Mardi Gras was last week. A friend of mine, who also happens to be a New Orleans native, invited a small group over to her apartment for some homemade jambalaya to celebrate the occasion. For her, one of the hardest things about living in DC has been the lack of New Orleans food options. She phrased it best when she exclaimed, “Do you know why people in New Orleans are fat? Because the food tastes good.”
A few friends and I actually went and visited her last year in the Big Easy. A day or so before our scheduled arrival, a storm ripped through the city and smashed a tree through her house. Fortunately, everyone was fine and her partner ended up with a cameo on local TV news programming.
In a true gesture of Southern hospitality, my friend’s partner’s family invited us into their home. We spent a week eating our way through New Orleans: gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish etouffee, muffaletta, Boudin balls, beignets. I ate it all. I even had alligator and shrimp cheesecake from renowned Jacques-Imo’s Cafe. The Food Network went behind the scenes to find out how the dish is made, and all I have to say is that the video doesn’t even begin to capture how delicious and melt-in-your-mouth-good it is.
The food is the reason I fell in love with New Orleans, but the people are the reason I will keep going back. The group of us, strangers to the city and its natives, were welcomed into people’s homes (literally and figuratively speaking). In every establishment we visited and every person we met, there was an intense sense of pride in heritage, respect for culture, and everlasting faith in Nola. The food was so good because it was made to feed you, body and soul.
Part of our visit included a brief tour to some of the areas that had been affected by Hurricane Katrina. Some communities were back on their feet, and others may never recover. This article tries to capture the relationship between New Orleans, food, and Katrina. It’s not wonder that some of the biggest tourism proponents post-Katrina were chefs like John Besh.
If you’ve never been, go. And if you have, go again.