New Orleans & the food of the South

I must confess – upon reading Sara Roahen‘s book ‘Gumbo Tales‘ I was completely taken by New Orleans. I love the way that she interweaves the stories of the traditions of the city with the characters who uphold them. Everyone, it seems, has a favourite or special way of doing something: be it their favourite Sazerac or how to make a roux, everyone has an opinion. Yet I wasn’t sold on the rich style of cooking, and even if I wished to love it, simply for the romance than anything else, I was concerned that I would be dissappointed.

As you might know from my previous post about our first evening, I wasn’t immediately impressed – but I won’t digress. Things got way better from then on in. What I needed first was to relax into the city, a suggestion from S who is from New Orleans but currently living in London. This was helped along by lunch on our first day of on this trip at Domilise’s Po-Boy shop in Uptown. Guided by our new friend, we ordered our first oyster-dressed po-boy with Barq’s root beer.. and some real beers too. Reasurred that the food fulfilled the hopes built by Ms Rohan’s book, I relaxed and so began our week in New Orleans.

The Saints are the New Orleans’ current champions of the Superbowl – something I wasn’t aware of until we arrived, but after being here for a few hours you soon realise the importance of this win for the city. We watched one of the pre-season matches while we visited Tonique, a little bar at the top of the French Quarter where S continued his search for the best Sazerac, and I sampled others.

Besides a quick trip to Marigny that night, to see a jelly wrestling competition on the Saturday, the other noteworthy place we visited wasΒ The Butcher @ Cochon, which is what it says on the tin. The Butcher was a perfect way to lose a rainy Sunday afternoon. Pork belly sandwich for me, Pulled pork sandwich for the rest of the gang. Very Southern. We should almost add Pulled pork sandwiches to the burger count. If we did, S would be way in front.

Monday is traditionally ‘red bean and rice’ day. The reason? Monday was washing day, and because you were busy with the laundry, you needed to cook a dish that could be prepared with very little attention. As with many traditions in this city, this continues to be practiced in both restaurants and in homes. We had it first for lunch on Magazine St and then again when we popped into Tujagues for a quick afternoon cocktail. While I was sampling my Angostura Rum Phosphate and S was trying another Sazerac – which for the record, he thought was the best one yet – we were enticed to stay for food, in the bar, not in the fancy-pantsy linen clothed restaurant. Phil, the bartender to whom you can watch on one of our videos (when we finally get them edited) ordered for us and moments later we were eating shrimp remoulade (I asked what the two differences of the remoulade was and was told: “red and white”), brisket which is corned beef by any other name, and another plate of red beans and rice. That brisket is damn fine, but it was the lovely hot horseradish sauce that lifted it up to brillant. Wasn’t so hooked on the remoulade but the red beans and rice with corn bread was fantastic.

The following day, after a quick sno-ball at Hansens and chat with Sarah, the author of the book I keep harping on about, we headed out to Dooky Chase’s in Treme where we sampled our first fried chicken of the trip. I had a seafood platter and a bowl of gumbo. Delicious. This restaurant was started in the 1960’s as the first fine dining specifically for the African American community. It was used as a place to gather during the civil right movement and has a large collection of African American art that adornes the walls.
It was this last meal in New Orleans that sealed the deal for us. After extending our stay here by another day, we knew that we had to continue on our way. Up the Mississippi we would be heading and searching for the elusive juke joint music and some more of that fine fried bird.


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