New Orleans is a culinary wonder. Influences have poured in from France, the Caribbean, the British and more recently, the Vietnamese. It has led to a city that is rightly known for its unique flavours. Creole meets Cajun, meets American, meets European. It’s quite the melting pot. So what better way to get under the skin of New Orleans, than with a French Quarter Food Tour with Sidewalk Food Tours!? Join us as we discover these 8 foods you must try in New Orleans.
We were hosted by Sidewalk Food Tours but all opinions are our own.
The group met just outside Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar. There were only four of us which meant more food for everyone (win). Our guide, a lovely guy called Lee, introduced himself and ushered us inside for our first tasty morsel.
Dish One – Oysters
In New Orleans (as well as served raw), oysters are drenched in garlic butter and herbs and chargrilled. The butter bubbles up, splashes over the edge of the shell and brings the flame up even higher.
Until this experience, I had only ever eaten oysters raw. I guess I thought I was a purest and such an expensive ingredient should be enjoyed as is…
…I may have been mistaken.
As with most oyster dishes, these are not the prettiest molluscs in the playground, but they were incredibly indulgent and utterly addictive. I usually eschew the bread in seafood restaurants (choosing to focus on the fishy protein) but I had to soak up every last drop of garlicky, gooey goodness. It was just a shame I had to share with everyone else.
Dish Two – Praline
Leah’s still makes traditional praline as they have done for over 70 years. This has been a favourite sweet in New Orleans since the French first made an appearance here! When I thought about a praline, I pictured small, chocolate covered treats, but these were like huge drinks coasters.
Nibbling at it, it reminded me of vanilla fudge stuffed with nuts. It turns out, this was the version with cream added, but a true praline can be just nuts and sugar. The thing that makes New Orleans pralines different is their use of Louisiana pecan nuts instead of the more traditional almonds, and that addition of cream.
The sugar rush was almost instant and my eyes bulged slightly when it hit my bloodstream.
Dish Three – Poboy
Probably the most famous of New Orleans’ food exports is the po’boy. I was desperate to try one and couldn’t wait to scoff the lot.
We arrived outside NOLA Po’Boys, which we had very nearly gone to for dinner the night before. (Thank goodness we ended up in Clover Grill instead or we’d have spoiled it). Lee ordered us all a beef po’boy to try. Originally, the tour served a different version but one day, they were all out so they tried the beef instead. It went down such a treat with the tourists that they stick to beef now.
The beef was tender and thinly sliced, but the gravy soaking through to the crispy baguette took this sandwich to another level. THIS was what the Philly cheesesteak was missing!
The gravy is probably the most authentic bit of a po’boy. The story goes: The Martin brothers started providing these free and filling sandwiches to the struggling population during a streetcar strike in the late 1920s. They used the dripping and occasional scraps of meat from the beef main courses of their rich clients meals. These rich folks saw the “poor boys” coming in and out of the kitchen and the sandwiches they clutched inherited the name. Over time this was shortened to Po’Boy.
Whether it is true or not, it make a satisfying story, and a VERY satisfying sandwich!
Dish Four – Muffuletta
There are many Italian deli sandwiches out there. Meat, cheese and bread all stacked in easy to eat configurations. However, Central Grocery & Deli in New Orleans has created one that has made it famous. So famous that a long queue snakes through the shop and out of the door nearly all day; The Muffuletta
This wagon wheel of a sesame bun has the meat (salami and ham), it has the cheese (mortadella, Swiss and provolone) but it also has an amazing “salad” made of olives, herbs, capers and veggies. It is gives the whole sandwich a surprising kick of flavour that is both salty and fresh.
Once again, I was sad to have to share. Admittedly, I was just being greedy and probably couldn’t have eaten the whole thing, but still…..hands off my muffuletta (that sounds rude).
Dish Five – BBQ Shrimp
“Chuck another shrimp on the barbie”
I had a definite picture of what we were getting for our next stop. Some grilled prawns, maybe with their heads and tails in place and a squeeze of lemon…something.
However, instead, a large dish of red sauce arrived. I look perplexedly at Lee as he explained that this was, in fact, the fabled BBQ shrimp.
A New Orleans resident, back in the 1950s, tried a yummy prawn dish in Chicago. He enjoyed it so much that he tried to convince a chef back home to recreate it. This BBQ shrimp dish was the result.
Big gulf prawns are sauteed in a pan with loads of seasoning, cream, Cajun spices and other delicious things. The sauce was called barbeque sauce, because the one we know and love today, didn’t really exist.
We had great fun digging out the prawns and scooping up the tangy sauce with the french bread on the side. I enjoyed this but wouldn’t want a whole one to myself.
Dish Six – Bread Pudding
Having seen bread pudding in many a menu around the French Quarter. I must admit, I was confused. Bread and butter pudding was a school lunch dessert that I dreaded in the dinner time queue. In New Orleans, however, it seems to be de rigueur.
The bowl arrived steaming hot and looking less like school dinners than I feared. I tried some and it was actually really good. Cinnamon, sugar, vanilla, milk and eggs are added to french bread (rather than buttered white bread slices as in the UK). Every restaurant does this differently and they add their own concoctions of nuts, fruits and flavours. These are baked in the oven until the whole thing is gooey and unctuous. It is quite a heavy end to a meal but perfect for a chilly evening. I may be a bread pudding convert.
Dish Seven – Beignet
The Sidewalk Food Tours website did mention beignets but they no longer have this as a tour stop. They couldn’t arrange a relationship with anywhere that does good beignets and so it was up to try them at another time.
A Beignet is a square doughnut absolutely drowning in icing sugar (American English translation – a square donut absolutely drowning in powdered sugar). They are bigger than you think so make sure you are hungry when you go for beignets!
If you want to try them, give any of the Cafe Beignet locations a go. There is one in Bourbon Street with live music outside which is really nice in the evening. It is worth noting that the beignets here are a little chewier/crispier than in most places, this gives them a satisfying texture but means the sugar goes everywhere!
The most famous spot for a beignet in New Orleans is Cafe Du Monde, at one end of Jackson Square, by the Mississippi. They produce the perfect beignet in a nice setting and in the same way they have been for over 150 years. However, there is often a queue here so leave some time to wait. Alternatively, as they are open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, turning up at 3am could help you skip the line.
Dish Eight – Crawfish
This is another dish we hunted out for ourselves. It wasn’t crawfish time during our visit (the season runs from early-March to mid-June) but it would be a travesty to visit the home of crawfish and not over-indulge. If you are in town during peak season, you will find steaming pots of bright red crustaceans in plenty of places, but outside of these dates, you’ll have to look a little harder.
Boil Seafood House sells crawfish all year. and you can have it the old fashioned way, or smothered in delicious sauces (Caribbean, Cajun or garlic butter). I am a seafood fiend and cracking, sucking and devouring a trough of crawfish and blue crabs was a pure delight. It is a little further from the French Quarter, down in the Garden District, but it worth the journey.
Information About Sidewalk Food Tours
If you are thinking of joining Sidewalk Food Tours, here is some information you might like to know:
- Sidewalk Food Tours offers food tours in six different cities including Paris and New York.
- In New Orleans, as well the French Quarter Food Tour, you can explore the Lower Garden District, seeing a different side of the city and it’s less traditional food scene.
So What Do You Think of These 8 Foods You Must Try in New Orleans?
As this blog, and my waistline can confirm, I love a food tour. It is an ideal way to see both the history, culture of a location, but also allows you to skip the odd queue and eat some seriously tasty food.
The French Quarter Food Tour with Sidewalk Food Tours was not just packed with some traditional and tasty treats, but Lee’s love of history really bought New Orleans’ past to life. It was the perfect mix of knowledge, NOLA fare and city exploration. Plus, what better way is there to try these 8 foods you must try in New Orleans in such a short time frame, perfect for a short break!