I feel I am a foodie. Well, maybe in the sense that I enjoy trying new foods, exploring the different cultures, cooking, and generally being a little bit of a lush. In my years of travels and explorations, I have had culinary experiences that some cringe at, from mystery meat in South Korea to camel in the Middle East. The foods have always been amazing to experience, and while sometimes not what I would order again, I cherish the memories associated.
In these travels, the food-voice of the area is often well defined, with small variations here and there on the main dishes, but the commonality of many of the places serving noticeable. Until I visit New Orleans, I thought very naively that this was how it was in most cities.
I thought wrong.
Many of you had recommendations on where to eat prior to this adventure, listing off the places I had to visit, sending tips through all forms of medium, and helped me build what I thought would be a great road map to follow. Each suggestion researched and taken into account; I thought it would be a breeze to discover the best.
I had three days in New Orleans, and by the end of the first, my taste buds were already on the roller coaster of a lifetime, unable to define the melting pot of flavors, techniques, styles, backgrounds, and options that had been presented. From the modern techniques and inspired meals at Carrollton Market to the beyond-craft menu of the drinks offered at Loa Bar in the International House Hotel, and even to the iconic Brennan’s, the food was so exceptionally amazing and wonderful, unique and creative, that it was an eye opener for me.
The mixture of French and Creole cooking, alongside English traditional, Southern comfort, and Caribbean spices, brought together by natives and expats alike in their own, unique styles was amazingly overwhelming.
And as I went on this culinary whirlwind, it was clear that this was not just the standard tourist’s fare often found in popular cities, but the food of the people, the food that represented the city and its melting pot of cultures, ideals, and history. I could not look around a corner and not see another restaurant, shack, or stand that wasn’t serving something that just enticed and drew me in. The smells, the sounds, the people, and all their passion behind the food and traditions, be it new or old, made the experience even more a wonder.
But to pick a favorite, to sit back and feel that there was one meal that represented the city best; now that is a challenge. Many visitors would pick Café du Monde, and others would go for Brennan’s; I feel there are two joints, together, that just represented the forward thinking, tradition following, and rogue atmosphere of New Orleans. Cochon and its neighbor Cochon Butcher, both dominating the gallery below, stand out as the best representation.
Now, I know some of you might be shifting in your seats, writing me hate mail, or otherwise cursing my name with that bold claim, but hear me out. Sitting down at the table inside Cochon, looking around, I didn’t see the standard tourists. Instead, I saw business people, couples, and locals enjoying their lunches and each other’s company. Right away, you knew this was a local’s joint, and with that, the idea that it serves local food is automatic. Second, each of the dishes brought out, from the ham knuckles to the desserts, were magnificently prepared, utilizing old techniques and flavors that felt like a melting pot in each of the bites. And next door at Butcher, where fresh Boudin was made in front of me and served still warm, all at the hands of one of the most skilled butchers I have had the pleasure of speaking with, I couldn’t help but feel that, at that lunch, that meal, I had found New Orleans.
What can I say? I walked away from this adventure full, thinking of the hours ahead of me in the gym to make up for the copiousness of food and flavors, knowing full well each moment burning it all off was worth it. I found, in these culinary treats, my New Orleans, my where to eat, my centering point that will always call me back, be my point to start and probably end each trip to the area, and it became this foodie’s dream come true.