King of Creole: The Louisiana food scene

Ellie Seymour hits the road from New Orleans to sample cracklin’, jambalaya, Po’ Boys and tamales

Paid partnership with Explore Louisiana

King of Creole: Louisiana’s food scene

Ellie Seymour hits the road from New Orleans to sample cracklin’, jambalaya, Po’ Boys and tamales.

 

“You never know what the Lord might bring!” beamed a man next to me as he walked towards his car with a swagger. I’d cut my engine and was parking up, strategically in the shade of a beautiful old live oak tree, which was swishing gently against a baby blue sky.

It was sticky-hot, the sun beating down on the dusty gravel beneath as cars and trucks whizzed past on the highway feet away. 

“You gotta get you some of the cracklins – they’re the best around,” he grinned, holding up a full bag, clearly picking up on my not-from-around-here tourist vibes. “Cooked fresh each mornin’!” he added, starting his engine to hit the road, chuffed with his haul. 

I was at Chadeaux’s Cajun Kitchen, a roadside stop inside a gas station, off Highway 165 in Kinder,  population: 2500. Here, deep in Cajun country 200 miles west of New Orleans, ‘cracklins’ – better known to us Brits as pork scratchings – are an essential part of the local culinary identity.

Available widely across Louisiana, Chadeaux’s serves some of the tastiest, fried fresh each day, twice, alongside specialty meats that it ships worldwide, such as alligator sausage.

This was my last stop on an immersive looping road trip into Louisiana food, a culinary culture famed for its history and blend of European, African and Caribbean influences. Exploring on four wheels proved the perfect way to see the communities woven into the changing regional landscapes. 

It was a soul-food feast like no other, and so far I’d sampled some of the best, with funky-sounding names to boot. I’d tried boudin sausage, gumbo, Po’ Boy and catfish sandwiches, fried pickles, jambalaya, meat pies, fried chicken and tamales, every morsel homemade with care. Cracklins were the final item on my menu. 

I was following a Gas Station Eats trail – one of the many food trails around the state – that spotlights simple eateries serving elevated roadside food. This one snakes its way through the historic region of No Man’s Land, in the state’s pine-forested southwest corner, ducking off the route if a foodie highlight necessitated it.

It’s so-called after a time in the early 1800s when it was a lawless frontier, when the newly formed USA fought over the border with Spain to buy Louisiana from France. 

As with the other food trails, this one celebrates Southern cooking at its finest, whether that’s homespun soul food from a gas station or roadside diner, or a three-course dinner at a high-end city restaurant. 

This epic Louisiana culinary adventure began eight days earlier in New Orleans, the city on the mighty Mississippi known for its jazz bars, nightlife – and Creole cuisine. During a fun ‘Dr Gumbo’ Food Tour, at the Red Fish Grill, a favourite seafood hotspot in the thick of heady Bourbon Street, I learned a basic difference between this and Cajun food.

Perched at a high-top table sipping a strong rum-laced Hurricane – New Orleans’ signature cocktail made with passionfruit syrup – I listened to our tour guide Nathan Prendergast explain: “Outside of New Orleans is known for the quality and taste of the meat; they use a lot of wild boar, so you’re gonna taste a difference.

“Cajun country food is much heavier than in the city,” he said. “You’re gonna get delicious dark gumbos, much darker than in the city, as well as rich jambalaya, boudin sausage – and the plate lunch.” That’s a meat and two veg dinner to us Brits.

In NOLA, I tried my first gas station meals. A hefty shrimp Po’ Boy – a Depression-era baguette sandwich stuffed with piping hot, crisp fish – at Tremé’s popular Triangle Deli and a fresh chicken shawarma salad plate at local favourite, Shawarma on the Go.

Of course, I didn’t leave the Big Easy without getting my teeth into some classic Creole cuisine at elegant French Quarter restaurant, Antoine’s. Dating back to 1840, this gilded grand dame of fine dining is where Oysters Rockefeller – a dish topped with butter and herbs – was invented.

Later, at another famous French Quarter restaurant, Brennan’s, I surreptitiously undid the top button of my jeans to make room for a signature Bananas Foster dessert of gooey caramelised bananas and vanilla ice cream. 

It was time well-spent, but a Cajun food tour in the low-key foodie hotspot of Lafayette beckoned, in the heart of Cajun country, 128 miles west of New Orleans on the Vermilion River. Lafayette is renowned for its traditional culinary scene, but it continues to evolve thanks to a new generation of chefs – making it an incredible place to eat. 

Here, I had my first delicious bite of boudin. Pronounced ‘boo-dan’, it’s a bit like haggis: a rich blend of cooked pork, rice, onions, peppers and seasonings stuffed into a sausage casing. “‘Folks eat it plain, without ketchup or mustard,” the cashier at Kartchner’s Speciality Meats in Lafayette described to me, as I could hear a drive-through customer ordering a load at the nearby hatch. 

It couldn’t have been a more comforting reward after spotting my first alligator earlier that day during an eco-educational ride around the swamp with Cajun Pride.

Located in the River Parishes region, this area of eastern Louisiana is known as the German Coast for its immigrant history and is renowned for a tasty sausage called andouille that features in most gumbos and jambalayas of the region.  


Heading north, Louisiana continued to surprise my tastebuds. I encountered dishes with Spanish flavours and what’s known as traditional low-country soul food.

Here, I devoured dainty empanada-like meat pies at local favourite, Lasyone’s in Natchitoches (pronounced ‘nack-a-tish’) and I sampled steaming hot, fragrant Mexican tamales – corn husks filled with grains and meat – at the Lake Front Grocery in Zwolle by the Toledo Bend Reservoir with its view over to Texas.

I visited storied Orlandeaux’s in Shreveport, the longest continuously operating African-American family-owned business in the US, where stuffed shrimp was born. 

I reflected on Louisiana’s bounty from the cool comfort of my hire car, a bag of cracklins finally in hand. Turns out, these tasty, warm bite-sized bombs of crispy skin, juicy meat and soft fat were the ultimate guilty-pleasure roadside pitstop snack. One bite in and I was grinning too like the man before me, with a sense of satisfaction that my Louisiana food adventure was complete. For now.

Need to know

Getting there

You can fly direct from the London to New Orleans with most airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.  

Car rental stations are readily available at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

Best time to go

Louisiana is a year-round destination, but in February to May, and October to December, it’s warm and sunny without the humidity of summer.

The most popular time to visit Louisiana is mid-February to early March, when the famous Mardi Gras is celebrated across the state.

Where to stay

Many of the best places to stay in Louisiana are in New Orleans, the city home to five-star storied hotels and boutique hotels in historic townhouses with French charm. 

Outside the city, it’s fun to experience the retro vibes of an old motel or even spend the night under the stars in one of the region’s many campgrounds. 

Must-pack item

Comfortable trousers or skirts, preferably with an elasticated waistband!

These will offer essential support and comfort when sampling all the phenomenal food staples Louisiana has to offer.

How to do it

The best way to experience the Louisiana food scene is on a road trip.

This gives you the freedom to detour off the highways into the small towns and villages where some of the best homespun Southern soul food is made.

Anything else

Visit in October to see the Festivals Acadiens et Creoles, a celebration of Cajun and Creole culture in Lafayette. 

Also in Lafayette, don’t miss a night of local live music at the Blue Moon Saloon, a quirky bar in a building dating to the early 1900s.

More information

This article was brought to you in partnership with Explore Louisiana.

Whether you’re looking for world-class Cajun or Creole cuisine, historic Civil War battlefields, music, or festivals in Louisiana we’ve got you covered.

Go to ExploreLouisiana.com for more details, suggested itineraries and booking.


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