It is Mardi Gras season, and you're in the mood for a New Orleans-inspired food adventure, but you're not sure where to go or what to try. The terms and dishes can be daunting, for sure, but here's a quick down-and-dirty cheat sheet to guide your decision-making process.
A little background: Creole and Cajun cuisines are similar due to the French heritage of both cultures and incorporate the "holy trinity" of onions, bell peppers and celery as a recipe base, but the terms are not necessarily interchangeable. Creole is often thought of as "city" food while Cajun is considered "rustic." It is said that a Creole feeds one family with three chickens and a Cajun feeds three families with one chicken.
Gumbo is perhaps the most iconic Louisiana dish and can be Creole or Cajun, depending on how the roux (pronounced roo) is made. Enjoy the deep flavor of the Cajun Chicken and Andouille Gumbo at Highway 61 Roadhouse in St. Louis. Stop by Glenn's Café in Columbia for a hearty cup of New Orleans Seafood Gumbo and a side of their bread pudding with whiskey sauce (ok, it's not a side but it is a must-try).
Confused about the difference between jambalaya and etouffee (pronounced eh-too-fey)? Jambalaya, a distant cousin of paella, is a broth-based rice dish that includes the holy trinity and shellfish and/or sausage. The Creole version has tomatoes; the Cajun version does not. Etouffee means "smothered" in French and is roux-based and served over rice. Can't decide? Order the New Orleans Medley at Lake of the Ozarks' Shorty Pants and sample both. Ready to give crawfish (aka mudbugs) a try? Sample the crawfish etouffee at Boudreaux's Louisiana Seafood and Steaks in St. Joseph.
Traditionally, boudin (pronounced boo-dan) is sausage stuffed with pork and rice and is about as Cajun as it gets. Like New Orleans, Broussard's in Cape Girardeau is located on the Mississippi River and serves house-made spicy pork and crawfish boudin. Soiree New Orleans Bistro in Smithville offers a crispy, fried boudin ball topped with roasted red pepper sauce and spicy remoulade (basically an herbed mayo).
Wanna know what makes a po' boy a po' boy? It's the bread. It must be crusty on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. Broadway Oyster Bar in St. Louis imports fresh-baked bread from Gambino's in New Orleans for their po' boys, not to mention an array of oysters served raw, grilled and fried. Big Easy Grill in Springfield also has a variety of po' boys to choose from including roast beef, shrimp, oyster and sausage.
And for lagniappe (pronounced lan-yap), Cajun for a little something extra, visit Beignet in The City Market in Kansas City. Sure, their traditional beignets, sprinkled with powdered sugar are hard to beat, but take a chance on the Crusty Crab Beignet with blue crab, hickory smoked bacon, and herbed goat cheese; you won't be disappointed.