Salute to New Orleans – Laissez le bon temps rouler!

Nothing is better than when you are traveling and you connect with a local – someone who knows more than your tourist guide about the area. I love it when I can find someone to recommend where the locals will go to eat, to hear music, to drink. I’ll try to learn a phrase or two in the local language or patois to ensure I can at least get a laugh. If you can share a laugh with a stranger, you’re halfway there. Some of my best experiences have been those where I took that leap of faith, and went to the place not listed in the guide book.

One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to wander with camera in hand and just let my eye guide me. It’s hard to do if you’re traveling with someone else. Oddly enough, I’ve found not everyone is interested in waiting around for a breeze that will make that curtain in the shot you’ve framed move…just so. (no this photo is not one of mine…)

I feel so lucky to have visited New Orleans before the devastation of the storms. One of our days there we asked a taxi driver for a recommendation for lunch. We told him we did not want to go to a tourist place, but wanted to go where the locals know they can get a good lunch.

He said, “Mother’s – that’s where we go.” So, Mother’s it was. There was a short line out front which we attributed to the time of day – lunch rush. Once inside the very casual, cafeteria style place, we knew we were in good hands. You can always rely on good smells and smiles all around. The place was probably a mix of locals and tourists like us who were willing to go just a bit off the beaten path. Since it was one of my first meals in New Orleans, we decided to order a bunch of things to sample. C. was a little surprised that the women behind the counter all called him “Honey” or “Baby” or “Sugar” – that’s right, Sugar, New Orleans is not L.A. Y’all in the South now.

We ordered “a cup” of this and a bit of that. As we made our way down the line, I could tell by the looks from the ladies behind the counter that we were quickly and easily pegged as newbies. By the time we got to the end of the line, two trays were barely enough to carry our food! We actually ended up taking two tables to hold all the food from our plastic trays. Clearly, our taxi driver had forgotten to warn us about portion size.

Everything was delicious and unpretentious. You could imagine you were at a favorite Aunt’s house, a family reunion or a summer church picnic. With contributions from Native Choctaw Indians, African slaves, Cajuns, French Creole, and Spanish, it’s clear to see why everyone feels welcome and well-fed.

Another evening we took the advice of a new friend and found a jazz bar – way, way off the beaten path. Total local neighborhood, no tourists at all. It was one of the favorite discoveries of the trip.

Eating my way through as many of the glorious food tradtions as I could each day, I came to love Gumbo, and jambalaya, po boys, and beignet. The genuine laid back pace, the love of jazz, the flirtatious charm of the people, as well as the phenomenal food traditions, makes it hard to forget. I hope to get back there soon.

On the anniversary of the devastating hurricanes, some of my fellow food writers and I have devoted columns to a Salute to New Orleans. Thanks Michael for a chance to re-visit New Orleans, if only in memory for now.

Y’all stop by, Honey!

~ by jacqueline1230 on June 16, 2006.

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