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What Not to Do in New Orleans

by Pableaux Johnson


Cajun food, the trademark Louisiana cuisine that chef Paul Prudhomme made into an international phenomenon in the 1980s, isn't the urban phenomenon most visitors think. Real Cajun food—boldly flavored rustic dishes using ingredients like shrimp, crawfish, crab, savory smoked sausage, stewed chicken, and crispy fried pork skin, which are more subtle than scorching—is actually found in the country outside Orleans Parish. Yet in tourist-friendly joints throughout the French Quarter, just about anything dusted with red pepper will be labeled "Cajun"—from French fries to pizza to grilled salmon. Is it authentic? No. Is it profitable? You betcha. It's also a classic case of "give the people what they want," as evidenced by the packed restaurants claiming to serve Cajun dishes.


The good news is that many of the things you think of as Cajun—overstuffed shrimp po'boy sandwiches, dark bowls of gumbo chunky with locally caught crab and shrimp, warming bread pudding swimming in sweet bourbon sauce—all claim New Orleans as their natural habitat. For a taste of the real stuff, hit an old-school sandwich shop like Johnny's Po-Boys in the French Quarter or head to Mid-City for a working-class dinner at Mandina's, the Italian/Creole standby. For the classic experience, gussy up a bit and hit Galatoire's for a leisurely cocktail-fueled lunch—the tuxedo-clad waiter will lead you through the huge menu filled with specialties like speckled trout meunière (in a lemon-spiked brown-butter sauce), impossibly rich crabmeat salads, and flaming after-dinner café brûlot. If you're still determined to get your Cajun on, hit Cochon (where chef Donald Link does an outstanding job with pork-centric Cajun flavors) or K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, where the blackening craze began.

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.



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