New Orleans – a foodie haven of passion, jazz, and cultural explosion

Jack May 24 September 2015

Tennessee Williams, author of the New Orleans play A Streetcar Named Desire, is reputed to have said "America has three cities: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans, everywhere else is Cleveland". He may have had a point.

A melting pot of jazz, Bourbon, and of course European,  African and Native American cuisine, it appears New Orleans has it all. Given this, the atmosphere in New Orleans is understandably electric. On an evening on Bourbon Street – strongly rumoured to have given the whisky its name – expect to be serenaded by top notch jazz bands in the street, pick up a $6 Bloody Mary (better than any breakfast vice you'll get in England) and savour an alligator kebab which runs circles around the donar kebab, despite its scaly nature.

There is too much of New Orleans cuisine to cover in one article. This city divided by the plenteous Mississippi River is overflowing with fish, shrimp, crab, vegetables, fruit, and… you get the picture. Take jambalaya: think the Spanish risotto, paella, with a healthy kick of tabasco and an even more colourful mixture of seafood, meat and vegetables.

Shrimps and grits: a New Orleans sensation.  Image: Hetty Gullifer

Perhaps you would prefer the comfort food nostalgia that is evoked by shrimps and grits – shrimps cooked in a barbecue sauce, spread over a cheesy, buttery sort of polenta. Even if these dishes are to hot for your tastebuds, I dare anyone to turn down a plate of Bananas Foster. Whilst many would consider bananas clambered and dosed in a rum rich caramel a classic combination, New Orleans can proudly lay claim to that amalgamation's origin.

All that being said, any local will reproach you if you don't try a cup of Gumbo. It was originally named from the Bantu (a language of Southern and Central Africa) 'Ki ngombo', meaning okra – a pepper-like vegetable originating in Africa. Slaves brought over from Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries would stir up pots of thick soups made up of okra, sausage and shrimp served with rice – another import from the slaves.

Gumbo has become a metaphor for the mix of cultures omnipresent in Louisiana. Although first made by African slaves, the dish incorporated the French, Spanish and Native American cuisines that have touched New Orleans through the years. The dish is based on the 'Bouillabaisse' fish stew of the French, using the Andouille sausage created during the brief Spanish occupation of New Orleans and bulked up by the Native American staples: corn, green beans and potatoes.

Nowadays Gumbo is seen on menus all around New Orleans, but even the tourist restaurants take pride in serving up an authentic version of this dish. That is the beauty of New Orleans. Food is as much a passion for them as it is a commodity. Even the cheapest meal will enlighten your tastebuds and might just educate you along the way on the ultimate, original fusion food.