With influences from all over the world fused into their food, Louisiana has a special place to brag when it comes to culinary artistry. They have beautifully combined the soul of Creole, Cajun, French, American Southern, West African, Spanish…well really, there’s traces of everyone in all the dishes. Flavors and spices are married in rich sauces and new-to-me meats, concluded with unbelievably decadent desserts at every meal. Before I ventured there I had no idea how diverse and rich the cuisine would be – not to mention how foreign it was in word, taste and presentation.
I personally tried every one of these great Louisiana eats first hand and worked diligently to bring you only the best from the state in every category. It was tough work. If you want to learn more about the South’s swinging food history and Louisiana food culture, make a pit stop at The Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans before digging into some of these tasty creations.
What are cracklins?
In particular, this blew my mind. They basically take slabs of pork belly, cut it into cubes and fry those suckers until crispy and greasy. People will order them by the paper brown bag full and snack away like people order smoothies back home. I was more than happy to have a few, but I felt like hibernating afterwards. Worth it.
Best Bet: B&O Kitchen & Grocery, Sulphur. They don’t have a website but trust me, it’s worth finding. Keep in touch on their Facebook Page.
What is etouffeé?
Sounds really fancy and take ages to prepare. But man is it good. This can be made with any meat, but is classic with seafood. Crawfish was my favorite. They take the meat and fixings blended with a blond roux, then drench the mixture over rice. Roux in itself takes hours to prepare, so you know the dish was made with love.
Best Bet: Pat’s of Henderson in Lake Charles. Having a meal there feels like stepping back in time to the 1950s South, but it’s part of their charm. Friendliest staff and wonderful atmosphere.
What is boudin?
It’s a ‘light’ sausage, but not as light as the French version. They stuff bits of pig, usually liver, in with spiced rice and wrap it up in natural casing. I ate it served whole as a main, mashed up into ‘boudin balls’, paired with cheese and baked into cornbread or mixed up with duck and rabbit in gumbo. None of these were a bad idea, this stuff is gold.
Best Bet: This was tough, it was literally good everywhere. But get some to-go at the LeBleu’s Landing and Sausage Link Specialty Meats shop in Sulphur where they have gifts to go and a viewing room to see sausage made.
What are pistolettes?
Let’s just take a good old dinner roll. Then, shove it full of shrimp and crawfish in a hearty brown sauce. Deep fry that whole thing, then drench it again in gravy. Tada, a pistolette!
Best Bet: Steamboat Bill’s, Lake Charles. It’s super laid back and food is served with plenty of napkins. You can get some boiled shrimp and crab after your pistolettes too to round out the Cajun experience. All the seafood is fresh and prepared to order.
What is Gumbo?
I thought I had had gumbo before and I was dead wrong. This was my first true gumbo experience prepared by award-winning Chef Lyle Broussard, where he created a gorgeous, darker-than-night roux that held duck and rabbit sausage among other wonderful ingredients. With some homemade potato salad on the side, it was enough to satisfy any appetite with some left over.
Best Bet: Jack Daniel’s® Bar & Grill at L’Auberge Casino Resort, Lake Charles. It has live music daily and is steps from a massive casino, what more could you want?
What are sweet beignets?
What are they? Heaven on earth. Puffy, doughy, sweet donut-like pastries usually smothered in powdered sugar. They eat them for breakfast usually, and for dessert too. The only exposure I had of these previously was watching the The Frog Prince (I was babysitting! I, um, swear…) and they surely didn’t disappoint.
Best Bet: I didn’t personally try them, but everyone says the most famous ones can be found at Café Du Monde in New Orleans – it looked a little too chaotic inside though to stop and sample. I feel like if I throw out my favorite I had elsewhere, it’d be wildly contested, so I’ll leave this one be for you to try them all.
What are savory beignets?
Same concept, but covered in seafood or meat. It’s like having a donut for lunch that you can get away with. This is less traditional, but recipes have been seen popping up more frequently in trendier hybrid restaurants.
Best Bet: Restaurant Calla in Lake Charles has blue crab beignets with avocado, almond and mint. It was one of the best things I ate all week.
This isn’t exactly a fancy dish or a new type of food, but it was the first time I had experienced it as a mainstay on several different menus. Of course I gravitated toward the fried variety, but I was pleasantly surprised to give grilled alligator legs a go too, it was really tasty.
Best Bet: Fried alligator at Cochon in New Orleans has a chili garlic mayonnaise sauce. Game over.
What are pralines?
Number one rule with this popular sweet treat is you need to pronounce it like a local. Down below the Mason Dixon, people say ‘prah-lean’ instead of ‘pray-lean’ as I’ve always know it to be. However it’s said, though, doesn’t take away from this incredible dessert. It’s straight sugar to the face and it’s divine.
Best Bet: Praline bread pudding at Brennan’s, New Orleans. You’re welcome in advance.
What are satsumas?
I never heard of these before! It’s like someone took regular clementines and sprinkled fairy dust all over them, giving birth to these super easy-to-peel, sweet citrus treats. I wish I could have smuggled a whole bag home. I don’t know if it’s a thing, but three different people on three separate occasions handed me one as a snack and I was happy to oblige.
Best Bet: Seasonal Satsuma Rum at the Bayou Rum distillery, Lacassine. These guys run a tight ship but know how to have a fun time too. I loved the look of their distillery and of course loved the shooters at the end. The white, spiced and satsuma kinds all went down so smooth. They also sell Capri-Sun-like pouches of straight liquor, so there’s that wonderful bonus perk.
I also need to give a special nod to Arnaud’s, which hands down had the best ambiance in Louisiana to have a massive fancy meal. It’s exactly how I pictured New Orleans people throwing a party, right off of Bourbon Street, sipping fancy versions of French 75’s. Although all the food was fantastic, the dessert stood out among the rest with tableside service. Get the bananas foster, port wine strawberries, praline crepes – or all of it. Trust me. Go all out on your budget, sample a little bit of everything Louisiana food culture has to offer, listen to live music and shut the place down right in the heart of the city.