Eating NOLA

Earlier this summer, I realized it had been three years since I had gone on a vacation.  The saddest part about this discovery was either that I really had no excuse for not having gone anywhere (I mean, technically I would say it was due to a lack of funds, but that’s what credit cards are for, am I right?), or the fact that the last vacation I went on was no more than a long weekend in Austin.  Not that Austin isn’t a great place to enjoy four days, but when half of the trip is spent in airports, it hardly counts as a leisurely break from life.  Regardless, I recognized this serious problem and I did something to change it.  Five hundred dollars later, I had booked a flight to New Orleans.  The trip has come and gone and I left the Big Easy feeling spiritually and physically fuller.  Riding a steamboat on the Mississippi connected me to the literary history of the South, wandering through the grimy crypts of old cemeteries helped me appreciate the fragility of human life, and eating pounds and pounds of food was just fucking awesome.  Seriously, one day I ate so much, I threw up (I’m such a lady!).  Everything was so unique to my San Diego palate, and get this–that kind of food was e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e.  I mean, I understood that Cajun food would be prevalent, but I thought it would be the same as jazz–I would see it, but it wouldn’t be all I saw.  WRONG AGAIN.  I only ever heard jazz or blues in bars, with the exception of some reggaeton artist named Daddy Papi or some shit coming on the Muzak during a break in bands at Bamboula’s, and that doesn’t count as we left right away.  But I digress.  The food was such a part of my trip and really helped me connect to the city.  That being said, here are my favorites:

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Crispy chicken wings and red beans and rice:  Over the weekend, there was a jazz festival a few blocks away from our hosts’ house.  We wandered down there throughout Saturday and Sunday to grab an Abita, listen to some music, and eat some of the delicious food from local vendors.  Much of the food being sold was from restaurants around the city who set up a tent with a limited menu, but the same great product.  The first night there I got a plate from The Praline Connection and it was the perfect intro to the local cuisine.  I’m not typically a fan of chicken wings, but these were super crispy and perfectly seasoned; I added a few dashes of Frank’s hot sauce for a little heat, but it was not necessary.  The red beans and rice were absolutely the best I’ve ever had.  They were rich, a little spicy, and the perfect consistency–the perfect sauce to rice/bean ratio, if you will.  The best part may be that it was an entire plate of food for just $7.  Visiting poor cities really has its benefits!

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Beignets:  I don’t quite understand how these have not spread in popularity in the way the cupcake or cronut has.  I had never had them before this trip which I find deeply unfair.  For those of you who are as unfortunate as I was until late, picture a dense French-bread-esque dough that is deep-fried, and smothered in powdered sugar.  Imagine biting into it, still hot, sugar dusting your lips and chin, and smiling and sighing and knowing everything would be okay, that the world was a beautiful place and no harm would ever come to you again… I’m getting emotional just thinking about it.  I was fortunate enough to have this divine experience at none other than Café du Monde, and they were only $2.50 for three!  I wonder how much it would be to have them shipped to San Diego overnight…

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Motherfucking barbecue:  New Orleans isn’t particularly known for its barbecue, but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to eat smoked meats.  I mean, it’s the South; it can’t be bad.  Katy’s friend recommended a place called The Joint that was about 15 minutes away and on a random neighborhood street corner which I have come to find means it’s authentic, and I’ve come to find that that means it’s usually really good.  The formula proved to be true for The Joint.  I got three meats because, obviously.  The pulled pork was juicy, the brisket melted in your mouth, and the ribs are the BEST I’ve ever had.  They have a gigantic smoker out on the patio where the meats are all cooked to sublimity.  We went here the day after my aforementioned food overload and expulsion so I could only pick at the meal.  I am embarrassed to say that I had to take the majority of it home in a doggie bag–not that it went to waste.  It was the perfect after-night-out-drinking snack but still.  It’s going to take me a long time to forgive myself for that.

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The Sno-Ball:  When I first heard about the sno-ball, I was skeptical.  I figured it was just a fancy snow cone–how wrong I was.  I found a little stand named The Imperial Woodpecker which was impossible to pass up on that fact alone.  I got myself a small sno ball with horchata syrup and condensed milk on top, and GOOD GOD was it amazing.  The ice was soft and didn’t compact and get all hard and weird the way snow cones do.  The condensed milk, recommended by the wise 15-year old girl who worked the stand, was a great addition to the horchata syrup.  It added some richness and kept it from getting too melty too quick.  And yes, melty is a word.  Though the sweetness was a little overpowering after time, it’s a price worth paying.  Just look at my smile: that’s pure happiness.

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Blackened Catfish Nuggets:  On our last day, Katy and I went to get gumbo, the last item on my desired food list.  We went to The Gumbo Shop which was really quaint and full of Southern charm.  The gumbo was pretty good, but not my favorite thing ever.  However, this catfish was phenomenal.  It was pretty salty but the acid of the lemon cut it perfectly.  The accompanying sauce was a sweet honey Dijon which paired really nicely with the fish.  The flavors were just so bold and powerful; I think that’s what I will miss the most about New Orleans.

Other honorable mentions include the pulled pork po’boy with wasabi coleslaw from Antoine’s; crawfish boulettes from Eat; and a crab, bacon, brie breakfast sandwich from the Cake Café.

On the flight home, Katy and I had time to reflect on our journey.  Among other things, we realized that I had consumed chicken, beef, crawfish, catfish, crab, shrimp, alligator, and pork prepared five different ways.  Needless to say, the trip was a success.

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