Know Your Jazz Fest: the Food

Food, Things to Do, What's New — By Zain Iqbal on April 12, 2010 at 5:02 pm

Between the music, the sights, and the activities during the week-long Jazz Fest, you’re going to have to take some time out at some point replenish yourself – not a difficult task in this city known for it’s unique culinary culture.  The question is, how do you navigate through the dizzying array of choices and find the perfect food to carry around with you to all the venues? Whether you’re looking for sweet, savory or a combination of both, here’s a quick guide to four quick bites that are strictly New Orleans.

Start your day off right with some powdered sugar and caffeine in the form of beignets and café au lait. Beignets are triangular-shaped, deep-fried dough pastries sprinkled with powdered sugar; very popular among locals and tourists alike. The famous Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter has been serving them for almost 150 years, 24 days a year, 7 days a week, with the exception of Christmas. Beignets are usually served in portions of three and are eaten with café au lait, which in New Orleans is coffee with milk and chicory flavoring giving the drink a slightly more bitter taste, but offsetting the sweetness of the beignets.

Arguably the most popular local sandwich and a staple of New Orleans culture is the po’ boy, available at almost every deli with some shops selling them exclusively. Po’ boys are made using Louisiana-style French bread (a lighter version of the traditional American baguette) with fried oysters or shrimp, although variations may use crawfish, soft-shelled crab, or catfish, and served with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. Johnny’s Po-Boy in the French Quarter serves up almost 50 different kinds, some of them being of the non-seafood variety, such as BBQ beef or sausage, and some being of the reptilian variety, such as alligator.

The invention of the muffuletta sandwich is usually credited to Salvatore Lupo, a Sicilian immigrant who founded the Central Grocery in 1906 in the French Quarter. The sandwich is made using muffuletta bread, which is a large 10” roundel of bread similar to focaccia, and then layered with marinated olive salad, capicola, salami, mortadella, followed by emmentaler and provolone cheeses. The sandwiches are massive, so unless you’re famished, buy one and share it with a friend.

Freshly steamed and spiced crawfish

It isn’t a trip to Louisiana without eating crawfish (avoid saying “cray” fish.) Although crawfish boils are the most traditional way to cook them, local shops around New Orleans – such as Big Fisherman Seafood in the Garden District – will spice crawfish and sell them by the pound in paper bags, serving corn-on-the-cob and potatoes as a side. Most people eat the meat from the tail, but the real flavor can be found in sucking the juices from the head where the spices tend to collect, resulting in the tongue-in-cheek phrase “suck the head, pinch the tail.”

[photos courtesy faungg and adie reed]

Tags: beignets, Big Fisherman Seafood, cafe au lait, Cafe du Monde, Central Grocery, crawfish, Johnny's Po-Boy, muffulettas