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.
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!
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.
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.