From the Deep South to New England and Louisiana to the Southwest, each region has its own distinctive culinary creations.
One of the most interesting is Louisiana, a mash-up of cuisines that’s taken place over the years, which includes major contributions from Native American, French, Cajun, Spanish, German, Sicilian, and West African cultures.
Boudin, jambalaya, gumbo, beignets, king cakes, and pralines—Louisiana has plenty of homegrown culinary creations you may have heard of, and a few more you probably haven’t.
What they are: square-shaped pieces of fried dough, topped with powdered sugar, typically served in orders of three. The basic beignet is made with fewer ingredients than you can count on one powder-covered hand, though you can also find these bad boys stuffed with savory or sweet ingredients at restaurants and cafés across Louisiana.
What it is: a submarine-type sandwich made with French bread. Order it “dressed” if you like your po’boy with mayonnaise, lettuce, pickles, and tomato.
What it is: a sandwich on round bread containing Italian salami, Italian ham, minced garlic, olive salad, and cheese. You’ll often find them served in whole, half, and quarter sizes. If you’re going to eat a whole muffuletta, come hungry—these sandwiches typically measure almost a foot around!
What it is: a round, cinnamon-filled cake made with braided dough, covered in icing and colored sugar and containing a little plastic baby. The three colors symbolize justice (purple), faith (green), and power (gold). You’ll see king cakes in bakeries and grocery stores throughout Louisiana between the Twelfth Night and Mardi Gras.
What it is: a Creole dish of rice smothered in a stew of roux, crawfish, herbs, and vegetables. The roux (called a “blonde roux” for its lighter color than the kind typically used in gumbo) is a mixture of butter and flour, mixed with celery, bell peppers, and onion.
What is it? An irresistible combination of rice, roux (butter or oil mixed with flour), seafood or meat, vegetables, spices and, okra. There are about as many variations on gumbo as there are people cooking it up, but in general, Creole-style gumbo incorporates tomatoes and more exotic ingredients, while Cajun-style gumbo often includes locally harvested meats, fish, and spices.
Gumbo is so ubiquitous, you’re bound to find it wherever in Louisiana you’re traveling.
What is it? Rice, pork, and spices in a smoked sausage casing. Boudin is served in links or in boudin balls, which are deep-fried cousins of the iconic Cajun delicacy.
What is it? Pork butt, shank, and fat, seasoned with salt, garlic, and cracked black pepper. True andouille is smoked over pecan wood and sugar cane, giving the meat a sweet, dark flavor.
A type of smoked sausage in which choice lean pork is cubed rather than ground, seasoned with a little more salt, red pepper, black pepper, and garlic, then stuffed into a larger beef casing. It is then allowed to hang in the cooler over night to cure, then it is heavily smoked over aged pecan wood for a unique tasting, fully cooked sausage. It is excellent to use for seasoning gumbos, jambalayas, beans, and many other dishes.
What is it? A Creole take on Spanish paella, containing chicken, sausage, long-grain rice, and the combination of onions, bell peppers, and celery known as the “trinity.” Served traditionally out of a big black pot, it’s one of the spicier signature dishes you’ll find in Louisiana.
What they are: a sugary, buttery candy made from butter, brown sugar, and pecans, cooked in a kettle and dried on wax paper. French nuns brought these Creole treats to New Orleans in the 1700s.