Food & Drink

What are traditional New Orleans foods?

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New Orleans' cuisine, including its candy, is going to keep you coming back
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When in New Orleans, foods that are traditional should be a main attraction!

“Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and file' gumbo
'Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou.”

                                 By Hank Williams

Traditional New Orleans foods have some very catchy and unusual names. In New Orleans, Cajun and Creole cuisine is the norm. Cajun refers to those French-speaking people who were deported from Canada and settled in Louisiana.

Cajun meals traditionally consist of a main dish, steamed rice, seafood dish, sausage and a vegetable. Onions, bell peppers and celery are essential in Cajun cooking as is cayenne pepper, bay leaf, parsley, green onion, celery and carrots. When you are in Cajun country except to eat hot boudin, which is sausage that is made from pork and rice. Most Cajun cooking is done in large pots.

In general, people in New Orleans and in Louisiana who are descendants of the Spanish and French are called Creole.  Creole meant that the person was born in America and not in the Old World. Sometimes the word was used to distinguish white people with no hint of African American blood in them. Eventually, the term was used to refer to people of mixed-race who were born in Louisiana or the free people of color, which meant a full African or partial African, who was not a slave.  

There is a bit of a difference between Cajun and Creole cooking. Cajun jambalaya is brown and doesn’t have tomato in it whereas Creole jambalaya does contain tomato, to name one difference.


One of the highlights of a New Orleans visit is eating the remarkable candy that is part of the New Orleans experience.

When in New Orleans, eat the traditional candy of that area, which includes pralines, tortues made of caramel, hand-decorated alligators and frogs, toffee sprinkled with nuts, artisan chocolates and just about any mouth-watering sweet delicacy you can imagine.


A favorite and traditional food of this part of the country is gumbo, which is a kind of stew that is served over rice. However, those in the know in New Orleans protest that gumbo is virtually its own food group. Items in gumbo include okra, which is a vegetable that was introduced to this country by slaves from West Africa. Its purpose is to thicken soup stocks and provide seasoning. Most people add some kind of protein, too, frequently large shrimp, chicken or some kind of beans. 

In addition, bay leaves and sassafras are also found in gumbo. Legend has it that gumbo got its name from kimgombo, which is the African name for okra. Some cooks add chicken or sausage or ham or seafood.


Jambalaya is reportedly the invention of a creative cook who threw something together for a late arrival to a New Orleans’ establishment. The French word for throwing something together is “balayez.” This is a rice dish coupled with spices, bold flavoring, sausage, chicken, seafood or all three. To prepare Jambalaya, toss sausage, chicken, green pepper, tomatoes, celery, onion and chicken broth, hot sauce, oregano, Cajun season, thyme and bay leaves into a slow cooker. Cook the contents on low for seven hours and then cook on high for three hours. At this point, stir thawed shrimp into the mixture and cook for approximately five minutes or until the shrimp is heated through. Get rid of the bay leaves and spoon the mixture over cooked rice.  


How about some crawdads for supper? Crawdads are otherwise known as crawfish or crayfish. This is a freshwater crustacean that looks a bit like a lobster.

Crawfish Etouffee is a popular and traditional dish in New Orleans, and something that you don’t find just anywhere. Crawfish Etouffee is a thick stew filled with crawfish and lots of seasoning. It is served over rice Etouffee is the French word for “to smother.” Roux means a mixture of fat and flour that are briefly cooked and is used to thicken the base of a soup or sauce such as Crawfish Etouffee.


King cakes are part of the Mardi Gras ritual. The cake is made of Danish pastry that is braided and infused with cinnamon. The icing on the king cakes is the color or Mardi Gras – green for faith, purple for justice and gold for powder. Inside every king cake is a tiny plastic baby. Whoever finds the baby first must buy the next “round” of king cakes or throw the next party. Sometimes apple, strawberry or cream cheese fillings are in the king cakes.


When immigrants from Sicily arrived in New Orleans in the late 1880s they brought with them their fine cooking. The Muffuletta, which is a cold cut sandwich, is a very popular Italian food. It is served on a 10 inch piece of round Italian bread. Genoa salami, Provolone cheese and Cappicola ham is added along with olive salad ( pimentos, green unstuffed olives that are chopped, garlic, celery, capers, cocktail onions, parsley, oregano, red-wine vinegar and salt and pepper.


Po-boy is a roast beef sandwich smothered in gravy, or a sandwich that consists of oysters, fried shrimp, soft shell crab, or catfish that rests on French bread. The ideal bread is flaky and crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The sandwich contents are topped off with hot sauce, mayonnaise, lettuce and pickles.

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