Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Arriving in The Big Easy

French Quarters, New OrleansThe jazz funeral scene from the James Bond movie, Live and Let Die always comes to mind when I think of New Orleans. This unique New Orleans tradition consists of a brass band followed by two lines of mourners and the casket. That's just one of many unique traditions of the Big Easy. No one quite knows how the city got it's nick name. Many speculate the name was given by the many musicians who found this a easy place to ply their trade; others say it was because of the relaxed laws on alcohol and low costs of living.

French Quarters, New OrleansThere are many things about New Orleans that make it worth a visit (or two): the historic French Quarters; the unique Creole and Cajun culinary tradition; and of course, Mardi Gras. New Orleans and Rio are the two cities most known for its Mardi Gras celebrations. Shops lining the streets near my hotel were filled with Mardi Gras masks, bead necklaces and voodoo dolls. Art celebrating the history of blacks and books on Creole-Cajun cooking were everywhere too. Neighbouring Bourbon Street - filled with strip clubs, saloons and bars - was particularly festive on this day due to the game being held. The local New Orleans Saints won decisively leading to more celebrations on these streets. Loud music, drinking and dancing followed all the way into the night!

French Quarters New Orleans
French Quarters, New Orleans
French Quarters, New OrleansThe French owned the port of Orleans until Napolean sold this territory to America! This city was also under Spanish rule for a while. The French Quarters are a reminder of the French past and one of the city's most popular attractions. The unique culinary tradition also comes from this city's rich multi-cultural past, primarily Creole and Cajun.

French Quarters New Orleans
French Quarters, New OrleansA Creole is anyone born in the colonies of European ancestry, French or Spanish or both. Creole cuisine developed in New Orleans from a mixture of traditions of many nationalities - the culinary arts of the French, of Spain mixed with the American Indian influence, and all stirred together with the natural skill of the African. Cooking ingredients were plentiful here; seafood and wild game, wild herbs and vegetables, the best produce from upriver, spices from South America, and worldwide imports into the country's second-largest port. Additional influences came with the German and Italian immigrations just before the turn of the century. The resulting food is called Creole.

French Quarters New Orleans
French Quarters, New OrleansCajuns originated in southern France, emigrated in the early 1600's and settled a colony called Acadia, when all of Canada was controlled by France. In the mid-1700's the British drove them out when they would not swear allegiance to the King and renamed the the province Nova Scotia. Many of them migrated to Louisiana, where they were welcomed by the large French population. They settled primarily along the waterways of southwest Louisiana and turned to their traditional practice of fishing and farming for a living. Cajun cooking is old French cooking, usually in one big pot, adapted to the ingredients available, expanded by the herbs and spices growing wild in the area. Cajun food was the food of the isolated country people.

French Quarters New OrleansIt took me over 26 hours of flying and waiting in airport lounges to get here. It was a very busy afternoon when I began my trip in Pune. I was on my phone all through check-in and the boarding process. I had run out of charge by the time I got into Mumbai and had to charge the phone as I ate dinner before catching my flight. I was at the Pan Asian in the Grand Maratha hotel.

Pan Asian Grand Maratha
Pan Asian Grand Maratha
Pan Asian Grand MarathaThe Sichuan Hotpot looked interesting on the menu but that required me to move to a table with a grill in it. I decided to have something else instead. I began with Crystal Prawn Dumpling followed by the Thai red curry with red snapper. For dessert, I selected the Sticky Date Cake, a reinterpretation of a Balinese recipe with lemon-honey drizzle. The dumplings were unremarkable, but the red curry was excellent and dessert was very good too.

I slept all the way to Singapore. At Singapore, after freshening up at the SilverKris lounge quickly, I boarded the 747 bound for LA via Narita. The noodle bar at the ANA lounge in Tokyo revived me with a spicy, hot Udon noodle soup with beancurd. Udon is made of buckwheat and the noodles are thicker than ordinary noodles. I was sufficiently to watch the first two episodes of critically acclaimed Mad Men.

Noodle Soup at the ANA LoungeImmigration in LA was a breeze but then I found I had a five hour wait before my United Air flight to New Orleans. It was midnight in New Orleans when I got there. My hotel, the Marriott on Canal Street, was alive and crowded even at that time. I have to mention the high-tech elevators in this hotel (reminded me of the ANA Hotel in Tokyo). You punch the number of your floor into a panel in the elevator bank and it directs you to a particular elevator. When inside the elevator, there are no buttons to punch. I was on the the 22nd floor and the view of the city below was fantastic.

Breakfast at 5Fify5 Marriott New OrleansNext day I woke up to find I had left my AC adapter home. Thankfully, there was a Radio Shack two blocks away and I found one. After a hearty breakfast at 5Fifty5, the hotel's lobby restaurant , I was on my way into the French Quarters to discover the many charms of this city.

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Lakshmi said...

seeing so many pictures of delicious food has made me hungry..Its difficult dieting and reading your blog :)

Gautam said...

Ah, NOLA. My favouritest city in the whole wide world. You must try the beignets at Cafe Du Monde. And the trick is to breathe in while eating them. That's the difference between a tourist and a local... :)

indicaspecies said...

You have so much interesting to share. I particularly liked the part of the Creole and Cajun culture.

Anonymous said...

@lakshmi: Haha!

@gautam: Actually, I did contemplate going to Cafe Du Monde for the beignets. Unfortunately, there were too many places on my must-visit list, and too little time. Next time, perhaps!

@indicaspecies: I learnt about them only during this trip. Indians will love the food, because of it's liberal use of spices.

Sangfroid said...

I am NOT going to have home made food tonite :-)

Anonymous said...

I'd love to visit la Nouvelle Orléans but so far, I have only been to Orléans in France! :D

Anonymous said...

@sangfroid: :)

@zhu: Of course! :)

Deepti said...

The part about Creole and Cajun history was really a nice read and the food looks amazing .. that goes without saying :)

Anonymous said...

@deepti: Glad you liked it!