If you've ever been to New Orleans, or even anywhere down South, then you've probably heard of a popular dish called jambalaya—in fact, you may have even tried it. But did you know what you were eating other than a hodgepodge plate of rice and meat? Many who sample it wonder, what is jambalaya? But few actually know what goes into it. 

My mother's side of the family has roots in New Orleans, and whenever we would go to visit there would always be a nice pot of jambalaya ready for the family to enjoy. The ingredients within the dish would sometimes vary, but the overall taste of delicious southern cooking was always there. Since I was a young child I've always had a very special place in my heart for jambalaya and hopefully, after reading this article you will too! 

Jambalaya Origins

Michelle Martin

Similar to a majority of dishes of early American origin, jambalaya was born out of necessity. It's said to have originated from the Spanish dish Paella, but after the French, Africans, and Creole added their own influences, the dish began to take a new form. Jambalaya first became popular at church fairs, since those were the biggest public gatherings at the time. Slowly, the dish became more mainstream, showing up at other similar occasions weddings, rallies, and family reunions. It became a staple dish because it can be cooked in one large pot over a hardwood fire. 

Jambalaya has been a favorite dish for generations because it's inexpensive, delicious, and can be altered to include whatever the chef may have on hand. After years of being made in New Orleans, the dish has become representative of the mixing of cultures that has occurred over the years and is now one of the most popular New Orleans dishes.

Every cook has their own version of jambalaya, so the recipe will differ restaurant to restaurant, but the main difference that you need to know is the difference between Cajun and Creole jambalaya. Creole culture can refer to anyone with French, Caribbean, Spanish, or African heritage from the time that New Orleans was settled.

While Cajun culture and food has been heavily influenced by the Creole culture, the word Cajun comes from the French word les Acadians, and is used to describe French colonists who settled in the Acadia region of Canada. 

Creole Jambalaya

This is also sometimes known as “red jambalaya” because it includes tomatoes. The first step in making this dish is to prepare the holy trinity of vegetables, which is crucial for all jambalaya recipes. The Holy Trinity consists of onion, celery, and bell peppers and they are cooked to together in a pan before the meat is added.

The combination of meat and vegetables is the base of most savory dishes including jambalaya, gumbo, and many other dishes. The most common meat used for jambalaya is smoked sausage or chicken, although you can add whatever kind of meat you have on hand. Once the meat and vegetables have cooked, tomatoes, stock, and rice are added to the pot. Then, you boil all the ingredients until they are fully combined which will leave the dish with a slight red hue which is how you can tell that it's Creole jambalaya. 

Cajun Jambalaya

Cajun jambalaya doesn't have tomatoes and is brown in color. It's brown because the meat is browned before the vegetables, rice, and stock are added, which gives Cajun jambalaya a smokier taste than the Creole jambalaya. Cajun jambalaya is found in most rural areas of Louisiana, whereas Creole jambalaya is more popular in New Orleans and the surrounding areas where Creole culture is more prevalent.

Hopefully you can better appreciate this popular Southern dish after knowing its rich history. Jambalaya is a unique and flavorful dish that anyone can make and enjoy. The combination of vegetables and meat choices are endless, so if you really feel inspired you can make your own jambalaya and put your own spin on this delicious dish that's sure to be enjoyed for generations to come.