The older I get, the less I seem to know.
Naked or dunked?
Roux or file?
Chargrilled or cold smoked?
Abita or Dixie?
Fried or raw?
Crab or shrimp?
Whiskey or gin?
Pudding or custard?
Cake or pie?
Chickory or no chickery?
Ya-ka-mein or pho?
Tobasco or Crystal?
Po-boy or poorboy?
Po-boy or banh mi?
Creole or Cajun?
The Holy Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Ghost or onion, celery and green pepper?
Dressed or undressed?
Dressing or stuffing?
Sauce or gravy?
Sno-ball or snowball?
Mirliton: fruit or vegetable?
As you have no doubt have figured out by now, I have New Orleans on my mind.
Or, more specifically, eating in New Orleans.
As I frequently do when I’m heading to a place away from home for a few days or longer, I look at reading material that will inform me about where I’m going.
Some people who prepare this way read about the history of the place. Others consult travel guides of the ‘not-to-miss’ sights or places off the beaten path, while others focus on the museums, architecture, etc.
For me, it’s first about the markets and food, then the people and life there today, and only after that do I delve into the past.
Thus, a long preamble to an upcoming trip to New Orleans, a place I’ve been to numerous times over the past 40 years, including just two weeks ago to celebrate my good brother-in-law’s 80th birthday.
So why this great insight into not knowing as much as I thought I knew?
My friend, and part-time New Orleanian Hugh R., has offered five or six titles of books that the three of us who are going to spend four or five days with him in April might consider reading before we arrive.
I quickly chose and ‘consumed’, so to speak, Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table, by Sara Roahen. (She had wanted to title the book “Queer for Oyster Po-Bo”, but you can guess what her editor said about that idea.)
As I indicated, I’m not new to this area nor it’s wonderful food. We’ve been going to Mosca’s for at least 40 years, have enjoyed Galatoire’s, Antoine’s, Arnaud’s, Broussard’s, Brennan’s, Acme’s, Felix’s, Café du Monde, Morning Call, and those no longer lakeside restaurants, etc. And when we do go to NOLA as we did two weeks ago for a period of 48 hours, we ‘managed’ to go to Casamento’s, Mosca’s, Clancy’s, The Column’s and had beignets and non chickory coffee just off the Avenue.
Plus, we’ve been cooking from our half dozen NO cookbooks for so long that the pages are warped, stained, and chewed.
But while reading Roahen’s book this week, I realized how much I don’t know.
In addition to the questions above, I hold my sister and brother-in-law (and their so called friends) personally responsible for my not knowing about:
Sazeracs, cream of nectar sno-balls, Hector’s, Central Grocery’s muffelettas, stuffed artichokes at Liuzza’s, braciolini (or is it bracialoni or brocilone, or braciole, etc.?).
Also, they never told us about St. Joseph’s Day, whether stuffed eggplant is a main course or a side dish, nothing about green gumbo, heirloom eggplant, and certainly they never even mentioned fried potato po-boys. Or why to make a turdunken at the last minute you have to start three days in advance?
Then there’s the Herbert brothers’ boneless chicken with spicy pork stuffing that’s a mere two and a half hour drive from New Orleans. How about Hawk’s, Perino’s Boiling Pot, Jackques-Imo’s alligator sausage cheese cake and Jim Core’s kale and sausage jambalaya?
What, dear sister, exactly is Le Boeuf Gras, fried cardoons, soaked salad, and why haven’t you taken us to Crescent City Steak House or secured us an invitation to Pableaux‘s for his Monday’s red beans and rice?
I could go on, but you get the drift. My sister and brother-in-law and their kids too, who have spent years in N’Orleans, have been quite remiss in their treatment of us.
For those of you who have been equally deprived, I suggest you get Sara Roahen’s Gumbo Tales/Queer for Oyster Po-Boys and get reading.
You’ll learn about all of the above questions, places, etc. Plus, you’ll learn why some folks would give up five years of their life for oysters, you’ll understand what is meant by a third-place restaurant, find out there was once a Chinatown in New Orleans, why crawfish bisque should be eaten as a main course with rice rather than as an appetizer, why crawfish aren’t good unless they are boiled, Liuzza’s sandwich that can change your life, and many more things that you should know by this time in your life.