I never underestimate the power of a good meal. It makes me giddy with joy. I ponder upon it for days. A good meal lifts my mood just like good music and re-reading Neruda or Jibanananda Das. Escaping the Great White North for a few days is always a great relief for us in winter. When it’s prolonged winter just anywhere where the temperature is above 5 degrees is a great change for us.
New Orleans food is what David Chang calls “Ugly Delicious”. It’s not pretty to look at. NOLA doesn’t give a damn about your penchant for aesthetics when it comes to food. The food is made to warm your soul, not to please your eyes. The best ones are either deep fried or “smothered”. And there is not a crazy lot of variety. But you will hardly notice it when in NOLA. It’s like a favorite song on repeat. It’s the epitome of comfort. Deep fried seafood,Gumbo, Etouffee, Po-Boys and eggplant pirogue are some of NOLA classics that we went back and ate over and over during our visit. Here are some of the dishes I absolutely loved and my recommendations for restaurants.
Étouffée: My first creole bite in New Orleans or NOLA was Gumbo. You obviously have to try Gumbo in NOLA! My husband ordered Gumbo multiple times and I tried a spoonful each time but I always liked it’s cousin Etouffee much better. A bowl of Etuffee can make even the worst day bearable. It’s a thick, chunky soup often served over white rice. The soup is full of just one type of shellfish ( usually crawfish) and herbs. It’s spicy yet not hot. Each spoonful delivers the same joy. I reluctantly tried my first spoon of Etouffee because my husband really wanted me to try it. It was almost gray, ugly and did nothing to convince me to eat it. Once I tried it I finished the bowl in lightening speed. And each time I had Etouffee I devoured it, as if it’s a mirage. As if eating it like a normal person and not at a choking hazard speed will somehow diminish its flavor.
Recommendation: I never had a bad bowl of Etouffee in NOLA. Not sure if it was by chance or it’s just impossible to make a bad batch of Étouffée. But I must mention a not so famous place near the airport. It’s called Harbor Seafood and Oyster bar. Busy, no-frills, cheap and absolutely delicious.
Po Boys: You gotta try some seafood Po Boy in NOLA. Po Boys are sandwiches with mostly seafood ( can be made with meat too). The French breads are quite famous but my least favorite. The bread is too bland and dry for my taste.
Recommendation: Johny’s Po Boys. Try shrimp of crabcake Po Boys. Order only crabcakes if you’re not a fan of French baguette like me. Tried and tested by many. Never disappoints.
Stuffed Eggplant Pirogue : I was hesitant in ordering this because what can match a classic “ begun bhaja?” But boy was I wrong! The eggplants were perfectly breaded and crusty on the outside and soft and fleshy on the inside. And they were stuffed with crawfish and cream sauce. “Is this really happening? Everything I love in perfect harmony?”, I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe my own tongue. My brain was confused and my heart was in happy tears. This dish is served as an appetizer on its own or as a main course when served with angel hair pasta in cream sauce and crawfish.
Recommendation: One and only Joey K. The restaurant is at the scenic Garden District and worth going to the other side of city. Absolutely everything was delicious here. So delicious that I didn’t take picture of half the things we ate!
Crabcakes and Crawfish: Crabcakses are a must when in NOLA. It’s incredibly delicious on its own, can be enjoyed as side or in Po Boys. Crawfish is omnipresent in Creole cuisine so you will, at some point, eat crawfish in NOLA. But it deserves a special mention.
Desserts: I always say that the only good thing about a pie is its crust. NOLA even changed that. Do yourself a favor and order a pie. ANY pie from ANY bakery in French Quarter. And bread pudding. MY GOD! the bread pudding. The power of this simple dessert can only be compared to only the good old Roshogolla! A classic bread pudding sauce has rum in it so you may ask the server to skip it if you want to keep it halal.
Special mention: Arnaud’s Restaurant. It’s a fine dining restaurant and I am pleased to report that they will serve actual, good portions of food. The dress code is formal. Only packed shorts and t-shirts? Thou shall not pass. They have two dining options. Main Dining Room and Jazz Bistro. Try to put a reservation as early as possible to secure the preferred room. It’s a fine dining, formal setting so not the best place for busy toddlers. Order what your heart desires but don’t miss potato soufflé for appetizers. Arnaud’s also has a personal Mardi Gras museum inside the restaurant. Don’t forget to check it out!
“What type of psychotic fucking freak wouldn’t like this place?”- Anthony Bourdain, on NOLA
Day 08: March 14, 2019