Billie Holiday may not have been singing about food with Louis Armstrong in the 1947 song “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” but any New Orleanian today knows that our local cuisine definitely has a lot to do with it. These 19 things are part of what makes New Orleans a city like no other, and they’re some of the things we crave the most when we’re away.
There is nothing more quintessentially New Orleanian than a “poor boy sandwich.” Whether they’re filled with juicy roast beef or fried shrimp, it’s the authentic French bread that truly sets them apart from any ordinary sandwich.
When people think of New Orleans, one of the first images that comes to mind is probably Cafe du Monde, and for good reason. These fried dough delights doused in powdered sugar are an incomparable Crescent City staple.
3. Creole Classics
Gumbo, jambalaya, red beans, and rice… These are the kinds of comfort foods that form the foundations of our culinary culture.
4. Soul Food
Anyone from the South knows that most foods are better when they’re deep fried, smothered in cheese or sauce, drowned in butter, or all of the above. It’s good for your soul; don’t question it.
One of the best things about life on the Gulf Coast is the abundance of fresh seafood, from crab cakes to catfish almondine to baked oysters to fried shrimp. Not to mention the essential sauce sidekicks like remoulade and Tabasco.
No, they don’t count as seafood. Crawfish are freshwater critters, so maybe you could say they’re “swamp food.” Crawfish boils are a time for neighbors, families, and friends to come together and share mountains of these spicy mudbugs.
Don’t call them snow cones; you’ll hurt their feelings. Snowballs are the most fun way to cool off on a hot New Orleans day, and you’ll find yourself wishing for William’s or Hansen’s if you’re spending a summer anywhere else.
8. Bread Pudding
You can find good bread pudding just about everywhere in New Orleans, and no two are quite the same. Whether it’s the classic, caramel-y kind or an original creation, bread pudding is a dessert that never gets old.
9. King Cake
When Mardi Gras season rolls around in New Orleans, it brings king cake with it, and locals wait all year long to get those delicious pastries with a plastic baby hidden inside (or safely and decoratively displayed on the outside since it’s kind of a choking hazard).
10. History You Can Taste
When it comes to many of the city’s signature recipes, you can often visit the very places that invented them. Many restaurants in New Orleans can even trace their lineage back as far as the 1800’s, and enjoying a restaurant’s nostalgic character can be half the fun.
11. Novelty Hangouts
District Donuts, Company Burger, Dat Dog, Rum House, and Crêpes à La Cart are all spots tourists might overlook, but locals can’t get enough of them. These hotspots are perfect for enjoying specialized food and fun atmosphere with friends.
12. Food Trucks
Every native knows that some of the best food in New Orleans comes on wheels. Nearly any type of cuisine you can imagine can be found aboard one of the many cleverly-named trucks that roam the city, and regular patrons would be lost without their favorite food trucks.
13. Desserts That Aren’t Froyo or Cupcakes
In New Orleans, we have everything from hand pie bars to Italian bakeries, and doberge to boot. Our homemade ice cream shops beat the big chains any day.
14. Creative Coffee Houses
Everyone has a go-to spot, but no matter which local coffee house is your favorite, it’s sure to have both character and quality.
15. Ethnic Foods and Fusions
New Orleans has always been a serious cultural melting pot, so you can expect a wide array of ethnic foods to be represented and blended so that the food adventure never ends. Vietnamese food is one of the biggest stars of the show with top-notch restaurants around every corner.
16. Sunday Brunch Culture
Sunday brunch is a must, and extravagance is expected. It’s always worth waiting in line, whether you’re trying an exciting new special or sticking to an old favorite.
17. Food Festivals
There are literally more festivals in New Orleans than there are days of the year, and a large percentage of them are dedicated to food. Many of the foods on this list — po’boys, seafood, gumbo, and king cake, to name a few — have yearly festivals in their honor, where you can sample a wide array of vendors’ own unique versions of them.
18. Vegetarian/Vegan/Healthy Options
Despite the fact that most standard New Orleans fare isn’t exactly what anyone would call “diet food,” there are still plenty of specialty restaurants that make eating healthy easy. Many of the most popular eateries even offer choices that will accommodate everyone’s dietary needs.
19. A Side of Music
The only thing that can rival New Orleanians’ love of food is our love of music, but fortunately, we don’t have to choose between the two. With live bands as a fixture in so many of our favorite dining destinations, it’s easy to indulge the senses with both great food and great music.
Whether you were born and raised here or not, those of us who call here home will always “know what it means to miss New Orleans.” There’s a reason people fall in love with the city and find it so hard to leave; no one wants to say goodbye to food this good.