Get a taste of some of the famous dishes of the Crescent City on a walking culinary tour.
Some people go to New Orleans just to eat. With roots in French cuisine to its Cajun and Creole traditions, as well as the influence of Italian and African cooks—the city’s food is one of my favorite things in the world. Whether you prefer dressing for dinner or joining a neighborhood crawfish boil, there’s something for everyone in New Orleans.
Want to learn more about the celebrated cuisine styles of the city but don’t have time for a cooking class on your New Orleans vacation? Tag along on a culinary tasting tour, offered by New Orleans Culinary Tours. For just $43, you’ll spend three hours wandering around the French Quarter with a savvy guide. Besides insights into the evolution of the Crescent City’s notable cuisine, you’ll get samples of luscious treats—from gumbo to pralines. [Read more about New Orleans Restaurants.]
My group met guide George Thomas on a very busy Friday afternoon before Mardi Gras. I even had to dodge the crowds on Bourbon Street to get to our meeting place at Antoine’s Restaurant (713 St. Louis St., tel. 504-581-4422) on time. The oldest restaurant in the city, Antoine’s has three buildings containing 15 dining rooms. According to Thomas, the restaurant can handle 1,200 people per night. But we didn’t linger, because we had food to taste.
Petunia’s Restaurant (817 St. Louis St., tel. 504-522-6440) was our stop for gumbo—the super soup of the region. Thomas explained that both Creole and Cajun culinary traditions include gumbo—Creole cooking uses a lighter roux (a mixture of flour and fat: butter or oil) and Cajun style is with a darker roux. For a thickener, okra is used mainly in Creole gumbo, and Cajun cooking involves filé, or ground sassafrass leaves.
Muffalettas are a yummy gift from New Orleans’ Sicilian settlers, and everyone has a favorite spot for the dish. Mine happens to be the Napoleon House (500 Chartres St., tel. 504-524-9752), where we stopped for a sample of this sandwich: olive salad, cheese, ham and pastrami on round Italian bread. The Napoleon House is the only place in the city that heats its muffaletta.
To continue tasting the city’s Italian cuisine, we stopped by La Divina Gelateria (621 St. Peter St., tel. 504-302-2692) for a rich Sicilian eggplant parmesan sandwich with mozzarella and tomato pesto on freshly baked ciabatta bread. The samples disappeared in seconds. Afterwards, we sampled some sweet cappuccino gelato, made from house-grown coffee.
Tujague’s Restaurant (823 Decatur St., tel. 504-525-8676) was established in 1856, and once served breakfast and lunch to seamen, dock workers and people who worked in the markets. A traditional dish from Tujague’s lunches from that time is still served in the restaurant today: beef brisket boiled with aromatic vegetables and served with nasal-clearing horseradish sauce. Stop by Tujague’s on your own, and you’ll get a six-course prix fixe menu which includes beef brisket and the other historic dish from the restaurant, shrimp remoulade.
Besides all the food, the highlight of the tour for me was our stop at Creole Delicacies (533 St. Ann St., tel. 504-523-6425), a store just across from Jackson Square. We sampled New Orleans’ traditional Monday meal—red beans and rice. Monday was laundry day, and the perfect time to have something easy cooking on the stove while people were otherwise occupied with household chores.
In the courtyard out back, chef Saundra Green demonstrated how to make a roux. “When you’re making roux, you’ll smell like it—your clothes, hair and skin. That could be good or bad, depending on who you’re trying to impress,” she said. Her special tip is to make a lot of roux, then pour it (after it cools) into ice cube trays to freeze and save for later.
Just a short distance from the yummy gelato at La Divina Gelateria is Pirate’s Alley Café (622 Pirate’s Alley, tel. 504-524-9332). Located in a picturesque alleyway next to St. Louis Cathedral, this is the spot for an amazing rum cake, said to be pirate Jean Lafitte’s favorite dessert. The cakes are made from local ingredients, and you can even purchase one to take home (small, $25; large, $35). I admit, I bought one to take home, but shared it that evening with friends—so it didn’t get very far.
What’s New Orleans without pralines? There are shops throughout the city offering sweet pecan candies, but we stopped at Leah’s Candy Kitchen (714 St. Louis St., tel. 504-523-5662). Besides the traditional creamy pecan praline (in New Orleans, you say praw-leen), Leah’s offers frosted pecans and pecan brittle. Just try going home without some sugary treat. Even if you don’t pack your pralines well, I discovered that crushed pralines taste quite good on ice cream.
New Orleans Culinary Tours. Buy tour spots online at www.noculinarytours.com or call 212-209-3370. Tours are three hours and cost $43 per person.
Destinations: New Orleans
Hey, that's my friend Bob in the NH photo! Great article Jill!