Foodie in Cajun Country
Foodie in Cajun Country
OK—I know I have mentioned a couple of times that I am a “foodie” but since everyone might have their own spin on what that means how about something I once read and I paraphrase:
Foodies relish the holistic experience of dining…they initiate and enjoy the interaction with chefs and wait staff alike, gleaning as much information as possible about their meals…they savor the experience of trying new and different entrees…they engage in the discernment of ingredients, even to the point of trying to figure out how to recreate recipes for those they enjoy most…they talk during their meals…mostly about their meals…
Yup…sounds like me…seems like a reasonable definition to me…
Well I came to Cajun Country to eat some good local cuisine and I was not disappointed at all. Thanks to Betty and Marvin, that I mentioned in a previous post, I was directed to some of the finest Cajun a guy could ever hope for.
Fact is, like many ethnic foods I love, Cajun food is poor people’s food. Many of the ingredients are there for the taking, like turtles and alligators, game birds and shrimp and crabs, and many of the others are cheap, like oysters and cane syrup. Tomatoes and okra are easily grown; pigs are quickly and easily turned into sausages like andouille and boudin, and tasso ham.
Sounded good to me.
Another thing about really good Cajun cooking is that it is most definitely NOT blisteringly hot contrary to popular belief. It’s not about the “burn” rather it’s about just a little “heat”. The best cooks of Cajun tradition produce rich, slowly simmered soups and stews. Marvin and I had a long conversation about this – I was even surprised when he paid me a compliment about “knowing my stuff…” ☺
With the insights from both Marvin and Betty, I had a chance to enjoy some extremely fresh oysters at one of Abbeville’s original oyster houses – Dupuy’s (another great spot being Shucks –opened by some folks from Dupuy’s) Nothing better than sitting at the bar with the locals who know their stuff, enjoying an adult beverage, and throwing down oysters on the half-shell. Outstanding!
Another lesson…in this land of drive-through daiquiri places (yup, they really have drive through drink places—I took a pass ) , you often eat better in grocery stores, butcher shops and cafes than you do in restaurants. There are exceptions, of course, but in Acadiana – the term applied locally to Cajun Country – the more basic the surroundings, the more genuine the food.
One noteworthy place ( even rec’d a mention years ago in a foodie article in the New York Times—really—I was going to experience more of the “real deal” –there’s that expression again!!! ) is Suire’s.
Or, I should really say, Suire’s Grocery.
Only 10 miles from the RV park , and the spot at which, over lunch of gumbo, etouffee and fried fish, Marvin schooled me on all things Cajun. Suire’s, name rhymes with ”beer,” isn’t fancy, and, remember, it’s also a grocery store, so the décor runs to soft-drink coolers and Formica tables. The menu lists some weird combos like crawfish fettuccine but we had come for the offerings I had not had in years.
One surprising footnote to all things crawfish I also picked up from Marvin—namely, crawfish played only a minor role in Cajun cooking until the 1950’s. Before that, the little critters were often used as bait, but in the last half century, they have become a focus of Cajun food. Seems improved understanding of how to raise them, how to harvest them, has led to an explosion of interest in the “mud bugs”. Go figure…
Of course, one evening, I had to have some crawfish too – washed down with some cold beer – nothing better.
Like my mention of “you often eat better in grocery stores, butcher shops and cafes than you do in restaurants” I received my directions to the best crawfish around –from the Maxi-Mart Gas Station no less. Yup, the backside of the gas station was THE place to get fresh cooked and big crawfish. This place is amazing…
Another favorite of mine –fresh Gulf shrimp – was in plentiful supply. I arrived home to the RV park and learned I had missed the trip to the dock to pick up, right off the boat, — fresh, unsorted (big ones along with little ones) —but all fresh from the Gulf ( did I say fresh ☺ ) . Once again, Betty had worked her Cajun magic and received the call from part of her “extended family” that the boat was on the way in and she should get her crowd together. Thankfully the crowd shared some of the catch with yours truly – doesn’t get much better than that.
I wrote awhile ago that this journey was going to allow me to “…immerse myself in the incredible variety of local cultures around the country and indulging in all the culinary , recreational and artistic opportunities in this wonderful country…”
Well I am here to say I hit the mark here in Cajun Country. Bottomline, you’re in luck if you get hungry in Vermilion Parish. With over 20 authentic Cajun restaurants such as Black’s Oyster Bar, Dupuy’s Oyster Shop, Shuck’s, Suire’s Grocery and Restaurant, The Riverfront Restaurant and Soop’s. Many of these restaurants have been locally owned and operated since the mid-late 1900s. Whether you choose to sit at an oyster bar, sample gumbo or eat a poboy so full of shrimp you’ll need three hands, you’ll love the food.
I suggest a stop there some day for all of you…
Until next time…see you down the road…