When other Americans, ones who have never or only briefly been to Louisiana, think of this state, they say Mardi Gras, jazz, Cajun food, crawfish, alligators, swamps, hot sauce, Popeye’s Chicken, Hurricane Katrina, poboys, daiquiris, drive thru liquor stores, gumbo, jambalaya, and the infamous Britney Spears. Those are just some of the things non-Louisiana residents said on Reddit’s AskAnAmerican poll, “Other Americans, what do you think of when you hear the word ‘Louisiana?’”
“And the Creole food that I love and don’t get enough of at all,” said a Reddit user from Boston while agreeing with another user’s answer of swamps and alligators.
Nobody ever has any bad things to say about Louisiana, especially the food. It is so unique in itself compared to the rest of the world’s cuisine. Louisiana food is unlike any other. And in the capitol city of Baton Rouge, there is a lot of culture and history that many do not know about.
There is a fascinating story behind the term “Poboy.” It was coined in 1929 on the streets of New Orleans during a 4-month union strike against the streetcar, now some call them trolleys, company. Because of the strike, the company hired a non-union conductor to get the streetcars driving again. The pro union crowd was so infuriated by this, they lit the streetcar on fire.
The Martin Brothers owned a New Orleans restaurant at that time, but they were former streetcar conductors. In an effort to support their old colleagues, they contacted a local bread baker, to make a special loaf of bread that was long and narrow. The brothers sliced the new loaves down the middle to stuff it with fried potatoes and roast beef gravy, without the meat. These “poor boy” sandwiches were free at their restaurant for the ones on strike against the streetcar company. Workers at this restaurant would joke, “Oh here comes another poor boy.” The sandwich then was naturally shortened with Louisiana dialect to “Poboy.”
That is just one of the captivating stories Kimberly Harper tells on her Baton Rouge food tour, called C’est Si Bon, meaning “it’s so good.”
The tour starts off at a local Baton Rouge restaurant that’s been here since 1968, Poor Boy Lloyd’s with a taste of a deliciously messy hot roast beef poboy. The next stop was Capitol City Grill where the group had a fried green tomato covered in hollandaise sauce, topped with Louisiana lump crabmeat. Stroubes Chophouse was the third stop with a hot cup of duck and Andouille gumbo. Next was Restaurant IPO, which stands for Initial Public Offering, where duck poppers and Bon Temp shrimp were served. The last stop was dessert, of course, at Hotel Indigo’s King Bar & Bistro; some homemade vanilla ice cream with bananas and a bananas foster sauce was the perfect ending to the night.
“Louisiana Indians introduced filé powder which is ground sassafras leaves used as a thickener; meanwhile, the word ‘gumbo’ itself is an African word for okra. Spanish settlers intermingled with Cajuns, thus came jambalaya similar to a spicy paella – a Spanish dish – and may derive from this influence. German settlers introduced the art of making sausage, and from this developed locally crafted Andouille sausage.” This is how Harper tells her food tour groups how gumbo and jambalaya came about in Louisiana.
Bananas foster was a dish created in 1951 at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans for Richard Foster, a friend of Brennan. New Orleans was the major port for bananas. The chefs were challenged by Brennan to create a dish using bananas for Mr. Foster. At the time, the chefs did not know how popular bananas foster would become. Now, Brennan’s Restaurant buys 35,000 pounds of bananas each year for the sauce alone, said Harper.
Harper graduated from a college in Arkansas, but she was born and raised in Baton Rouge. When she visited home from college, her parents hosted a big crawfish boil. Harper’s friends in Arkansas begged to go home with her for the next crawfish boil. This made her realize how much she loves Louisiana and the love and history behind the food culture here. People who grow up in Louisiana will always have that appreciation for the traditions here that revolve around food.
Troy Deano, chef at Blend BR, discovered his passion for Louisiana food in the kitchens of his family. Growing up in St. Bernard Parish, a town on the outskirts of New Orleans people like to call “Da Parish,” he has always had an interest in cooking, especially dishes unique to Louisiana. At Blend, he strives to cook from purely local ingredients, but that is not always the case.
“I’m a from scratch person, I don’t like buying stuff. If I could kill the pig myself, I would,” said Deano. Most cooks like to follow a recipe to ensure a good meal, not Chef Deano. He experiments in the kitchen probably more than he should, but normally comes out with a dish to die for. Serving an average of 30 people a night, Blend offers dishes like crawfish beignets, duck flatbread, and shrimp and grits.
Deano gets his vegetables from Covey Rise Farms in Husser, LA. Pork and sometimes duck from Chappapeela Farms in Amite City, LA. And wild hog, lamb, and burger meat from Two Run Farms in Vaughan, Mississippi, just a short drive from New Orleans. Deano said people from these farms typically deliver his food on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He spends around $1,500 a week buying about 200 pounds of food.
“I am big minded, but small budgeted,” said Deano. Blend has a small kitchen, but Deano never fails to fill up his customers’ bellies.
Seafood is a different story, Deano said. He will usually buy seafood from New Orleans Fish House, but they are not always an option. Seafood from Thailand, China, and those types of places are way cheaper to buy from, because of how they produce. Deano said these big international seafood companies use slavery to manufacture their products. Crawfish are always from Louisiana, and are retrieved in a natural, good to the world way. Seafood is easily accessible according to Deano. In the world we live in now, anything can be shipped to you in a matter of hours. Deano said he could call a company in Hawaii and have something shipped to him the next day.
There is a good bit of people who will say that Baton Rouge is trying to be like New Orleans with the amount of restaurants. Deano said he thinks Baton Rouge does not compete against New Orleans enough. Baton Rouge is not as open minded as we should be about food, he said. Instead of trying to win over New Orleans, Baton Rouge should compare itself to big cities like Houston and New York, who have been continually growing in their food industries.
“Compete with yourself and be the best you can be with your own identity,” said Deano.
Some of the food in Baton Rouge will forever be changing to the trendy thing to eat at the moment, like the sushi craze right now. As will the rest of the world, but BR will never lose those special restaurants that keep its Louisiana food culture alive and thriving.