Posted By: Gareth Vaughan, Political Officer
Arguably one of the most distinctive of the United States of America’s 50 states, Louisiana is perhaps best known for its annual Mardi Gras celebration. In traveling throughout the state, however, any visitor will quickly realize that there is far more to Louisiana than Bourbon Street. Named for King Louis XIV, the French were the first to claim the Louisiana territory as their own. As settlers from such areas as French Acadia (now part of Canada) moved to Louisiana, they brought with them slaves from Africa and the Caribbean, and the state’s unique Creole and Cajun cultures began to develop. The impact of Louisiana’s French ancestry can still be felt today across Southern Louisiana, from French language news reports in Lafayette, to New Orleans, where such world famous restaurants as Galatoire’s and Café du Monde serve Creole dishes like shrimp etouffee and powdered sugar donuts known as beignets.
Louisiana’s inimitable mixture of French, Spanish, African and general U.S. cultures makes it a food lover’s paradise. Most visitors likely find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer diversity of Louisiana’s food. Although most people tend to think of New Orleans restaurants when they think of Louisiana, delicious food can be found in all of the state’s varied regions. I am not a native Louisianan, but I have had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time traveling throughout the state, and while one of my favorite spots for fried shrimp in Cameron Parish may or may not have survived Hurricane Gustav in 2008, there are still a great number of places that I am hoping to visit on my next trip back to the United States.
New Orleans is undeniably the center of Louisiana cuisine. Some of the best known chefs in the world have worked here, including Chefs Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme. Today, millions of food lovers visit New Orleans to feast on its world famous Po’Boy sandwiches and sip Sazeracs in any of the city’s hundreds (thousands?) of bars. Alongside the muffelatta, an often massive sandwich that features a variety of Italian meats paired with an olive salad, the Po’Boy is likely New Orleans’ most well-known culinary creation. The Po’Boy sandwich typically consists of fried shrimp or oysters or roast beef. Order it dressed with shredded lettuce, tomato and mayo – or without. For the more adventurous, most restaurants serve such traditional Cajun and Creole delicacies as boudin balls (deep fried and battered pork and rice sausage), hog’s head cheese (essentially what it sounds like), and fried alligator.
Louisiana’s cuisine is built on seafood, and shrimp and oysters in particular play a big role in any number of Cajun and creole dishes, including gumbo and jambalaya – two of Louisiana’s most well-known dishes. The crawfish plays perhaps the most important role in Louisiana cuisine. While the Louisiana crawfish tends to be of a much smaller variety than the Ukrainian version, it’s just as delicious and is best prepared in a pot of hot water, lemons and Cajun seasoning and served on a newspaper-lined table, along with corn, smoked sausage, potatoes and some of Louisiana’s finest Abita beer. A little further afield from New Orleans, less than an hour’s drive east of the city of Lafayette, is the small town of Breaux Bridge, most famous for its annual crawfish festival – an event that has earned it the nickname “Crawfish Capital of the World.” The annual festival is a true celebration of the crawfish, and features food, music, dancing, games, and a parade – all dedicated to crawfish.
There is, of course, much more than food to attract visitors to Louisiana. From Baton Rouge to Shreveport, from New Orleans to Lake Charles, or from Lafayette to Alexandria, Louisiana offers the visitor an inviting mix of recreation, history, and hospitality. Nature lovers can explore the bayous of Southern Louisiana, alive with turtles, snakes, alligators, birds, and other wildlife. History buffs can visit forts, antebellum mansions and plantations – or ride a paddle steamer up the Mississippi River. New Orleans also offers the music fan any number of opportunities to listen to local blues, jazz or the unique ‘zydeco’ music (the Embassy was pleased to feature Terrance Simien and the Zydeco experience at our America Days in Dnipropetrovsk April 23-26). Louisiana has something for everyone, and its guests tend to leave with a strong desire to return as soon as possible.