A History of New Orleans Food Tour
A destination bachelorette party in New Orleans to celebrate the forthcoming wedding of my dear friend Melissa reunited some of my closest companions from college. A decade of friendship, Melissa ranks among my first friends when our mutual high school acquaintances connected us for a night of dancing after our early move-in to the freshman residence hall.
Fast forward through years of surviving dormitories as Resident Advisors, pulling all-nighters at the Undergraduate Library (aka Club UGL), living together in Hancock House, joining Greek Life, reveling in too much fun, partaking in awkward double dates to today — a rich, layered, and delicious friendship.
In a way, this friendship likens to the food of New Orleans, with a history that is also rich and layered and delicious. Influenced by the relationships of people, place, and culture, New Orleans cuisine evolved with time and adapted as history unfolded.
A tasty parallel exists between food and friendship, and we experienced both during a flavorful history of New Orleans food tour with Doctor Gumbo.
Our guide, Lindsey, weaved authentic narrative with animated imagery and storytelling during the New Orleans food tour. Her words captivated us, transporting us through a time portal when New Orleans first developed as a French port colony. One thing is certain: I definitely would have paid more attention in history class had the lesson been accompanied with a beignet.
I’m not one to divulge all the knowledge gained on a tour, as a believer that tours are best experienced firsthand, but here’s a sampling of Doctor Gumbo’s food tour to give you a taste of New Orleans food history.
NOLA with a Twist
The perfect restaurant to kick off the New Orleans food tour, Sobou introduces an elegant twist to New Orleans culinary classics. A sconce of pork cracklins led with a crunch. What’s a pork cracklin? Dried and fried pig skin. “Addicting” is the best descriptor for this crispy snack.
Next the boudin ball, something I’d never heard of before. A ball of deep fried pork sausage and rice adorned with spicy mustard is exactly as delicious as it sounds.
To end, the beignet gets bougie. Sobou served a warm fluffy sweet potato beignet crisped to perfection topped with cream cheese frosting, crumbled bacon and a crystalline deep fried mint leaf. This was the first (of many) times where I actually considered grabbing all the samples and run off to enjoy all by myself.
Spice Up Your Life
When lost in translation, make it up.
“Cajun” derives from a language barrier when the Acadians from present-day Nova Scotia/northeast Canada escaped The Great Upheaval and migrated to New Orleans and its French Catholic roots. “Je suis Acadian” misheard as “I am a Cajun” developed to the Cajun culture we know today. The Acadians (or shall we just call them Cajuns at this point?) knew how to make gamey meat taste better: lots of spices and seasoning. Cajun spices and seasoning!
Pepper Palace is the house of worship for all spice lovers, with seasonings and hot sauces that bring that beloved New Orleans flavor. It’s a tasting room where you can try before you buy your souvenir. For the brave, sign a waiver to try Pepper Palace’s dangerously hot hot sauce.
As friendship is the spice of life and the best of friends support each other’s drinking habits, Melissa and I purchased a bottle of Pepper Palace Bloody Mary mix, which will be split and shared soon when she’s in town next.
How Sweet It Is
Another pronunciation miscommunication: it’s PRAH-leen not PRAY-leen. This overly sweet fudge-like treat’s origins (and namesake) began with a stomachache. The Comte du Plessis- Praslin ate almonds to cure his indigestion, when his doctor suggested adding sugar and BAM! the praline was born. Sugar was an important industry to New Orleans during the 19th century. I think Mary Poppins was on to something when she sang “Just a Spoonful of Sugar.”
If you suffer from a serious sweet tooth, the praline will cure your adversity. Guests of the New Orleans food tour also received bacon pecan brittle in addition to the classic pralines.
Better Between Bread
Enter NOLA’s most famous sandwiches: the poboy and muffuletta.
If you think poboy sounds like poor boy, you are correct. When New Orleans workers on strike faced financial woe and hunger, the Martin Brothers Coffee Stand provided free sandwiches. Cheap and easy to make, the original striking worker poboy comprised of thick french bread, roast beef, and gravy. Say “here come those poor boys” in a New Orleans accent — there’s the poboy. Our New Orleans food tour served us a fried catfish poboy
In the 1850s Sicilians flocked to New Orleans. Of course they brought with them the deliciousnesness that created the first muffuletta at Central Grocery — thick itialian bread with a crispy sesame seed crust cradling layers of ham, salami, mortadella, swiss, provolone and marinated olive salad that gives the muffuletta its distinct taste. There’s debate about whether the muffuletta should be served cold or toasted. Regardless, I’m convinced that this may be the greatest sandwich ever created.
A History of Delicious
A historic gem since 1856, Tujagues is the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans. The interior maintains its old world charm with photos, collectibles, and memorabilitia documenting its past and history. An expansive grand bar imported from France greets guest upon entering. The ancient bar is the oldest stand up bar in the US. Tujagues’ claim to fame includes the invention of the minty grasshopper drink and the moddest beginnings of the first brunch from Madame Begue. Our tour group bellied up to the historic bar and ate the same recipe used back in Tujagues beginnings: tender melt-in-your-mouth Creole beef brisket with zesty horseradish sauce.
Luck of the Gumbo Friendship
DICKIE BRENNAN’S TABLEAU
It surprised me to learn of the strong population of Irish immigrants in New Orleans. In the 1840s, one of five New Orleans residents orginated from Ireland. Why? To escape the potato famine. The Brennans are an Irish family known as a culinary dynasty in the New Orleans dining scene. Their legacy of fine New Orleans dining includes many well known names, such as Commanders Palace. And the final restaurant on our food tour.
To conclude the New Orleans food tour, our group assembled at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau, a restaurant on the corner of Jackson Square. Here we finally indulged in that famous New Orleans dish: seafood gumbo. The makings of Gumbo are a blend of the cultures that define NOLA. The name itself, gumbo, is derived from the Bantu word for Okra.
While conducting additional research about gumbo etymology, I read that gumbo was considered a cure to inflammatory ailments of the chest for those voyaging to New Orleans in its infancy. Another staple in New Orleans cuisine (and key ingredient in gumbo) from French cooking is the roux.
There are different kinds of rouxs: white (béchamel), blonde (veloute), brown, and dark. The darker the roux, the longer it simmers to develop that deeper, caramelized color. The darker the roux, the richer and more complex the flavor. The roux is the base of gumbo. It must be handled with care or it could burn. It must be cooked with patience to achieve that dark color.
Remember when I said that New Orleans food ikens to friendship? Thick and flavorful as a dark roux for gumbo are my friendships. Handed with care. Building on flavor with time. How delicious it is.
So I guess I’m lucky, because in the tasty world of food and friendship, my friendship is gumbo friendship.
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