From humble po’ boy shops to white-tablecloth temples of classic Creole cuisine, food is a major reason to visit New Orleans. People in New Orleans live to eat, and discerning local customers support a multitude of options when it comes to dining. Innovative fine dining restaurants exist alongside more modest eateries serving red beans and rice and boiled crawfish. Whatever the cost, it’s hard to find a bad meal in this culinary town. Here are nine local dishes the whole family will enjoy.
Beignets are fried pillows of dough, generally served with powdered sugar (and lots of it!) and steaming cups of café au lait made with New Orleans-style chicory coffee. Beignets are typically consumed for breakfast, for dessert, or as the perfect late-night snack as many cafés that serve them, including Café du Monde and Morning Call, are open 24 hours.
Jambalaya is a hearty dish that combines rice with meat, poultry, and/or seafood with a result akin to the Spanish paella. In New Orleans, the dish usually includes tomatoes, giving it a reddish hue. Ingredients can include chicken, Andouille sausage, pork, shrimp, crawfish, duck, and even alligator. The requisite “trinity” of onion, celery, and bell pepper is cooked with or without meat or seafood, and then the rice is added with stock, and the dish is covered to finish.
The Muffaletta sandwich was invented at the Central Grocery by Salvatore Lupo and became popular enough that it can now be found all over town. The sandwich is served on a round loaf that’s stuffed with salami, ham, provolone, and a local condiment called olive salad, which typically consists of olives, celery, and pickled peppers. Some restaurants heat the sandwich, but many purists consider that heresy.
Gumbo is yet another dish that has both Cajun and Creole variations. This thick soup or thin stew can include almost any meat or seafood found in South Louisiana. Cajuns generally cook the roux (browned flour and butter or oil) for gumbo until it is very dark, giving the dish a nutty flavor; for Creole gumbos, a lighter roux is employed, and okra and tomatoes are often included. A common ingredient, filé powder (dried, ground sassafras leaves), used as a thickening agent and seasoning, is considered by some as a necessary ingredient for making Cajun and Creole gumbo.
Boudin (boo-DAn) is a Cajun sausage that combines rice with pork or other ingredients; some of the best can be found just outside of the city at rural gas stations, where it’s frequently eaten as a roadside snack. In restaurants, the stuffing is sometimes removed from its casing, formed into balls, and fried.
Tasso is a cured and smoked pork product that is one of the treasures of Acadian charcuterie. Its high-spice profile makes it popular as a flavor base in local recipes such as gumbo and red beans. Though it is sometimes called tasso ham, the meat used to prepare it is from the pork shoulder rather than the leg.
Andouille is a smoked sausage of French origin that's made with both ground and cubed pork and flavored with garlic. The Cajun interpretation is more highly spiced and aggressively flavored than its French counterpart and is used in many South Louisiana dishes, including gumbo and jambalaya.
Pralines are sweet patty-shaped Creole treats made with caramelized sugar, cream, butter, and pecans—the latter often sourced from trees that grow locally in great abundance. Modern interpretations include chocolate, peanut butter, and bourbon pralines. Be sure to pronounce it like the locals: “PRAH-line,” not “PRAY-line.”
Back in the days before air-conditioning, New Orleanians developed the sno-ball (known elsewhere in the United States as a sno-cone) as a tasty summer treat: it's a ball of shaved ice served in a cup or Chinese take-out container, topped with anything from simple syrup to condensed milk. A New Orleans inventor designed the patented SnoWizard ice-shaving machine to produce the finest shaved ice imaginable, so a sno-ball in New Orleans is different (many would say better) than others. Hansen's Sno-Blitz Sweet Shop (4801 Tchoupitoulas St., Uptown) has been dishing them out since 1939; another stalwart is Plum Street Snoball (1300 Burdette St.); and locals rave about Piety Street Sno-Balls (612 Piety St) in the hip Bywater neighborhood for the variety of delicious, unique homemade flavors they offer.