Monday, May 7, 2012

It's Later Than You Think

Coming from a hippy town in California, New Orleans has been a drastically different experience in every way. All of these differences can be exemplified by many different aspects of New Orleans, but no part of the city’s culture is a better metaphor for the city as whole than the food.

            The most important part of New Orleans living, to me, is living a lavish, extravagant and excessive lifestyle, whenever possible. In this case, food is the most common example. New Orleanians, in contrast to Californians, eat very, very well, all of the time. Things like fried chicken, hush puppies and biscuits and gravy are extremely common, and things common in California, like sandwiches and omelets are made with butter, fat, and everything else that makes food taste good. When my parents came to visit me the first time in New Orleans, which was both of their first trip here, they were astounded about two things about the food. First, they were surprised how delicious the food was but also awestruck at the sheer caloric value (butter).  New Orleans also exhibits this attitude in other parts of its culture as well. People come to New Orleans from all over the world simply to drink heavily and party: something people choose to do just because of this excessive attitude. Mardi Gras is a whole holiday centered around just that. People eat well, drink better, and generally have a good time without regard for their health of work the following morning.

            New Orleans is also a place with much history and tradition. From Mardi Gras, to all of the festivals, to red beans and rice on Mondays, New Orleans has many traditions, and more than anything, these traditions are food based. Guys Po boys is a good example of  the importance of tradition to New Orleans. It was originally established in 1952, and when it was bought from the original owner in 1992, the current owner was adamant about changing as little as possible, despite the building being generally run down, but even today he strives to keep Guy’s as close to the New Orleans institution that he originally bought. Food festivals are another tradition that blends food, music, art, and many other aspects of New Orleans culture. These festivals include the Po Boy FestivalJazz Fest, French Quarter Fest, and many, many others which celebrate years of culture and traditions. Most of these traditions come from a very long time ago and are almost exclusive to New Orleans. New Orleans jazz music, as known as traditional or trad jazz, is mostly still played the same way it was in 1925, and is nearly unheard of outside of New Orleans, besides bands like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band which tours nationally. Despite being founded in 1961, a time when jazz music was going in many progressive directions, the Preservation Hall Jazz band still plays as if jazz is still in its youth. Just like in cooking, New Orleans music has, in many cases branched out, incorporating more modern rhythm and blues influence, though it is still, like the streetcars and the rest of the city, somewhat living in the past. Something similar can be seen in the restaurant scene as well. Eating in the French Quarter or other touristy destinations, one mostly finds most traditional creole food, but branching out one can find many more progressive restaurants as well. The “new” Freret Street in a great example of these kinds of places. These new restaurants on Freret, such as  Dat Dog or Company Burger, provide innovation to mostly fairly contrived food, and fresh, high quality ingredients, something that is not found in many New Orleans restaurants.

New Orleans is, and has always been a very diverse city, and this is especially reflected in New Orleans’ cuisine. This includes not only Cajun and Creole cooking, but also many other New Orleans ethnic groups, such as Italian contributions like the muffaletta, and Vietnamese foods such as Bahn Mi po boy sandwiches and Pho. So-called “New Orleans” cooking is especially diverse, since it has so many influences from old-world cooking traditions. Po Boy sandwiches for instance, take New Orleans and southern ingredients and puts them on traditional French baguettes.  Diversity is found even in different people cooking the same dishes. When you order gumbo or jambalaya at a restaurant  it could be drastically different than the restaurant up the street or someone’s home cooked rendition. This can often come down to ingredients, such as someone’s specific “trinity”, or influence from other kinds of food, especially in contemporary New Orleans restaurants.

New Orleans may be living in the past, but there’s a reason for it. People love to come to New Orleans to have a good time,  and in a city of plenty to indulge your self in, the best part of living in New Orleans is the incredible food. The New Orleans experience can be defined in an infinite amount of ways, hearing old-school jazz music, getting shit faced on Bourbon Street, but if you ask me, there’s no better way to experience New Orleans than a messy po boy sandwich and a cold beer. So while you’re here, don’t worry, be happy, it’s later than you think.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Eatin' Best at the Fest!

 Strawberry Ice from Brocato's
My first Jazz Fest was many things; the most sweaty I've even been in my life, the most money I've ever spent on food and water bottles at a festival, and one of the best music festivals I've ever been to.

Brocato's Cannoli
Jazz fest food was about what I was expecting. Everything you could buy to eat was basically New Orleans food like jambalaya, Po Boys, muffelettas and many New Orleans fixtures that do not sell Cajun or Creole cuisine such as Mona's Cafe and Brocato's. The most popular item seemed to be the Mango Freeze sold by WWOZ.


What I thought was unique about Jazz Fest is how equal it makes everyone who goes. Whether you are rich or poor, in the end you have virtually the same experience as everyone else who goes to the fest. You stand in the baking heat, you eat the same food, get searched for contraband, and you fight to the front like everyone else. This creates a much more New Orleans experience than that of other jazz festivals I have been to. Monterey Jazz Festival, one of the world's oldest jazz festivals, for instance, has a stage which requires special (expensive) tickets. This is a stark contrast to the jazzfest experience where it is basically a free for all at all of the stages (except the VIP area in front of the Acura stage).
Cafe Reconcile's Strawberry Lemonade

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mud, Pork and Music

 Cochon Toppped Mac and Cheese

 Hogs For the Cause is an annual charity even held in City Park (City Pork) which benefits pediatric brain cancer. During this event, money is raised by about a hundred different stands roasting pigs and competing for trophies. These stands are run by groups from all roasts of life; those who just are there for the fun and competition of the event (these stands were typically very drunk) to professional resturaunts coming to compete, such as the eventual winner, Company Burger as well as Fat Hen Grocery, and even Patois had an entry.

Delicious Brisket Taco
Before the day before the event, I had never heard of Hogs for the Cause, or even been to city park, so this was quite an adventure for me. The day before, I was able to get free tickets to the event, and noticed that Trombone Shorty was headlining the stage. Not having a car available to us, we chose to take the St. Charles Streetcar, and then the Canal City Park Streetcar. When we arrived at City Park, we found a surprise at where Hogs For The Cause was been held. Mud. When I say mud, I am not just talking a about little mushy dirt on the ground. Most people were wearing boots or were barefoot, though I chose to keep my sneakers on throughout the event (this of course required a thorough washing of the aforementioned sneakers).

Who-Dat! Free Sean Payton!

Now let's get to the important part: FOOD. Everywhere you walked there were stands selling delicious food, everything from just Cochon de lait on its own, to tacos, and the overall winner, Company Burger's pork tongue sandwich. My personal favorite was Brisket tacos from New Orleans' own Taceaux Loceaux, some of the best "mexican" food in New Orleans. What I took away from Hogs For the Cause was, in addition to a good time and a full belly, was the idea that food is not only a good way to bring people together for fun, but also a great way for people to rally for a great cause.