Nawlins – Part 1

The journey to NOLA started off running, obviously these days when it comes to flying I have better chances of getting their on my broom then an actual aircraft.  My flight was delayed from RDU to Miami which gave me exactly negative 15 minutes to connect.  That’s right, but you can’t blame me for trying to make the connection.  I started off running just as I got off the flight but then gave up pretty soon as my legs hadn’t gained circulation back from the cramped flight.   Then I saw my knight in an airport cart who came to my rescue when I said I was about to miss my flight.  He said “not if I am here”, the way he drove me from one gate to another made me feel like I was in my own Fast and Furious movie.  A dog with my head out and hair flying with cheeks pulled back and teeth showing.  Needless to say after that adventurous ride I did make the connection, miracles do happen people.

As I started to write about New Orleans AKA “Big Easy” dearly spoken as Nawlins by the locals there, I wasn’t sure where exactly to begin.  You are whisked off to a city in your own country which makes you feel like you are not in North America at all.  It’s a painting that was stunningly smeared with vibrant cultural colors, their food, music and architecture is highly inspired by all the expats that ended up calling it home.  This was our yearly trip, we are two friends who live on opposite coast.  Even though we travel all the time for work we hardly meet, hence we plan a few days to catch up over drinks and well mostly just drinks.  It would take another blog entry or a book to pen down what we talk about, seems we never run out of things.  Regardless back to our destination, we choose New Orleans this year or rather it lured us towards it.  This year marked ten years since this beautiful city was hit by Katrina, all throughout you can see the mark she has left.  We opted to stay at an Airbnb to have a true local experience and be away from hotels that made us feel like we were just back to work.  The house that we stayed in had a lot of character, when my taxi reached I was hesitant and wondered wow this is the place?  The outside of it looked so shabby yet it had some sort of attraction to it, something that invites you in.  It doesn’t take much to see the influence of hoodoo, images of deities with offerings were everywhere.  Our hostess was warm and welcoming, she had all things laid out to make sure we felt like friends visiting instead of strangers.

The foodies that we are or claim to be at least it was justified that we book our French Quarter Food & History Tour for Day 1.  Figured best get the list of things and places to indulge in before we spend our precious calories on touristy traps.  The tour was led by David Westbrook from the group that provide free tours, highly recommend him for the passion that he has for food and the love he has for his city.  We found out the difference between Creole and Cajun, which I had no idea about.  I mean it would have taken a simple Google search to find out what the difference is, but sitting in the French Quarter garden explained by a local just makes it sound more enlightening.  Creole is basically considered as city food and city folks while Cajun is more country and rustic.  French colonist from the Canadian region who migrated down are to be credited for Cajun cuisine.  Creole is a blend of various cultures Italians, Spanish, African, German, and Croatian to name a few.  This cuisine is of the wealthy and upper class, more creamy and heavy food.  While Cajun food is more on it seasoning to make up for the lack of flavor obtained by cream, butter and such.  If you want to find out the detail of differences it is very well explained here – Louisiana Travels. We walked by the mural close to Café Du Monde honoring Rose Nicaud; she was one of the first known coffee vendor in New Orleans.  We were then educated that chicory was used in coffee to add body and flavor due to the scarcity of coffee those days.  It’s a saying in NOLA – “Coffee should be dark as devil, Stronger than death, Sweeter than love, Hotter than hell.” Talked about the Holy trinity (onion, green bell pepper and celery) when you add garlic to the trinity it is then called Holy Trinity with pope.  The most common seasoning used are thyme, cayenne and bay leaf.  Most of the time red beans and rice are cooked on Monday as it is also laundry day.  The beans slowly simmer over the stove while the laundry is being taken care, usually has some sort of meat backdrop from the leftovers of a huge Sunday supper.  Jambalaya Jamb from “Jamόn” (ham), “ala” (combined with) and “ya” an African name for rice.   Jambalaya has his origins in Spain a cousin to Paella with a lot more personality.

Our tour was on foot to burn some calories, to rationalize eating that we were to do later.  The tour ended in the French Quarter market after a sweet sampling of Loretta’s Pralines – PRAH-lines.  Have to make sure you say it right to not piss anybody off there.  What I found was that dessert here overall is way too sweet for my liking, the same goes for the Pralines.  The sugar seems to be on a different sweet note than I have tasted anywhere else.  I wasn’t a fan of this, now that I remember I don’t have a single picture of them.  We didn’t venture too far after the tour to find food as we were famished and parched.  We decided to follow the advice and get a muffuletta from Alberto’s Gourmet Cheeses, and satisfy our thirst with their sangria.  Neither one of us eat ham or piggy in anyway so we cautiously asked if they can substitute it for turkey.  I know that doesn’t exactly make it a muffuletta but they gladly obliged, and we are so glad that they did because the sandwich was divine.  By the time my friend took two bites of her sandwich I had with no exaggeration inhaled the sandwich.  The look on her face was priceless as she has never seen me eat anything so fast before.  The olive salad on it was so enchanting, not overly tangy just rightly to make the back of your cheeks dance.  The addition of cauliflower was a good balancing act, the raw earthy taste to the fruity green olives and pungent garlic.  We embarked on our journey to help the economy by shopping at the French Market, I enjoyed the scene when my friend tried to haggle with the Chinese lady who didn’t budge at all.  Can’t blame an Indian for trying, it is in our blood to haggle whenever we can; if we pay full price without trying it is a shame.

Then we sprung right on over to Café Du Monde, if you are here and not eat beignets here you pretty much never visited NOLA.  We found a table under the fan to recover from the heat that we had been walking in.  Quickly blurted out our orders two café au laits and an order of hot steaming beignets.  They arrived covered in a mountain of powdered sugar, your coffee doesn’t need any sugar in it if you have these babies to accompany them.  If you can eat it without having the sugar on your pants, hair and a sugar mustache you are definitely a pro.  For me I had sugar all over my pants, hair, purse, and in areas that I shouldn’t mention on the blog.  Keeping my clumsiness aside they were worth every penny, you will leave satiated and longing for your bed for sweet dreams.  Then we walked a bit more explored the art, Bourbon Street, drinks and music.  The signature drink around seems to be the Pimps Cup and why not you feel good drinking this cocktail made with cucumber, if it has cucumbers in it I am pretty sure it is healthy.  Our favorite place for drinks was Cornet, the Bloody Mary’s here packed so much punch to it.  The vodka is soaked with garlic, green olives, green beans, pearl onions and red pepper, add old bay, tabasco, and zing mix.  This was one of the best Bloody Mary’s I have had and I do intent to try that at home.

Walked pass the Pepper Palace, as we entered we were dared to sign our life away to try one of the hottest sauce they have.  This sauce actually required a waiver to be signed, before we could taste it.  I thought how bad could it really be? So braved up to the challenge – this was a mistake.  I missed my mouth and touched my lips with the sauce first before I made it to the mouth; it was a slow burn.  First my lips felt like they were puffing up and made me feel just a little like Angelina Jolie with the pout then tears were coming down my eyes, all channels of sinuses were open.  I had no idea what to do next it was like a 15 minute of blankness, eventually my senses did return but they sure weren’t kidding with this hot sauce.  Come to think of it some of the girls should carry this around for food and for when they are attacked, one squirt of this and it will surely bring hell to you.  We did have fun with the names of the hot sauces, they were pretty creative while they were naming them, and you can see that for yourselves in the pictures below.  Visited the Central Grocery one of the oldest grocery stores in the area, founded in 1906 and known for their muffuletta.  We didn’t have it here, as we know better than to ask Italians to substitute ham for turkey on their beloved sandwich.  However we did go all touristy and brought a bag stating I was there and the olive salad to remember the taste when I got home.

Our mode of transportation from our stay to anywhere else was basically by Uber, and all of them were pretty friendly in welcoming us to their city.  We had to ask around to see which place serves the best po’boys also known as poor boys, and they all unanimously agreed to Parkway as being the best and where locals eat.  As you walk in to the shop you will see pictures of famous people who have eaten here before you, they are known for their steak po’boys but I ended up getting turkey and my friend got the shrimp po’boy.  Overall it was decent, it was funny how when she got the order she mentioned “I was served by the same guy who has a picture with Obama” I guess she felt very presidential like eating the sandwich.  On our last night we decided to give The Gumbo Shop a try, it would be wrong to not eat Gumbo when you are here.  So she orders the seafood gumbo, takes one taste of it then decides to add all the seasonings on the table.  Another slurp of it and then goes “now it tastes better”  I think it is rooted in us Indians to make sure the food has the right kick and enough seasoning before we think its worthy enough for our taste buds.

We dined at a few restaurants but they were nothing to rave about, the best foods were those where we were navigated to by locals.  Here you will find a few pictures of the trip, the hoodoo and haunted tour will be another post.  There is just way too much to write up on New Orleans.

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