Monday, September 30, 2013

New Orleans: Not Your Ordinary City

This post was going to be all about cookbooks I'm currently dying for, but once I started to go on about New Orleans I decided that this fantastic city deserves its own post. It's one of the most amazing places I've been to and if it weren't for the hurricane situation I would live there (to provide evidence for the previous statement - I've been there twice within one year, making it 2/3 of the trips I took). The food there is incomparable to anywhere else; New Orleans has it's own food culture that has remained unchanged since the city was created, with the addition of new influences as other people settled in the area from different countries. There's German, Caribbean, French, Spanish, and African influences that make up the unique flavors of the region.
One of my favorite pictures I took - Jackson Square
A Lesson on New Orleans
Many people don't know the difference between Cajun and Creole and they just associate them both with New Orleans as the same type of food. This is wrong. Creole is native to New Orleans, derived from the Spanish word "criollo," which means "native to a place. This style has evolved for almost 300 years, since the French start of the city in 1718; not long after the French ruled the area the Spanish took over and then people from all over Europe, West Africa, and the Caribbean came to the city and introduced new culinary methods and flavors. So this type of food is technically French because that's who began the whole thing, but so many cultures influence it that if you go to a French restaurant versus a true Creole restaurant the menus will not be identical by any means.

Cajun food originated in Louisiana as well, but in the whole entire southwest region. The French colonists that settled there came from Canada in the mid 1700s. In Canada it was common practice to hunt, fish, trap, and farm, so this continued when the French Canadians moved down to Louisiana. This style of cooking is often done all in one pot, which is actually an influence from the African and Caribbean women who were slaves and just cooked all day for the family that employed her. Cajun cooking was not really introduced to New Orleans, though, as a prominent flavor of the region until fairly recently in comparison to the origin of the area's deep roots in its cuisine's history.

John Besh was born and raised in Louisiana and in everything that he does, from his restaurants to his foundation, Besh makes it a priority to incorporate his roots. As far as his culinary endeavors go he preserves the history through ingredients and techniques in his restaurants while also promoting this through his cookbooks because of his true passion for it. Currently Besh's cookbooks are Cooking from the Heart, My Family Table, and My New Orleans: The Cookbook. The latter is the book I'm currently craving (no pun intended). On top of just including recipes, this unique cookbook also incorporates cultural information, history, essays, and insight into New Orleans from Besh's perspective. The reader (yes I am acting like this is a page-turning novel because that's how I would definitely treat it) can flip through and see dishes by season, such as "Crab Season" or "Mardis Gras," as well as the type of dish, illustrated by the chapter titled "Crawfish and Rice."

If you've never been to New Orleans you must go. Multiple times. The French Quarter is like nothing you've ever seen before and all of the boutiques, antique shops, history, museums, and restaurants will make you wish you lived there. I know it had that effect on me!


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