When I began writing, it was a food blogger. I was 15 and was noticing the explosion of popular food blogs online: most importantly, I just really liked eating stuff. I started a food blog when I was sixteen and then threw myself more thoroughly into it once I got to school at Tulane, where I (conveniently) worked at the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women, complete with an enormous culinary library.
And I ate stuff, which is the primary trajectory of a well-spent time in New Orleans. I must have tried every reputable gumbo in the region, and concluded none quite came up to the family recipe — and the Vietnamese food, crawfish boils, po-boy establishments of ill repute, and all the rest. My family is French Creole in origin and so I justify some of this gluttony as a kind of cultural interface. Eat until you make yourself slightly sick, more so if you add in cigars and lots of really aggressive red wine. Reminiscence.
This is black jambalaya from Crescent Pie and Sausage Company in Midcity, a really excellent entry into the already-booming “New Orleans restaurant that makes its own sausage” market. It’s black because there’s black-eyed peas in it, and it tastes delightfully filthy. This recipe has been dubbed Bad Bart’s Black Jambalaya and you can make it via Food Network instructions, an experiment I think I will make very soon. Who is Bad Bart? Christ if I know.
Jokes about sausage samplers write themselves. Suffice to say the boudin was spectacular, and the re-imagined Little Smokies were crunchy and good. Something is existentially satisfying about ground meat. I won’t be needing your vegan pamphlets, thank you. Chicken and biscuits from the Ruby Slipper, with tasso gravy on top. Evokes memories of being in a hurry on the way to school as an elementary school kid in Atlanta, and we’d pull over and get fried chicken on a biscuit from Chick-Fil-A, which would degrease your entire system by 12:00 PM. But it was worth it. This was better —lighter. I’ll never get chicken and waffles. There ought to be crumble.
At some point my entire New Orleans return-trip denigrates into a bunch of Instagram images of oysters. It’s hard to know what to say about oysters. Beyond the fact that the first time you eat a raw and enjoy it, you feel you’ve passed some magical veil into adulthood. When you’re little they tell you they’ll give you food poisoning and ALSO you won’t like it, and so you take their word for it. Then you’re like fourteen or so and it’s a nice dinner and someone foists one on you. Needless to say I accepted that challenge and have never looked back. Damn you BP. Curse you to hell. “Only Louisiana oysters will do,” my grandmother always says. “The California ones are too big.” Some people don’t know that New Orleans is home to a large Vietnamese diaspora population, attracted to the area by fishing and shrimping jobs in the aftermath of the war. This means you can get great Vietnamese food in the metro area, and lately, that great food has begun migrating into the inner city itself. The Eat-Well Food Market on Canal is one of those gems, with a front area containing the usual assortment of cigarettes, various pork rind flavors, and beer, and the back with a really excellent Vietnamese street food menu. This was superb Bun Bo Hue, considerably meatier and richer than versions I had in the actual Vietnamese city of Hue. Delicate lemongrass broth, and bones with marrow you can suck out. Perfect.
The banh mi were pitch-perfect as well – oh, and enormous AND cheap. Or Vietnamese po-boys, as the adaptive language goes in New Orleans. Roll with it.
Cochon Butcher is where I always stop, eventually, both because I think Donald Link is cool and they have really great sandwiches. Home-made meats and a counter ordering system. I always seem to get the bacon and collard greens melt, combining two of my favorite things into a distinctly salty, melty, slightly sour little slice of excellence. I may try this at home, actually, as I often have orphaned left-over collards. Recently discovered by every suit in the Financial District, so gird your loins for lunch rush.
We drove out of the city one day to go look for the swamp, the location of which we deduced from Google Maps and conviction that driving any direction from New Orleans will inevitably lead you to somewhere murky and populated by alligators. Well, it didn’t work – we neatly bypassed the Jean Lafitte park and instead found ourselves further and further out in nothing-in-particular country, with little white houses on stilts and the occasional Catholic cemetery, and few trees.
But on the way back, we stopped at Salvos in Belle Chasse, which my friend Harry introduced me to a couple of years. There, the oysters and indeed everything else cost a good $3 to $4 bucks less than the food everywhere else in the city, and everyone sitting down to eat all-you-can-eat boiled seafood is just From Around Here. So we ordered a dozen raw oysters, fat and gleaming, while my friend Una covered her eyes and grimaced at the spectacle (understandable, perhaps — take it intellectually, the act of eating an oyster. Loathsome and yet immensely pleasurable.)
New Orleans: the only airport in the world where you can get a cup of gumbo with cornbread for breakfast before your flight out. Good gumbo with a proper crab claw and a chicken wing in it, too. I eat this before I leave and regard the fools ordering from the Subway next door with deep disdain, as I surgically extract crab-meat from the shell of a crustacean at 9:30 AM. That’s living, you jerks.
I want to live here again someday. I think.