Sarah Kenney goes to The Big Easy and comes back with memories of some amazing street food.
Text And Photo By Sarah Kenney
The food of New Orleans is just like its people and its style: unique, spicy, and varied. I love New Orleans food and there are so many dishes that take me right back to childhood memories. The french “po-boy” (or poor boy) sandwich is one of my favorites and I’ve certainly now hooked my kids. I don’t have photos of this sandwich but I sure can describe it. Crunchy french bread is essential, the kind you have to yank apart with your teeth. Delicious, hot, crispy fried seafood, shrimp or oysters, are two of my favorite options. A spicy mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato are the final additions. This is not a fancy sandwich. It was created to fill the hungry stomachs of workmen long ago.
All sorts of treats can be discovered in this dynamic city but I really wanted my kids to taste all of my childhood favorites.
First stop. Cafe du Monde for “The Beignets and Cafe au Lait”
I know! I know! Any local will say this is such a “touristy” thing to do. I couldn’t help it. I “heart” the powdered sugar-drowned beignets and the coffee is so velvety, strong, snappy, and smooth. I didn’t give a hoot if we looked touristy. In fact, I happily carried back my large can of “Cafe du Monde” Chickory flavored coffee. When my grandmother visited us out of state, she brought her own can with her in her suitcase!
Next up on the “must try” list were the pecan pralines. You definitely need a sweet tooth to eat more than one of these creamy confections. How to describe a praline? Firmer than fudge but not as chewy. Melts in your mouth like “divinity candy” but not as fast. Maple-y flavored…buttery …sort of… and definitely nutty with the added pecans. There is a little shop right in the French Quarter where you can watch them being made and then taste a sample. As a child, this was a surefire delight!
Last year, when we moved to Texas, we took our kids to a real Rajun Cajun restaurant called Randall’s in Louisiana. We ordered an appetizer of boiled spicy crawfish. They were delivered heaped on large trays and the steam and spices were wafting all around the table. This moment was priceless! Our kids were mortified that we were going to eat these “bugs”. We lived in the North and East Coast for the majority of their childhood. There weren’t any decent crawfish to give my kids as samples while they were growing up. So, they had never seen or been that close to “‘dem bugs”.
More for us! We cracked away!
I had no problem digging in and so did my Midwestern husband. Our kids were truly disgusted. We had morphed into bug-eating, juice sucking, claw cracking monsters in front of our kids. They never did try even one bite!! Not a twinge of remorse crossed my mind as we piled the empty crawfish carcasses (I mean shells) even higher on the huge trays. Yum. I still remember that meal…and my kids’ faces! Priceless!
In the French Quarter, I noticed a few items that were fun to try out. One was the grilled flavored corn. As we were meandering through the market, this wonderful smell drifted over us. I adore the taste of corn grilled. It has such a different taste than just boiled. The smoky-ness and spices that were added on top with melted butter made a tasty snack.
One treat that I found that my daughter likes, which was a childhood favorite of mine is kumquats. I have wonderful memories of running wild at my country school during our long recesses. My school bears no comparison to any of today’s schools. We had country air, fields to run in, wild blackberries to pick, and kumquats we plucked right off the trees. We would pick them off by the handfuls. Kumquats are like teeny tiny oranges. You pop one into our mouth and chew on the entire fruit. Its a wonderful mixture of tangy-ness and sweetness.
When you travel with teens, the street food options are always calling out to this age group. My son definitely noticed that in every little market we walked into there were Zappos chips prominently displayed. With titles like “Gumbo Voodoo” who could resist? We tried them for fun but we all agreed these are a thumbs up!
Oh, and last but not least! The “piece de resistance”. Cracklins! or Chitlins depending on which cajun you are talking to. I have wonderful memories of these morsels. Back then, (notice I am old enough now to say things like ‘back then.) you couldn’t buy cracklins in a store packaged the way you can today. They were just the leftover pig’s fat turned into a snack.
I remember my grandmother’s housekeeper, Rose, would make real cracklins when we were kids. These were greasy and hot little squares of pig skin with fat. She would fry them right there in the kitchen and then call my brothers and I to come for a sample. We would eagerly come running, anticipating the greasy deliciousness. We had no real idea of what we were eating (fried pig’s fat). Rose stood over us with a twinkle in her eye and a low chuckle in her throat.