Saturday, January 28, 2017

New Orleans Culinary History Tour

We spent Halloween in New Orleans and while many go simply to party at Voodoo Festival and Bourbon St I was there to try the famous creole food. 

I found a highly rated culinary history tour and boy did it pay off. All the food shown was included on the tour, drinks had to be purchased, but it was still a bargain. 

We started at Tujague's restaurant, the oldest restaurant in the city circa 1856 which still has the original bar back and old school charm. The hey day might be long gone but it's well worth a stop for a drink especially if you are waiting out the lines at Cafe du Monde. 

We were given a braised beef and hot sauce dish, a little dry for me but a pretty sizeable portion for a walking tour so I figured we were in for a good start!

The tour guide Rose was a font of information and clearly a huge fan of New Orleans. She told us that she fell in love with the city and not only moved their for retirement but went to study it's history at college. This meant she had all sorts of pieces of knowledge about the founding of the city, each quarter, even the architecture of each building. 

We pottered around Jackson Square and she gave us a huge rundown on it's creation, the funding of the buildings and how each came to be residential and business. Today Jackson Square is still filled with artists and bohemians but the building is stocked to the brim with excellent restaurants plying morning after brunch food to die for. 

We were led into a Louisianna specialty shop filled with spices, Jambalaya mix and hot sauces and I thought this would be where we stopped but no! We were taken through into a secret courtyard where a small demonstration space was created. Many of their iconic items were on display and we were ready for our next bite. 

Red Beans and Rice seems to be a staple food of the area, eaten on it's own as a cheap dish or as a side for almost every other main one could think of. To appeal to a wider audience they started with a reasonably bland version but provided many of the seasonings and hot sauces  to add to the dish so we dialed ours up a lot! My favourite had to be the Slap Ya Mama seasoning which was tasty but also gave a little nod to the laid back humour of New Orleans - which as an Aussie resonates well!

 Then we wandered through some of the alleys that run off Jackson Square, it seems like every building in New Orleans has a story.

As an magnet for artists, pirates, thieves and plunderers there are plenty of stories to be told - many of them tall I'm sure. At Halloween though it's plenty of fun to be told stories of adventure regardless of their historical value.

We heard stories of books written, sailors being "Shanghaiied" into service, society madams and more.

Next it was off to Cafe la di Fina for some Italian treats; one of the delights of New Orleans is how ethnically mixed it is. French, Italian, British, American, Caribbean to name a few all blend in hedonous harmony and the food that comes out of it is truly excellent!
Here we got a number of treats, it would definitely make a good stop for those looking for some authentic food or just something sweet to appease some roudy kids

This sandwich was a fusion panini muffaletta. For those uninitiated the muffaletta is a unique New Orleans dish of pressed ham, olive salad and cheese often in a hollowed out Sicilian style crisp bun. It is perfect hangover food and as an olive obsessive I am a fan. This panini version forwent the stacked ham and went for a lighter pressed sandwich..

Afterwards it was time for sweets!

Nutella gelato, perfect in the muggy New Orleans weather. I'm a little suprised that more ice cream shops weren't around the city.

Ricotta canoli, which happens to be my husband's favourite. Very happy.

Afterwards we were off to the old dames of the New Orleans culinary tradition. Antoine's is a sprawling maze of connected buildings that make up one of the most famous restaurants in the area frequented by presidents and popes. 

It features no less than 14 dining rooms including a number of hidden private rooms for visiting celebrities. 

Even if you don't have Hollywood money to dine at Antoine's the front bar is well worth a stop for a soothing cocktail. It feels like something out of another era and is extremely affordable. You never know who you might meet!

Antoine's is particularly famous for its above ground"cellar" a 25000 bottle monstrosity crammed in the alley between two of the buildings that make up the complex. As a wine buff it was a shame we weren't allowed to tour it but given the price tag of some of the wine and the temperature controls it's not surprising. Again we got fascinating stories of the fate of their wine during Hurricane Katrina when the majority of the wine store was lost due to power failure affecting the temperature control. Antoine's is slowly rebuilding it's collecting spending  no less than $10,000 USD a week on high end wine.

For extra fun we stopped in the "Mystery Room" a large secret dining room used for serving alcohol during prohibition including a secret entrance off the ladies room!

Next we were off to the Rex Krewe room. Krewes are the private organisations that put on parades and balls for Mardi Gras season and the Rex group is one of the wealthiest and most fanciful. Memorabilia of Mardi Gras Kings and Queens line the room along with their bejewelled accessories. Fancy and very iconic!

We got to trial some of Antoine's Gumbo but I'll admit without all the additional spices to add this was a little bland for me. With the addition of okra which I find slimey this wasn't for me and I didn't end up finishing it.

Open courtyards and beer gardens are everywhere in New Orleans, much like they are from where I came from in Australia. Live music is everywhere along with cold beer and excellent drinking snacks.

Afterwards it was off to Cafe Remoulade which has a jaunty family friendly vibe and a long oyster bar for those who want to try local shellfish. 

Shrimp and turtle soup are next. As a fan of Victoriana I was very intrigued by Turtle Soup and this is one of the easiest markets to buy it in due to the proliferation of the local Snapping Turtle. This version is quite similar to gumbo and has a rich gravy to it. 

Next we went past Leah's Pralines where I picked up some butter / nut delights to take home to my team at work. Southern style pralines are rather like peanut brittle but where enough butter has been added to give it a soft creamy texture almost like cookie icing. My only critique would be that the use of soft toffee and pecans lacks the snap of nut brittles I so enjoy. Nonetheless it makes a great gift for co-workers.

Our last stop is Arnaud's where we tour a quaint English conservatory style dining room that reminds me of the old department store queens for ladies who lunch. 

We don't stop for food here but instead tour the Mardi Gras Museum upstairs in the restaurant which is a sight to be seen!

The mseum contains Mardi Gras artifacts all accumulated by Germaine Wells, the daughter of the original Arnaud. She was an ambitious socialite who seems to have been indulged by her friends and community. 

Intent on winning the most Mardi Gras crowns she reigned over 22 annual Mardi Gras Balls. While the costumes are amazing and the collection is worth a stop the pictures get increasingly bizarre over time. From debutante teen to middle aged woman the costumes and makeup scene being age appropriate long into the display. 

Worth a stop though particularly if you're in town for Mardi Gras. 

All in all the the food tour was excellent and well worth the cost. Due to the enthusiastic guide and long itinerary we actually ran a little over time and you wouldn't want to put another event back to back with the tour just in case. There was a reasonable amount of walking but it was all slow paced and flat, people with mobility issues would easily be able to enjoy.

New Orleans Culinary History Tour

Food and history walking tour, adults only recommended


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