Those French Quarter Specialties, Like Nowhere Else

New Orleans foodies are very particular about the their favorite native foods, so don’t confuse Cajun (which is “low country”) with Creole, and well, we wouldn’t dare mess with French cooking (say no more). Especially in the French Quarter these fine native dishes abound, so let’s look at the most popular:

Jambalaya: a traditional French and Spanish combination of andouille sausage, shrimp, chicken and sometimes pork, with an emphasis on meats rather than shellfish, all in a spicy and flavorful stew which includes rice and vegetables, the Creole style is native to the famed French Quarter; Cajun version does not include tomatoes; it’s your basic Spanish paella with a French Creole or Cajun twist;

Gumbo: Louisiana’s official state food, similar to jambalaya but includes filé powder (a spice from the sassafras tree) and okra, which are not common in jambalaya. Gumbo is also served separately over white rice; gumbos, étouffées, and creoles dishes are considered more complex in preparation (remember, you’re dealing with very specific versions here), and whether or not you are eating at a New Orleans restaurant or in other parts of the state; renowned chef Paul Prudhomme put gumbo on the map;

Crawfish Etouffee: another variation on gumbo and jambalaya which always includes crawfish or shrimp, and maybe crab, but does not have sausage or other meats; from the French word “smothered” and served over rice; considered a bit lighter than its two cousins;

(If you are planning on preparing any of the above dishes yourself, it would be wise to simply pick up a bottle of Paul Prudhomme’s or Emeril Lagassi’s blended spices to really do them justice.)

Po’ Boy and Muffaletta: New Orleans sandwiches, with very specific ingredients and breads (not to be found at any sub shop);

Red Beans ‘n Rice: just what it sounds like, a spicy rice dish with red kidney beans;

Oysters abound and are plentiful in New Orleans, fresh from the salty waters of the Gulf of Mexico, served raw with red sauce, Rockefeller-style or in an oyster loaf, lightly breaded and fried, between two slices of “pullman loaf bread” and slathered with mayo, topped with tomato slices, (not on any low-fat diet, to be sure, but delicious); shake on a few drops of hot sauce, open a cold brew and you’re eatin’;

Shrimp Remoulade: a Creole favorite, from famed restaurants Galatoire’s and Brennan’s, Gulf shrimp in a spicy tomato-based sauce, served with hard-boiled egg, sliced cucumbers and maybe a few olives, it’s a winner and don’t skimp on the Tabasco;

Andouille sausage: smoked pork sausage, originally brought to Louisiana by French immigrants that has been eagerly incorporated into much of Creole cooking; if you can’t find it, other sausage can be substituted but it just won’t be the same, and for heaven sake don’t use hot dogs;

Beignets and a strong cup of café au lait: high on any tourist’s list, these light fried doughnuts accompanied by strong coffee is why Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter is always crowded;

Creole Bread Pudding: similar to mom’s, but don’t serve it without bourbon sauce;

Bananas Foster: created and still top drawer at famed Brennan’s restaurant since 1951, this flaming dessert features a rich butter and brown sugar sauce, over vanilla ice cream;

Creme Brulee: legendary Commander’s Palace in the French Quarter rocks with their basic dessert, a version of flan or Italian creme caramel, but with a burnt sugar topping, adopted from Parisian chefs and first popularized in New York City at well-known restaurant Le Cirque (don’t tell that to any self-respecting New Orleans fan);

And of course, no article on New Orleans cuisine would be complete without two of their most popular (and potent) cocktails:

Hurricanes, made with two kinds of rum and fruit juice, don’t leave home without aspirin or a designated driver; and

Ramos Gin Fizz, a delightful combination of gin, lemon and lime juice, cream, egg white and club soda, don’t be fooled by its seemingly innocent frothy taste, it can be deadly if you drink a few; created by Henry Ramos, who operated the Imperial Cabinet Saloon in downtown New Orleans, sadly no longer in existence, but happily the drink is still immensely popular; this is not your basic gin and tonic;

Well, there you have it. The best New Orleans has to offer. No other place does it quite as well, and locals will be the first to tell you that. If you’re fortunate enough to make your way to New Orleans, don’t miss these incredible dishes. The Big Easy could well be called The Big Waistline. Enjoy.