Mardi Gras mainstaysShrimp cakes, muffuletta rank high among festival’s eats.
I’ve never been to New Orleans but have always wanted to go there. If you think the reason is because I want to see the Saints play, you’re forgetting about what you’re reading.
The No. 1 attraction of New Orleans in my mind is the food. Some say dining there is truly an experience in itself, and it’s worth a visit just to enjoy the taste of New Orleans.
Everyone I’ve talked to after their return from the Big Easy has raved about the food. They said when it comes to eating, there’s no place like New Orleans, which is known as much for its delicious foods as for its residents’ love of living. Mardi Gras, which ends Tuesday at midnight, epitomizes both.
One of my co-workers and longtime crony, Ryan Bakken, visited New Orleans several years ago when a friend of ours worked there. He said one of the trip’s highlights was his daily excursion into the French Quarter, where he sampled jambalaya and gumbo to his heart’s content. (In the French Quarter alone, there are more than 300 restaurants.)
Cajun and Creole comes to mind when most people think about the food of New Orleans. While both cuisines rely on the culinary “holy trinity” of chopped green peppers, onions and celery and make generous use of file powder, there are some differences. Creole traditionally refers to a more sophisticated melding of French, Spanish, African and Caribbean influences (i.e. crab meat, richer more refined sauces), while Cajun, which also draws heavily on French and Spanish influences, includes cooking traditions from the rural communities west and south of New Orleans, where people live off the land (i.e. crawfish, Tasso ham).
But when it comes to Mardi Gras, both share the spotlight.
Cajun or Creole entrees you might find at a Mardi Gras party include the aforementioned jambalaya and gumbo, as well as seafood dishes such as blackened redfish, shrimp remoulade, etouffee and Louisiana-deviled crab cakes.
For dessert — an essential part of the feast — there are delicacies such as King Cake (also know as Twelfth Night Cake), an oval-shaped, sugary pastry that is served up with a surprise baked inside); beignets, a French-style deep-fried doughnut sprinkled with powdered sugar; and pralines, a confection made from brown and white sugar, cream, butter and nuts.
But New Orleans and Mardi Gras food is much more than Cajun and Creole. For example, traditional desserts also include paczki, a fried-doughnut dish from Poland.
And on the entree side, there is the muffuletta sandwich, which contains Genoa salami and ham as well as provolone cheese and is covered with a salad that includes olives and peppers. It traces its beginning to a Sicilian immigrant in New Orleans in the early 1900s. It has been described as one of “the great sandwiches of the world.”
I’ve tried my hand at Cajun and Creole cooking, mostly making gumbos and jambalayas. But despite my doing my best, I don’t think my efforts can hardly compare with the real thing.
A trip to New Orleans by me probably would mean a postponement of any dieting, since I definitely would have to try a variety of foods.
But really, who diets on vacation?
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at email@example.com.