(Editors' Note: We originally ran this piece on August 29, 2010 - the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. With our beloved New Orleans and Gulf Coast in the path of Hurricane Isaac, it seemed fitting to share this reminder of why this region is so dear to our hearts and vital to the world. Want to help? CNN's Impact Your World has a great list of resources.)
To pay our own tribute to the New Orleans spirit, we rounded up a celebrated group of people from all walks of the Louisiana living tradition to share their own stories on why the region's food culture should not - and will never be - washed away.
Five Reasons to Eat in Louisiana
1. Terrance Simien - Creole musician (pictured top left)
"The Louisiana dish that seems to define me and my Creole people, other than gumbo, a Creole staple, is a sauce piquant.
Piquant means spicy in French. This dish was special in our house when I was growing up because, of course, my mom did most of the cooking and this was the 'men's' dish. There was this excitement in the air when I knew Daddy would be cooking a sauce. The men would gather at our camp to kind of do their thing, a little separated from their wives. We used farm-raised meats like duck and rooster, Gulf shrimp and homemade sausage. We also used wild game that we caught hunting. Two to three different meats or shrimp, cooked slow in onions and garlic to make a gravy. Add the tomato sauce, a dozen men laughing and talking a lot of nonsense in French and you've got an experience like no other!
Since our touring takes us all over the world, I like to have a taste of our local cuisine before I hit the road, so to speak. Even if it's just a link of boudin or a shrimp and oyster po' boy. It kind of holds me over for a two- to three-week tour because no matter how good the food is in other places, and trust me, they feed the musicians well when we roll into town, it doesn't always have the 'kick' we've got down here!"
2. Donald Link - James Beard award-winning chef of Cochon, Herbsaint and Calcasieu (pictured center top)
“I was a little concerned the first time I saw a soft shell crab. My dad had taken me out of my first day of fourth grade to go trawling for shrimp near the Gulf of Mexico. It was the opening day of the season and it took precedent over the first day of school.
After a few hours of bouncing around on hot humid Gulf waters, we pulled up our first drag, and in it was a couple soft shell crabs. I was very confused - I couldn’t figure out what had happened to it, I thought maybe it was sick.
That’s the day I was taught the true value of the soft shell crab and how it was a special crab that when cooked, you could eat the whole thing - I couldn’t believe it. I learned that day that this one of the best tasting foods in the world."
3. Capt’n Sammie Faulk - Charter Fishing and Hunting Guide (pictured right top)
"My favorite fish is a flounder. The best is a medium-sized one, about one to one-and-a-half pounds - scaled, gutted and the head removed. I cut it down the dark side and cut it back along the bones - and push it in like a baked potato. Then I stuff it with fresh shrimp and crab meat caught locally. I like to dice a potato and fill the cavity with it too - all seasoned with Cajun spices. I grease a pan and cook it in the oven for about 15 minutes. Then I pour a little Italian dressing on it and let it sit for a few minutes, and it's ready to serve.
Louisiana flounder fish is great. There's usually a fall and a spring migration when the flounder are a little thicker. The fall is coming up and the fishing should be amazing. I fish any little cuts and openings along the banks - you can see the shrimp jumping and the flounder popping. It's unbelievable what you can catch with a regular trout rod. They can be a truly fierce fighter. It's wonderful to feel that bite and the run, then to catch it in the net. You can almost taste it while you're pulling it in the boat."
4. Dan Cameron - Prospect New Orleans (pictured left bottom)
“I have a vivid memory of my first post-Katrina po' boy. It was January of 2006 and most places were still closed, but Verdi Mart on Royal Street was open for business, and I went down and ordered some fried oyster and clam combos for me and my friends.
Maybe it really wasn't an exceptional po' boy in itself, but I remember crunching into that French bread, and tasting the cornmeal and shellfish, and tears of happiness started rolling down my cheeks. I understood in that moment that if I could have this incredible taste sensation, then I was reconnected with New Orleans in the most primal way imaginable.”
5. George Rodrigue - Cajun artist (pictured center bottom)
"No doubt – shrimp and oyster gumbo with white rice, topped with filé; potato salad on the side.
I can truly say that gumbo is my favorite Cajun dish. I remember waking up to the smell of my mother in the kitchen making a roux. Real Cajun gumbo is dark, with a rich roux, and when you’re making it, the whole house smells. If I woke up to that, I knew we were eating gumbo for the next two days. We had three basic gumbos: chicken with andouille sausage; shrimp and oyster; and wild game - but the shrimp and oyster has always been my favorite."
And, as a lagniappe...
6. Ralph Brennan - Owner of The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group (pictured right bottom)
"When people think Louisiana cooking, they usually focus on the French and Creole food in New Orleans. Of course, this is my home so I'm a little biased, but what many people forget is that Louisiana cuisine goes well beyond New Orleans. The breadth and depth of the food here is closer in scale to that of an entire country than of just one state.
In southwest Louisiana, you're in Cajun country and the food tends to be spicy – like a crawfish étouffée. I'd suggest checking out Prejean's in Lafayette. They have a fantastic Louisiana crawfish and alligator sausage cheesecake, which is a savory, not sweet delicacy.”
In north Louisiana, the cooking tends to be what most would consider more typically 'Southern' - like barbecue. There's a place in Shreveport called Podnuh's that you have to try for barbecue. A little further east, Natchitoches is home to Lasyone's Meat Pie Restaurant - a must stop for anyone in the area."