My parents first met in 1994 at the New Orleans Jazzfest, which basically means that New Orleans beignets are my birthright. I also had the good fortune of being paired with a roommate who was born and bred in New Orleans, and she was sure to teach me exactly how to pronounce "beignet," because I apparently have been saying it wrong for a while. 

But what good is knowing how to pronounce "beignet" if I'd never actually had one? I was #blessed to finally try my first one last month. It was fresh out of the fryer, hot, and delicious, but being that it was from San Jose and not NOLA, we might not count it as a real beignet.

What's a Beignet, Anyway?


clamhead on Flickr

A beignet is a dessert associated with New Orleans, Louisiana. It's traditionally made of a light pastry dough called choux that you might be familiar with thanks to the beignet's close cousins, the éclair and the cream puff. It’s very delicate and requires careful preparation. Instead of rising in an oven, beignets puff up from being deep-fried in vegetable oil (or lard in the 1800s, but more on that later) and doused with powdered sugar to create a fluffy, airy treat

While the name is definitely French—translating roughly to "fritter" in English—the pastry itself can be traced back to several different cultures. If you’re really curious, check out The Roots of Rhythm, in which food historian Cathy Kaufman writes at greater length about the pastry's medieval roots. The word “beignet” was first written in 1314 in the French book of verse, Roman de Fauvel, in a list of pastries. Though at the time it was spelled “bignez,” it’s definitely recognizable as the same food.

Many other cuisines have comparable treats to the beignet, such as Spanish buelos, Jewish bimuelos, Halal luquam, American doughnuts, and most oddly, French pets de sœurs, which roughly translates to “nun's farts.”

Where to Get Beignets

Cafe Du Monde New Orleans Louisiana

jc.winkler on Flickr

Of all the different cuisines in which the dessert appears, the most famous location to get a beignet is New Orleans. People flock to one particular destination to enjoy a fresh, sugar-doused beignet alongside a coffee and chicory au lait, Cafe Du Monde.

In the great city of New Orleans, just off of Jackson Square, stands the original Cafe du Monde. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they serve piping hot beignets to hungry tourists. The 150-year-old cafe is lauded worldwide as the go-to beignet spot. Some locals will snootily tell you it’s not the best, but my New Orleans-raised roommate gives it a huge nod.

How to Pronounce Beignet 

sweet, beignets, pastry, chocolate, cake, dough, flour, bread, candy
Sarah Yanofsky

Lucky for you, the pronunciation is hardly controversial. Since the term is traditionally French, the correct way to say it is simply “BEN-yay.” Don't worry if you mispronounce it while ordering, your server will know exactly what you want. 

Once you've mastered how to pronounce beignet, learn how to say “dix beignets s'il vous plait,” and then start looking at flights to The Big Easy ASAP.