was at the renowned Cafe du Monde for beignets. This French Market, open-air, coffee stand has been serving French-style beignets and cafe au lait blended with chicory, since 1862.
These deep-fried dough squares, loaded with powdered sugar, have been a mainstay of NOLA since the 17th century when the Acadians brought them over from France. At Cafe du Monde, you can purchase beignets 24 hours a day.
If you don't have the time to brave the line at Cafe du Monde, or you are looking for a quieter setting, Morning Call is another option that serves beignets and coffee.
Morning Call has been around for more than 150 years. The ambiance is that of an old school soda fountain.
In addition to coffee and beignets, they also serve food including jambalaya and red beans with rice. Wherever you choose to enjoy your beignets in NOLA, make sure to eat them right out of the fryer when they are hot and fluffy.
My next stop was at Central Grocery and Deli for a muffuletta, a sandwich created in NOLA. Central Grocery has been open since 1906. Its original owner, Salvatore Lupo created the first muffuletta sandwich by layering meats and cheese on locally baked bread with a generous spread of the family's Italian Olive Salad. This Sicilian-American sandwich is made with sesame seed dusted bread that lands somewhere between ciabatta and focaccia. The sandwich is sweet, sour, savory, meaty and delicious.
Boudin is another signature dish of Louisiana. Traditional boudin is made with cooked pork, rice, onions, peppers and spices, all stuffed into a sausage casing and then steamed or grilled. This Cajun sausage, with French roots, is devoured for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between by locals.
Poor Boys or Po'Boys were created in 1929 in Louisiana by Benny and Clovis Martin, brothers who worked as streetcar conductors. During a strike, the brothers began handing out the sandwiches, free of charge, to the striking workers. In order to maximize surface area, the brothers worked with a bread producer to create a new, large, uniform loaf and filled it with roast beef. Today, po'boys are found stuffed with a variety of ingredients including fried shrimp or oysters.
Antoine Alciatore opened Antoine's Restaurant in New Orleans in 1840. 59 years later, his son, Jules Alciatore, who was running the restaurant, struggled to deal with a snail shortage that threatened to impact the restaurant, where escargot was a dish in high demand.
In a stroke of genius, he decided to replace the snails with oysters, which were both less expensive and plentiful. He topped the oysters with a green sauce and named the dish "Oysters Rockefeller" because the sauce was the color of money and he wanted diners to associate it with millionaire, J.D. Rockefeller.
I know this is a popular preparation of oysters that many people like. I also feel fortunate to have tried it where it was created. That said, I much prefer raw oysters or the grilled oysters I had at FIG and Leon's in South Carolina. Though I did not enjoy this dish, I am glad I gave it a try and hope you do too.
Today, gumbo is associated with Louisiana and Cajun cooking. This dish however, has roots in West Africa. In fact, the word "gumbo" comes from the West African word "ki ngombo" which means "okra." The original dish was introduced in Louisiana by enslaved West Africans. Since then, the recipe has been influenced by European (addition of roux) and Native American (addition of sassafras leaves) culture. In an upcoming post, I will share the best place to have a bowl of gumbo in NOLA.
Calas are another New Orleans tradition. This dish also originated in West Africa and was brought to Louisiana by West African slaves. These fritters are made with leftover rice that is formed into balls and cooked, using the West African tradition of deep frying. The balls are then drizzled with condensed milk. This dish is quite decadent and therefore ideal to share. At least for me, one bite of these rice doughnuts was plenty to satisfy my sweet tooth.
Bread pudding recipes showed up in New Orleans cookbooks as early as 1885. Bread pudding has its roots in Britain, but the dish we know and love today is credited to enslaved Africans. Slave owners gave only stale bread to their slaves who then added milk, eggs, sugar and spices to make this delicious dessert that can be found throughout NOLA. Today, you'll find bread pudding in New Orleans accompanied by a healthy drizzle of Bourbon sauce that not only tops and surrounds it, but also soaks into the bread, giving it even more richness.
With that, I'll conclude my introduction to NOLA nosh. There is more to come with regard to all I discovered in this vibrant city including more food, music, art, and even an encounter with an alligator. Stay tuned.