Last June (last month? yesterday?), my friend and I bopped on down to New Orleans for a few days, mostly so I could eat all the things. I feel like spending 4 days in Louisiana makes it okay for me to call it N’awlins and to talk knowingly about boudin and gator.
It was June in the South, so of course it was sweat-drippingly hot. I got there a few hours earlier than my travelling companion, so I decided to hit the gym in advance of all the eating I knew I was going to do. I had scored some sort of hipster guide to N’awlins while I was in Nashville, so I rated how much I wanted to try each of the city’s specialties (I’m serious about food, yo).
Once my friend arrived, we stopped at a wine-by-the-glass sort of place en route to dinner (not at Emeril’s but I had to take a picture, didn’t I! Emeril = OG), where I indulged all of my Louisiana fantasies: boudin, alligator, and fried, fried mac n’ cheese perfection.
Day 2: Shit gets serious. We wandered the French Quarter a bit our first afternoon there, scoping out all the places we wanted to explore later. Obviously (OBVIOUSLY) we had to try beignets, so we stood in line with the rest of the “foodies” at Cafe du Monde for our own little bag of sugary heaven. Yeah, these were worth it – I would be surprised if these were the best beignets in the city, purely based on how touristy and crowded this place is, but they were still out of this world. And I learned a neat little trick for keeping your icing sugar from melting into a hot mess – mix it with a little bit of corn starch! The chicory coffee was also pretty good (and another New Orleans staple). We finished off the day with dinner at Antoine’s, a staple in the French Quarter. Sadly, it was not great. I didn’t even finish most of my meal. Seems like another case of an institution relying on past successes and not changing with the times. But still, mission Be a Tourist in New Orleans: accomplished.
The French Quarter itself is a juxtaposition of rowdy, drunk tourists and elegant, filigreed balconies, big brass jazz bands and classical string quartets, old and new, trashy and timeless. Let’s just be real for a second: there is also an undeniable divide between black and white – even though I watch the news and have some idea of American politics and culture, I was not expecting the environment to be so categorically segregated. Even though there is so much history and culture, so much good food to be had in New Orleans, this will probably be the reason I never visit again.
Although there is a vibrancy to this city, there is also an almost unshakeable air of decay, which might present itself in one of the bottomless Hurricanes that can be found on Bourbon St, on a tour to St Louis Cemetery No 1, or in roaming parts of the city that are not considered part of the tourist trail (don’t even get me started on the so-called “Catastrophe Tours”, where busloads of rich tourists are shuttled to the Lower 9th Ward to see the destruction still remaining after Katrina -> way to profit off someone else’s misery).
Day 3: We venture off the beaten path. Today we went in search of the real New Orleans. We ventured out to find some ice cream to beat the stifling heat at the aptly-named Creole Creamery, and stayed in the area for some of the city’s best po-boys from Domilise’s Po-Boys, a legendary family-run institution in an unassuming house in a nondescript neighbourhood (read: difficult to find). I had the classic (shrimp), and wished I had a second stomach so I could try the oyster. We moseyed on down to Cure for some cocktails, where I found the MOST EXCITING BAR EVER. We ended the night off with…sushi. I know. So not in keeping with the rest of the trip. Let’s just move past it and concentrate on the cocktails.
Day 4. Music. This was a day of exploring: we found a cookery book store in the French Quarter, went to St Louis Cemetery No 1 (where I forgot to bring a hat and practically passed out from the heat -> bring a hat, people!), ate pork rind nachos (delicious….up to a point. And then you’re just reminded that you’re eating fried pork skin and you can feel your arteries clogging). Also a Sazerac happened today! I’m sorry to say but I didn’t love it. I’m blaming it on the overheating from the cemetery. In the evening, we went to a night market, and then found all the music: a blues bar (with white musicians), a jazz brass bar (with black musicians; see how the divide works?), a rock and blues bar, and finally someone playing mournful piano from the back of a van (yes, they managed to fit a whole piano in there. Plus themselves).
All in all, a jam-packed, eventful weekend trip. I’ve been wanting to go to New Orleans for years and I’m so so glad I had the opportunity to do so. It seems like so much of the US is captured in this one spot: regional cuisine, history, culture, and bubbling racial tensions. I think everyone that visits New Orleans takes some part of it home with them, and I was no exception… I’ve got my eye on you, N’awlins, I’m rooting for you!