I’m Raging for Cajun But Don’t “Cut” My Coffee

One of the collateral benefits of travel is the opportunity to sample “local” cuisine.  I don’t need to travel out of the country for this benefit.  Like many large countries, the U.S. has regional cuisines.

I like chili.  I’ve always associated chili with a red tomato base.  But when I was in southern Utah, I had the opportunity to sample green chili in Moab.  I liked it but I don’t see green chili on menus where I live in north Florida.

In New Mexico, whenever we had a burger the last question about how we wanted it prepared was: green or red? The first time I was asked that, I had to inquire…green or red what? And the answer was “peppers.”  In New Mexico, it is assumed you want some variety of pepper on your burger.  I wish they’d ask me that in Florida.  (As you can see, I like spicy food.)

In my own state, Tampa and south Florida are known for Cuban cuisine.  A Cuban sandwich with cafe con leche is a nice lunch.  But for dinner, I’d like something more substantial, such as puerco asado or masas de puerco (both pork dishes),  black beans and rice and fried bananas.  And of course some leche flan (milk and egg custard with caramel) for dessert.

Puerco asado

Puerco asado

My half-Spanish mother used to cook me a dish called Arroz Cubano (Cuban Rice) which I’ve never seen on a menu but there are recipes for it on the Internet.  Her version was inverted cup of rice in the center with a fried egg on top.  Circling the rice is ground beef and circling the ground beef are fried bananas.  Delicious!

Arroz Cubano

Arroz Cubano

When it comes to regional cuisine, I doubt any region has the variety found in Louisiana, home to Cajun cooking.  I believe Cajun food is one of the major attractions of Louisiana.  It certainly is for me!

Let’s see, there ‘s the spicy andouille sausage and also boudin sausage.  There’s gumbo (derived from an African word for okra, brought to the U.S. on slave ships).  And jambalaya.

One of my most memorable meals was at the Alpine in “Nawlins.” It was roast duck breast in a wonderful praline sauce.  I doubt I’ll ever see that on a menu outside Louisiana.

No visit to Cajun country is complete without indulging in a muffuletta.  I like to take it out from Progress Grocery along with a bag of Louisiana-made Zapp’s potato chips and have a picnic lunch near the French Market.

I can't believe we ate the whole muffeletta!

That’s a lotta muffuletta

But there’s one New Orleans staple that I don’t partake in and do not understand: coffee and chicory.  I’m somewhat of a coffee elitist.  I don’t buy the name brands found in big containers at the bottom of grocery shelves.  I buy online and typically it is whole bean grown at high altitude in countries like Guatemala or Mexico.

So the thought of diluting my coffee with a plant root is…horrifying.  And paying at least as much, if not more, for coffee and chicory than for “pure” coffee is…perplexing.  Yet, the Cafe du Monde gift shop and other stores do a brisk business from tourists buying cans of coffee and chicory to bring home as souvenirs.

Coffee and chicory was a “make do” response to the Union naval blockade of New Orleans during the Civil War, which produced many shortages.  Coffee was one of those shortages.  Chicory was added to coffee to “stretch” it.  For whatever reason, the practice continued even after the Civil War ended and coffee was no longer difficult to obtain.

I’ll admit that I did try coffee and chicory.  Once.  It didn’t appeal to me and I’ve not sought it out since.

When I’m in Nawlins, I’ll sit at the Cafe du Monde sipping a cafe au lait with the other tourists.  (Actually, Cafe du Monde is usually so crowded I take it out and sip it on a bench overlooking either Jackson Square or the river.)  But I’ll leave coffee and chicory to the tourists willing to pay more for less.

English Peas


8 responses to “I’m Raging for Cajun But Don’t “Cut” My Coffee

  1. Re: coffee and chicory. I believe that coffee was also rationed during one or both of the World Wars. As I understand it, from when I lived there, there was a time when people couldn’t get coffee at all, or if so, it was too expensive for “common folk”. Those who could afford it did use chicory to stretch what they had, and poor people just drank a beverage made exclusively from chicory, which was readily available. But during that time, people developed a taste for coffee with chicory, and therefore it persisted.
    I have to tell you that no one there ever says “Nawlins”. That’s a sure-fire, dead giveaway that you’re a tourist. There are two accepted pronunciations. New Or’-lins (two syllables) or New Or’-lee-ans (three syllables). “New” is never, ever abbreviated.
    As for Café du Monde, it’s one of the best places there, because it’s a true melting pot of locals and tourists. I think of it like the Champs Elysee, where it’s said that if you sit there long enough, everyone you ever knew will pass by.

    • I had forgotten about coffee rationing during the two World Wars. But developing a taste for that coffee is another matter. But hey, there are folks who like veggie burgers!

  2. Arroz Cubano looks and sounds really delicious! Is it a breakfast meal? Or an anytime meal?

  3. I wrote a response earlier in the week but it got eaten up and sent to the wordpress graveyard.

    Interesting post, we have similar tastes in spicy food. I greatly enjoy French Quarter and West Tampa food. Also prefer gourmet coffee, freshly ground beans are a must….that and good water. Hate chicory………yuck.

    Recently I have been acquiring historical cook books, love reading and preparing traditional foods, particularly southern foods as they have such a diversity of origins. For example I came across The Picayune Creole Cookbook which has recipes from Old New Orleans. The first edition was published in the 19th Century this one in the 1930s, after prohibition. It has a great combination of cultures that contributed to New Orleans fine cuisine. Spanish, French, Creole, Islander, Indian with a little redneck thrown in.
    I fixed some fresh Mackerel last week that was really good, and some Parmesan baked linguine a few weeks back that is excellent.

    My favorite restaurants in New Orleans are Court of Two Sisters and Arnauds, but it’s been a awhile since I’ve been. In Tampa there are many great Cuban restaurants that fix really tasty, cheap food, unlike the two I like in New Orleans, food ain’t cheep.

    • So is cooking something you have taken up ro expanded on since retiriing.

      I think I’ve been to Two Sisters once but it didn’t leave an impression since I can’t recall anything about it.

      When in NO, which has been years, we like the Gumbo Pot, around the corner from the church at Jackson Square. Also, Mother’s on Poydras, which we came across when staying at a nearby hotel (Ambassasdor).

  4. *So is cooking something you have taken up ro expanded on since retiriing*

    Nope, I started cooking around age 10. I didn’t care for much of what was prepared at home so I usually ate elsewhere or fixed it myself. Earned a cooking merit badge in Cub Scouts…lol I think I was the only guy in my pack that did. I find cooking for others pleasurable and enjoy almost all foods..

  5. Sounds like you have a hearty appetite and enjoy trying different types of cooking. Thankfully my father, Smitty, taught to try something, you’ll never know just how good it is otherwise!

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