Thinking and writing about food. Not always in that order.

Report from the Big Stressy Part 1: New Orleans is a liar y’all

In gastronomy, New Orleans on October 12, 2011 at 11:38 pm

This is the first part of several self-serving reports from my trip to New Orleans earlier this month. How many parts you ask? As many as it takes. 

This isn't food, but it is "authentic" New Orleans.

New Orleans is a big fat liar. It sucks you in with its whole “Big Easy” routine — Mardi gras beads in the trees, non-existent open bottle laws and funerals that are 10 times more fun than we are legally allowed to have in Cambridge, MA while alive. But the secret about New Orleans is that despite all those lazy “y’alls” and frozen daiquiris (more about that later) it is a very, very stressful place.

At least when it comes to food. At least when it comes to making decisions about food for a visitor who is also a budding food scholar. For someone who is studying food, a visit to New Orleans is overwhelming, cramp-inducing and fraught with decisions and missed opportunities.

New Orleans is food obsessed. So when a food person goes to New Orleans, it’s kind of like when under-stimulated fat people from the middle of the country go to Las Vegas and suddenly have to choose between slot machines, seeing Celine Dion, Siegfried & Roy, Donnie & Marie, or attending a topless jousting match.  As in Las Vegas, there are simply too many good choices, too little time and the very real potential of rupturing an internal organ (either from eating too much in New Orleans or hitting a high note if you’re Celine Dion in Las Vegas.).

While I was in New Orleans this month, not only did I have to think about where and what I was going to eat (stressful enough). But I also had to read 200 pages of academic articles about food for my Food & Senses Class. One of my readings was about whether or not there is such a thing as “authentic” cuisine (extra stressful in New Orleans). The reading asks what it means to be authentic, who decides what is authentic, and if that is even possible.

And that’s where New Orleans gets you. Every visitor to New Orleans wants an “authentic” experience. And in New Orleans, that means food. But New Orleans food obsessions are “traditional” — Commander’s Palace, po boys, oysters, Sazeracs, and Cafe du Monde beignets. And they are “new” — outlaw cheese bars, modern French bistros, and fantastic food served in a former gas station. So what is an “authentic” New Orleans experience. Is it turtle soup or a fantastic burger? The Bywater or the French Quarter? A Pims cup in a fancy hotel or a drive through daiquiri on the levee?

Five days and lots of meals later, I discovered that the only answer is all of the above — topped off with a visit to Nicholas Cage’s tomb outside the French Quarter.

More on all of this in the next post, including actual descriptions of actual food. And pictures of beignets.

Advertisements
  1. This might be the best and most out of body experience thing I’ve read about New Orleans ever.

  2. Interesting. Obsessed? Yes we are.Thus the NOLA phrase, “We don’t eat to live we live to eat!” True, the choices can be daunting but that’s what is fun about it (as I see you found out). It would take a lifetime to eat at every restaurant in the city. Living there for 50+ years, I think I came pretty close. And also true, it is difficult to pin down any authentic NOLA cuisine. It is what was, what is and what will be. So many cultures poured into that bowl it’s bound to evolve into new and exciting things to eat. Sounds like you scratched the surface and I will be interested to hear more of your experience. In the Big Easy they say, “Let the good times roll!” Sounds like you did the right thing…you rolled with it.

  3. Hey- where the hell is that follow up? I want photos of beignets. Better yet, I want beignets.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: