NEW OR­LEANS Food ex­pe­ri­ence

Let's Travel - - FRONT PAGE - Words and images by Shane Boocock

The birth­place of the ‘Dixie’. In 1835 the Cit­i­zen’s State Bank on the cor­ner of Royal and Iberville Streets in New Or­leans be­gan print­ing its own money in­clud­ing the ten-dol­lar bank note, with the French word for ten, Dix, printed on the note’s face. Amer­i­cans, who fre­quented the bank but spoke lit­tle French, soon started to re­fer to this sec­tion of town as the ‘Land of the Dix­ies’, hence the word ‘Dix­ieland’, which later be­came a com­mon phrase de­not­ing the French Quar­ter. The Land of the Dixie is in fact 12 blocks long and six blocks wide, how­ever Dixie even­tu­ally be­came syn­ony­mous with all of Amer­ica’s south­ern states.

One of the best vis­ual ref­er­ences for first time vis­i­tors to New Or­leans is the sight of all the dis­tinc­tive tombs in ceme­ter­ies as you drive in from the airport. It typ­i­fies the re­silience of this be­low sea level des­ti­na­tion that the best way to save their loved ones from lit­er­ally float­ing away, was for their long lost descen­dants to cre­ate the world’s first above ground burial crypts.

Ev­ery­one has of course heard of Mardi Gras, the world’s big­gest out­door party, but New Or­leans also boasts over 3,000 in­door bars, more per capita than any other city in the U.S.A.

“Na­woleans” as it’s of­ten pro­nounced, is a city with a jam­bal­aya pot full of south­ern roots hav­ing re­tained and main­tained its cul­tural her­itage, and dis­tinct ar­chi­tec­ture in streets with street­cars and elec­tric trams that bi­sect this city like a twisted and tan­gled net from a Bayou shrimp boat. Be­low the se­cond-storey cast iron rail­ings on Bour­bon Street you can still lis­ten to blues and jazz for free be­ing played by street-cor­ner mu­si­cians just across the way from some of Amer­ica’s best award win­ning Cre­ole restau­rants.

Be­sides the Ca­jun/Cre­ole food that in­cludes a hotch­potch of African, Caribbean and French Huguenot spices aided with a good dol­lop of Amer­i­can culi­nary in­flu­ences, this city is also famed for in­vent­ing the very first cock­tail. Yes, New York did not in­vent the cock­tail, as shock­ing as it sounds.

The tale of the cock­tail? In 1838, apothe­cary An­toine Pey­chaud rou­tinely con­flated brandy, ab­sinthe and bit­ters, which he al­ways served to friends as an aper­i­tif in an egg-shaped cup. In French, the cup was called a ‘co­quetier’. Amer­i­cans who couldn’t pro­nounce it prop­erly called the cup a ‘cock­tay’ and hence, the word ‘cock­tail’ was born. Orig­i­nally, the brandy used was Saz­erac de Forges et fils, but most bar­tenders even­tu­ally switched to a higher-proof rye whisky by 1870.

Pernod also re­placed ab­sinthe when it was banned in 1911 (amaz­ingly the ban wasn’t lifted un­til 2007).

Out­side it was a hot and hu­mid Louisiana day, so I did the right thing and found a seat in the stylish and iconic Teddy’s Bar in the Roo­sevelt Ho­tel in New Or­leans to learn how a Sazarac cock­tail is made, the world's first as we know it today. First, you’ll need a six-year old bot­tle of Ken­tucky Sazarac Straight Rye Whiskey, as well as a bot­tle of Pey­chaud’s Bit­ters, some­thing made only in Louisiana. If you are about to drink one, sip it slowly – very slowly – as this is one se­ri­ous heart start­ing or heart stop­ping cock­tail:

Chill an old fash­ioned glass with ice (how­ever, it’s al­ways served with­out ice) In a se­cond glass place one sugar cube and three dashes of bit­ters and blend • Add two ounces of a rye whiskey to the mix • Empty the ice filled glass and coat the in­side with ab­sinthe or Pernod • Dis­card the re­main­ing ab­sinthe • Strain the rye whiskey mix into the coated glass • Rim the glass with a lemon twist and drop into glass

From cock­tails to craw­fish pie! It was Hank Wil­liams who wrote the song lyrics for, Jam­bal­aya (On the Bayou), which in­cluded the well-known line, ‘Jam­bal­aya and a craw­fish pie and filé gumbo’. Jam­bal­aya, craw­fish and gumbo are prob­a­bly the most sta­ple of Louisiana home-cooked recipes, yet they are still served in many fancy New Or­leans restau­rants, of­ten with some of the chef’s pre­ferred in­gre­di­ents to add flavour or to make it a point of dif­fer­ence, but they are also dishes eas­ily cooked at home.

The wholly trin­ity of Ca­jun/ Cre­ole cook­ing is a ‘sofrito-like’ mix­ture of bell pep­pers, cel­ery and onions, ex­actly what you’ll need to start off a jam­bal­aya recipe. This Span­ish and French in­flu­enced dish will also tra­di­tion­ally in­clude a smoked sausage, such as a chorizo with ei­ther chicken, pork, cray­fish, shrimp or seafood added.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween a jam­bal­aya and a gumbo is that even though the gumbo uses sim­i­lar in­gre­di­ents and sea­son­ings, gumbo in­cludes both filé pow­der and okra, which are not used in jam­bal­aya. Also quite of­ten but not al­ways, gumbo is served over sep­a­rately cooked rice, whilst jam­bal­aya has the rice cooked with the other in­gre­di­ents in the same dish. The other pri­mary dif­fer­ence is the pres­ence of toma­toes in a jam­bal­aya, which is com­pletely ab­sent in a gumbo.

In the United States, Louisiana sup­plies about 95% of all har­vested craw­fish, bet­ter known to us as fresh­wa­ter cray­fish, of which about 70% are con­sumed in the state. About 75% of cray­fish pro­duced in Louisiana are red swamp craw­fish, and the re­main­ing 25% are white river craw­fish.

Craw­fish pie is sim­i­lar in ap­pear­ance to a pot (meat) pie dish, but in essence it’s a baked sa­vory pie us­ing craw­fish tail meat.

A visit to New Or­leans should, with­out doubt, in­clude drink­ing a Hurricane in the home of the Hurricane, Pat O’Brien’s on St. Peter’s Street. Built in 1817, you en­ter the build­ing through a for­mer car­riage­way where on the left you’ll find a reg­u­lar but some­times rowdy stand-up bar, and to the right you’ll find the duelling piano bar. In­side two pi­anists seated at two cop­per­plated pi­anos fa­mously whip the crowd into a fever with bois­ter­ous en­ter­tain­ment ac­com­pa­nied by pa­tri­otic south­ern songs. To the back of the build­ing is a small and of­ten crowded court­yard where well-dressed, gloved waiters serve drinks un­der shady trees as wa­ter foun­tains cas­cade into small troughs – all very ro­man­tic in­deed.

Opened by Ben­son Har­ri­son “Pat” O’Brien and his part­ner Charlie Cantrell in 1942, it’s said this bar has the high­est vol­ume of al­co­hol distribution per square foot in the world. Pat O’Brien had orig­i­nally op­er­ated the Club Tipperary in the French Quar­ter dur­ing the 1920s Pro­hi­bi­tion era, where en­trance to his speakeasy was the pass­word, “Storm’s Brew­ing”, hence the sig­na­ture drink be­came known as the Hurricane. To try this at home fill a Hurricane shaped glass (or a sim­i­lar glass hold­ing 600 ml) with ice and add four and a half ounces of 151 proof Caribbean rum, then top it off with a mix­ture of fresh fruit juices and gar­nish with a cherry and orange slice – what­ever ail­ment you may have – this will fix it!

As the sun sets on the Bayou back­wa­ters there are five things you should al­ways have on your list of what will make New Or­leans a dream va­ca­tion choice: 1. Try at least one Hurricane but

be­ware of more than two! 2. Find time to taste a gumbo soup

or a sea­soned dish of jam­bal­aya 3. Take a pad­dle driven steam­boat

ride on the Mississippi 4. Wan­der Bour­bon Street along­side all the tourists with a cock­tail or cold beer in your hand. 5. Try and pace your­self as you’re in

the party cap­i­tal of the world.

Sazarac cock­tail

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