I recently traveled to New Orleans for the Today’s Dietitian 2017 Symposium, which was amazing! Not only did I learn a ton at the conference, I also got to explore downtown New Orleans like it was going out of style. Most importantly, I got to enjoy some ah-maz-ing food.
Originally, I was going to focus this post on what I learned at the symposium. But let’s be honest: you came here to learn about the food, so let’s talk abut the food!
If you know anything about New Orleans food, you know it’s heavily focused on Creole and Cajun cuisine. I didn’t know the difference between the two before I went there, so I did a little exploring to figure it out. Basically, the major difference between them both is the groups of people behind the cuisines (where they originated from).
Creole is often referred to as “city food” while Cajun is referred to as “country food.” They both use similar cooking methods and ingredients, except apparently proper Cajun cooking does not use tomatoes. Both blend French, Spanish, Indian, Caribbean, Portuguese, Greek, Canarian, West African, Amerindian, German, Italian, Irish and US Southern influences.
- Shellfish (shrimp, oysters, crawfish, crab, etc)
- Fresh and saltwater fish (trout, catfish, flounder, grouper, etc)
- Pork (sausage, andouille, boudin, salt pork, etc)
- Game meats (Alligator, frog, rabbit, turtle, etc)
- Vegetables: bell peppers, okra, collard greens, celery, corn, onion
- Fruit: blackberries, strawberries, figs, lemon, lime
- Seasonings: bay leaf, oregano, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic, parsley, sassafras, thyme, chili pepper, cloves, basil
- Smothered Pork Chops
- Shrimp or Chicken Creole
- Shrimp Bisque
- Dirty rice and beans
- Desserts: beignets, king cake, praline, bread pudding
- Shrimp and grits
Common Cooking Methods
- Barbecuing (baking, grilling, braising)
- Pan-frying or pan-broiling
Creole and cajun food is known for being very spicy and flavorful. Additionally, it doesn’t win the gold-star when it comes to health and nutrition, as it tends to be extremely high in calories, fat and refined carbohydrates. Not that calories and fat are “bad” but New Orleans food is quite easy to overeat. It’s also pretty difficult to find fresh vegetables. That might be why Louisiana was named the unhealthiest state in the country…. 😉 However, I know there are many other parts of the city and state that I didn’t get a chance to see so this is definitely biased towards the downtown area!
Now for the good part! Below I have highlighted the restuarants and cafes that I was able to try out, as well as some that I wish I could have tried!
Home of decadent beignets and fantastic coffee. I had never heard of beignets prior to going to New Orleans. Beignets are fried doughnuts that are covered in powdered sugar. Super healthy. Just kidding. But you have to try one if you go there. I waited in line at Cafe Du Monde for 35 minutes, so if you’re pressed for time, make sure you don’t go during peak hours!
An authentic Mexican restaurant, which isn’t easy to find in New Orleans! I went here with a fellow RD friend who I met at the conference. We ordered margaritas (obviously), tuna tostadas and two tacos: crispy oyster and cauliflower. Oh, and can’t forget about the crispy Brussels sprout appetizer & the plantain chips with salsa. Mmmmmm this meal was so good – I definitely recommend it if you’re needing a break from the traditional New Orleans food while you’re there.
New Orleans is known for their coffee, so I made a point to try out a couple coffee shops while I was there. My favorite was definitely French Truck Coffee. I ordered a “New Orleans Iced Coffee” and I couldn’t quite figure out what made it different from regular iced coffee. Either way, I would recommend anyone to try it out in New Orleans!
Okay so I didn’t actually eat at this place while I was in New Orleans, but I walked by it a lot because it was right outside my hotel! If you’re staying at the Astor Crowne Plaza, this would be a good restaurant to try if you don’t feel like venturing off. They have your traditional New Orleans food items, including fried chicken, crawfish, roasted pork, catfish, shrimp and grits, and eggs Benedict. I really want to try the Bananas Foster Waffle for breakfast but didn’t get the chance!
This cafe was absolutely adorable! Located right on Canal Street, its outdoor seating is perfect for people-watching. I went there for breakfast one morning, and ordered Migas, which was a Tex-Mex egg scramble. They have many other great options on their menu, including some healthier dishes like steel cut oatmeal, salads and lots of eggs.
I went here for dinner one evening and got the Creole-Stuffed Fish…it was sososo good. They are well-known for their oyster bar and they have a pretty long list of Po-Boys on their menu. Have you heard of po-boys?! I, once again, hadn’t before I made it to New Orleans. They are a traditional Louisiana sandwich that consists of meat or fried seafood wrapped in a French baguette. Honestly they aren’t super appealing to me, but everyone told me I had to try one before I left (I didn’t, whoops). But you should if you go there!
Bourbon House is on the fancier side, so make sure to dress nicely if you go there 🙂 I had a quick dinner there one night – I had no clue what to order so I asked the waiter for suggestions. He recommended the “Oyster BLT” so I just went with it. I was expecting some sort of sandwich but it came without bread – just bacon slices, fried oysters and tomatoes plated alongside each other. Even though it wasn’t what I was expecting, it was really good!
If you want to try some good New Orleans food, you have got to visit the French Market! It’s full of crafts, boutiques and specialty shops, where you can find anything from jewelry to photography to clothing. And of course there are plenty of food options there, including a farmer’s market. My favorite parts of the French Market were the hot sauce displays…seriously, there is definitely not a hot sauce shortage in New Orleans. If you’re obsessed with it like I am, you’ll be in heaven 🙂
Original Pierre Maspero’s is an authentic cajun restuaratnt. This is where I had my first try of shrimp and grits! It was super good, but not something that I’d be able to eat every day 🙂
I’m an icecream-aholic, so naturally I had to get my fix in New Orleans. I came across Sucre, which is a little shop that sells macarons, chocolates, confections and last but not least: GELATO! They had many delicious flavors to choose from. I went with a scoop of confetti cupcake and Charlie Brown peanut butter fudge. This was my last treat in New Orleans and it didn’t disappoint!
Other Restaurants to Try
I wish I had been able to try more while I was in New Orleans, but my time was obviously limited. Here’s a list of restaurants that I’ve heard good things about that I’ll definitely be trying on my next trip!
Willa Jean: This place has your traditional New Orleans food in addition to some healthier options, like avocado toast, smoked salmon, and veggie/grain bowls. If you’re needing a veggie fix, this is a restaurant to try!
The Daily Beet: A cute little juice bar and cafe that has several healthy dishes to choose from. I believe their menu is completely vegetarian, and they are known for salads, grain bowls and cold-pressed juices.
Meals from the Heart Cafe: This is a farm-to-table-ish restaurant which, per their website, “introduced New Orleans to vegan and gluten-free.” Their entire menu is low in sodium and added sugars, and does not contain any trans fat. They also don’t serve any red meat.
Peche: A seafood grill that’s inspired by the cooking of South America, Spain and the Gulf Coast. I want to try every single thing on their menu, including the jumbo shrimp and marinated beets!
Acme Oyster House: This place was right outside my hotel so I’m surprised that I didn’t make my way there, considering I heard so many good things about it. Oh well. They apparently have some of the best seafood around, especially oysters, and they offer some common New Orleans food like po-boys, gumbo and etoufee.
That’s all I’ve got! It was such a great trip and I’m glad I was able to step out of my comfort zone and try some new things. New Orleans food is one of a kind and I think everyone needs to travel there at least once to get a feel for their culture and cuisine.