A travel blog sprinkled in literature and served up with a dollop of foods from around the globe.

Monday, 17 March 2014

“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.” - Mark Twain

In June 2013, I visited New Orleans, Louisiana, whilst travelling around the US and Central America. It was my first stop back in Northern America, after spending two months in Mexico and Guatemala. The fact that there were running toilets and I wasn't dubiously inspecting my street food and picking off the dead flies and ants made it already widely inviting.

A city brimming in its cultural history, I caught a streetcar into town and walked up from the river into the French Quarter, I found art galleries, local jazz joints and stopped in a few infamous voodoo shops to pick up a love potion or two. I had always been given a perception of the city from the sweltering, scenes in Tennessee Williams' infamous play "A Street Car Named Desire"

"for New Orleans is a cosmopolitan city where there is a relatively warm and easy intermingling of races in the old part of town." (1) 

This 'intermingling' is also the perfect way to describe the cuisine of New Orleans often described as NOLA. The cuisine is created from an amalgamation of the Creole, haute Creole, and New Orleans French cuisines, French, Spanish, Italian, African, Native American, Cajun, Chinese, and a hint of Cuban traditions which provide a signature Louisiana taste. 

As discussed in my previous posts, the idea of ownership of a cuisine is problematic in the sense that once the centuries have gone by and one cook whispers a recipe into the ear of another, plagiarism becomes 
obsolete. There is a cultural reciprocity occurring throughout food worldwide and as in many US states.

In her cookbook Soul and Spice, North Californian born Heidi Cusick shows the reader the culinary links between Africa and America. In her forward Jessica B. Harris writes on the importance of transferring African and Caribbean recipes to those without the cultural identity behind the cuisine. Cusick is an author  "that takes it from the hands of those that created it and transports it gently and with affection and respect to the tables of those who love to eat well." The 'respect' Harris refers to in her foreword, is a comment on authenticity. When translating cuisine from other nationalities there is a fear of sounding in authentic and succumbing to accidental, pejorative cultural appropriation. The way in which Cusick combats this is to use testimonies from local men and women and give these cooks the credit in which they are due.

I chose to recreate one of my favourite Creole dishes 'Jambalaya'! 

Cusick credits Helen Comeaux for this dish:

"In a traditional jambalaya, like this one shared by Helen Comeaux, a seventy-year-old Creole from Lafayette Louisiana, all the ingredients are cooked in one big pot." (184)

"Helen Comeaux, who grew up on a farm in Maurice, Louisiana, where she began cooking at age eight, starts her jambalaya with pork ribs, cut into small pieces. And she washer the rice before adding it to the jambalaya, to minimize the starchiness and keep the grains separate."

The small details of the Helen's past and the little tips included by the author made this dish feel homely, I could picture the 70 year old Helen stood over her pot stirring methodically and effortlessly while her grandchildren all dipped their fingers in for a taste.

Serves 6-8

5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1, about 3 pounds, cut into pieces and skinned chicken
1/2 pound cajun or spicy link sausages, cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds
1 large yellow onion
1 green bell pepper (I recommend using red, the green pepper has a sour taste to it)
4 garlic cloves
1 to 2 dried chillies
2 tablspoons flour
3 cups of shrimp stock
2 teaspoons dired thyme (crushed)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 bay (leaves)
1 can tomatoes with their juice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and ground pepper
2 cups long grain white rice
1/2 pound medium shrimp
Tabasco or other Louisiana hot-pepper sauce. (A MUST!)

This dish is time consuming but very easy to create, I added my rice dry, contrary to Helen's advice, to save on washing up. (A rice pot isn't the easiest to clean) so letting the rice cook with the juices of the dish gives the rice more flavour, but as Helen predicted it left my dish slightly starchy. I would also substitute green peppers for red, as they gave off a sour taste. The ‘mixing’ involved in creating this dish corresponds to the multicultural nature of New Orleans with each ingredient added you are able to see the interweaving blend of cultures. 

Finally, I could not discuss NOLA cuisine without mentioning the infamous 'beignets'! [Ben-yays] There is no place finer in the city to get them than the "Cafe du Monde" in the French quarter where I queued for 45 minutes for two of the delicious powdered desserts. Popularised by Disney's The Princess and The Frog, the clip below gives a funny caricatured idea of the way in which the South appreciate their food, especially Southern gentlemen!

Until next time, happy scoffing!


Cusick-Dickerson, Heidi H. Soul and Spice: African Cooking in the Americas. San Francisco: Chronicle, 1995. Print.

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire: A Play. New York: New Directions, 1947. Print.

Until next time, happy scoffing!

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