Thursday, March 3, 2011

Southern vs Cajun, Yes, There Is a Difference

Since teaming up with a Brit on this food blogging adventure, I am occasionally called upon to serve as translator.  For example, Claire refers to the state store as the 'off license'.  An eggplant to me is an aubergine to her.  My 'to-MAY-to' is her 'to-MAH-to'.  Today while talking about Mardi Gras, we charted new terrain:  the difference between 'southern' and 'cajun'.  To the uninitiated, i.e. those living above the Mason Dixon line, this distinction may not be apparent.  Louisiana is in The South, right?  Well, yes and no.

To understand this fully, we need to go back to the 1700s (briefly, I promise.).  When the Brits won the French and Indian War way back in 1763, they took Canada from the French.  The folks living in the former French colonies (Nova Scotia and the other Canadian Maritime Provinces), known as "Acadians," fled their new regime for Frencher pastures, i.e. Louisiana.  Over time, the name 'Acadian' devolved, through the local patois and linguistic blends into the term 'Cajun'.

So that explains the name.  As to the food (you knew we'd get there eventually), most of the American South was colonized by British Protestants whose traditions and cuisines grew from their English roots.  (Thankfully, they have evolved over time into something more palatable--sorry, Claire.)  These recipes differed widely from those of the French Catholics who migrated to Louisiana.  They took culinary traditions from their native France, and, upon arriving in Louisiana, integrated ingredients and techniques from the various peoples that passed through New Orleans:  Spanish; Italian; Caribbean and African to name a few.

The good new for us is that both of these cuisines, in their best selves, are alive, well, and delicious at Reading Terminal Market.  For traditional southern food--fried chicken, ribs, biscuits, collard greens and real home cooking, there's no place like the Down Home Diner.  I had breakfast there this morning and it was the high point of my day.  For authentic Cajun dishes--red beans and rice, jambalaya, etouffe, gumbo and po'boys you can't beat Beck's Cajun Cafe.  The Muffaletta I took home for lunch today rivaled anything I've ever eaten in the Crescent City.  (Yes, there is a significant occupational hazard to this job.  Five pounds and counting.)

I never thought I would see the day where I'd quote Hannah Montana, but in this case, she was right.  In terms of Cajun and Southern, We Have The Best of Both Worlds.

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