If you end up at some boring chain restaurant eating bland hamburgers while you're in New Orleans, we'll simply never forgive you. More importantly, you'll never forgive yourself. Avoid such shame by familiarizing yourself with the dishes below and be well prepared to savor forkfuls of the culture, tradition and recipe perfection that have earned New Orleans its culinary legacy.
A trip to New Orleans is not complete without a steamy helping of gumbo. Treat yourself to a culinary carnival created with a mix of West European, African, Caribbean and Native American influences.
Classic gumbo recipes call for okra simmered for hours in a roux, a dark stock made from either butter or oil and flour, with a variety of meats, onions, celery and bell peppers. Served over rice, variations include seafood gumbo with shrimp, oysters and crabmeat or chicken gumbo with andouille sausage.
A meal in itself, this classic New Orleans dish consists of sausage, vegetables and a variety of meats and/or seafood. The final touch - adding raw long-grain rice to absorb flavors from the stock - is what sets this one-pot wonder apart from similar ethnic dishes. Variations can include chicken, turkey shrimp, alligator meat and more. Consider it a New Orleans version of paella.
This spiced, heavily smoked pork sausage is a key flavor in many New Orleans dishes. Originally brought to Louisiana by French colonists, today's Cajun andouille is the best-known variety in the U.S. - and the spiciest. The sausage is seasoned with salt, cracked black pepper and garlic and is smoked over pecan wood and sugar cane for up to eight hours. Andouille can be found in gumbo, jambalaya, on a po boy and served along side red beans and rice.
A local favorite, crawfish étouffée could be called gumbo's spiced-up cousin. Stemming from the French word for "smothered," this thick Cajun creation employs hot spices including cayenne pepper, a mélange of onion and green pepper and hints of garlic. With loads of fresh crawfish, this tantalizing Southern treat is typically enjoyed over rice.
As time-honored as shrimping is to Louisiana, this coveted culinary delight offers fresh peeled shrimp, chopped onion, green pepper, green onion and chopped tomato. Satisfy your Southern spice craving while keeping the calorie factor low - this tomato-based favorite is a healthy, light and flavorful Creole dish.
Stuffed with classically Italian flavors such as salami, ham, provolone and the piquant olive spread that gives it its distinctive taste, this famous sandwich was born in New Orleans. Restaurants all over the city have their own versions, but for a taste of the original, visit Central Grocery, which invented the sandwich in 1903.
There are many variations of this classic New Orleans sandwich, as well as a few different stories about its origins. A couple of commonalities across all interpretations: long, baguette-style French bread and an affordable price. Po-boys usually are piled high with meat such as roast beef and debris (a tasty version of gravy), turkey or smoked sausage. They can also be filled with fried seafood such as shrimp, catfish or oysters mixed with a specialty white sauce that is a more flavorful version of tartar sauce. If your waitress asks if you want your poboy "dressed," say yes - po-boys are always better with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayonnaise.
This Creole classic is a staple on menus across the city, and many restaurants feature it on Mondays - that's because New Orleanians traditionally made the dish with leftover pork from Sunday dinner and could leave the beans to cook all day while they tended to their washing. Red beans can be served with a side of sausage, pork chops or fried chicken.
Oysters Rockefeller can be ordered all over the city, but the New Orleans institution Antoine's holds the title of creator, serving the original dish since 1899. Though the exact recipe remains a secret, chefs describe the dish as oysters on the half shell topped with a combination of capers, parsley and parmesan cheese and topped with a rich white sauce of butter, flour and milk - all broiled to perfection.
What began as a creative way to use stale French bread has progressed into a popular closing course and New Orleans menu mainstay. Soaked in milk, eggs and sugar, the bread is baked and topped with a sweet, typically bourbon-based sauce. Local chefs put their own spin on the rich dish, adding white chocolate, candied pecans or chantilly cream with lemon.
This distinctive dessert - made with bananas, ice cream, dark rum, sugar and spices - was famously invented at Brennan's Restaurant right here in New Orleans. The flambeed treat remains Brennan's most popular item, requiring 35,000 pounds of bananas each year!
Sometimes called a "French doughnut," these decadent treats were brought to Louisiana by the Acadians. A beignet is a square piece of dough that, upon being deep fried, forms a crispy pillow with a doughy interior. Most often, they are covered with powdered sugar, but savory versions with fillings such as crawfish or shrimp are also seen on New Orleans menus and are served as appetizers.
These sweet confections date back to 17th century France. The chef of a French diplomat created a recipe for sugar coating almonds that is said to have been used a digestive aid. When the sweet treat made its way to the states, the singular almond was replaced by a handful of the local nut, pecans. Today, variations on the praline can be found in a variety of flavors, with hot Tabasco sauce or added cream for a chewier treat.