Sections of this article were made possible through the generosity of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission and Cajun Food Tours. However, all opinions are entirely my own.
Lafayette is a charming city in Lafayette Parish and the heart of Louisiana’s Acadiana region, where everyone seems to be in a good mood. There are many reasons for all the joy, not the least of which is the local cuisine that pops with flavor and leaves you wanting more. If you’ve been to New Orleans, head west and prepare yourself for a food adventure that is somewhat familiar, but completely different.
My husband and I had the pleasure of exploring Lafayette’s history, culture, and culinary gems on a recent visit. We dove in head first with an appreciation of the unique nature of the region. Now, we would like to share our culinary experiences by introducing you to the Cajun foods that made us say, “Wow!”
Nunu’s Fresh Market
If Cajun cuisine had a fast food component, it would be boudin. In Acadiana, boudin is the boss. Folks eat it hot all day long. They eat it in their cars, at the office, and home. There is even a Boudin Trail.
Boudin is a dressing composed of ground pork, rice, and seasoning packed into a casing. But don’t make the mistake of calling boudin a sausage. That’s one thing no self-respecting Cajun would ever do.
More recently, unlinked boudin — sans the casing — has become a creative concoction resulting in such treats as deep-fried boudin balls, tacos, and egg rolls.
The Lafayette area is a boudin bonanza and you can find it anywhere from restaurants to gas stations. But if you want some serious edible eye candy to go along with your boudin, try it at Nunu’s Fresh Market. We preferred the smooth texture of their gently seasoned boudin to the more coarsely ground versions we’ve tried.
Nunu’s is a Cajun’s paradise when it comes to fresh meats, smoked and smoke-free sausages, salads, prepared foods, fresh produce, libations, and more. Shop to your heart’s content, but be sure to grab a container of Nunu’s Cajun Seasoning to take home, spice up your cooking, and dream of Lafayette.
If you shy away from gumbo because of the okra, take heart. Traditional Cajun gumbo doesn’t contain it. The New Orleans-style Creole gumbo is less common than the chicken and sausage gumbo served throughout Acadiana.
We discovered this truth at Ton’s Drive-in. This third-generation family-owned restaurant was a drive-in in the 60s, but what you’ll find inside is definitely worth getting out of your car.
Our gumbo arrived hot with rice and generous chunks of chicken and sausage in a thick broth. The meats were tender and full of flavor, and the broth had a satisfying kick. What made this gumbo experience different was the scoop of potato salad on the side. It’s considered normal to plop some in your gumbo, but I found it quite enjoyable on its own.
The word “gumbo” is based on an African word for okra. The seeds arrived on American shores along with Senegalese slaves. The seeds were cultivated and the okra pods were used as a thickener for soup. In the 1700s, French settlers introduced roux. Although all good gumbos begin with a dark roux, Cajuns tend to use it as the only thickener in their gumbos.
3. Boiled Crawfish
The Cajun Table
If you’ve never eaten crawfish, or even know what they are, don’t feel bad. Outside the South, you are among many. They are small freshwater crustaceans, approximately 95 percent of which are harvested in Louisiana. The taste is hard to define, but if you can imagine a mixture of lobster, crab, and shrimp in one mouthful, you’re getting close. Add a small uptick in the sweetness factor, and you’re there.
The Cajun Table serves a variety of taste-tempting dishes, and it’s hard to choose a favorite. But when it comes to having its way with crawfish, the restaurant shines. Perhaps this is because the owner catches the little guys fresh every morning when they’re in season, and boils them the same afternoon with his special spices.
Some of the other crawfish incarnations you’ll find include Cajun nachos with fried crawfish tails, Maw’s Crawfish Dip, and Nonky’s Fonky Potatoes, deep fried potatoes smothered in crawfish queso, topped with bacon and green onions. If you’re at the restaurant on a Friday, try the crawfish fettuccine. You can dig into the iconic crawfish étouffée almost any time.
The Cajun Table began as a food truck, making the transition to a brick-and-mortar restaurant in March 2017. It’s open for lunch and dinner and offers zydeco music to accompany your delectable down-home Cajun meal.
While you’re waiting for that meal, take a look around at the homegrown décor: 100-year-old corrugated tin from the owner’s great grandfather’s shed, vintage crawfish traps and tools, and the family’s 1970 flat bottom boat that serves as the liquor display.
Fezzos Seafood, Steakhouse, And Oyster Bar
Oyster beds are plentiful in South Louisiana, leading to plump, delectable oyster options on menus everywhere you go. You can have them fried on a seafood platter or in a po’ boy, in a stew, or you can slurp them raw from the shell with a touch of horseradish or a shake of Tabasco. I like them all, but my favorite is the Monterey version at Fezzos.
Chargrilled oysters are popular in Acadiana. They’re prepared with butter, garlic, and parmesan. The Monterey Oysters begin in the same manner, then are kicked up a notch with the addition of Monterey Jack, crispy bacon, and jalapeños. You’d think the poor oyster would disappear amid all the other goodies on the shell, but the char grilling gives it a definite presence. Even if you’re not an oyster enthusiast, these just might change your mind.
Fezzo means little wooden spool in French, which explains the logo. It was also the nickname for the owner’s father, in whose honor he named the restaurant. Perhaps the explanation for the alligator out front is that it represents the tender marinated fried alligator available inside.
5. Alligator Po’ Boy
Speaking of alligators, an enormous gator will greet you when you walk into Prejean’s. I don’t know if it has a name, but it’s an innovative indicator of one of the restaurant’s best and most interesting menu options.
My husband and I shared one of Prejean’s Poboys — they’re huge — filled with a generous portion of surprisingly tender fried alligator, dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles, with a side of fries. If you’re wondering, alligator does taste a little like chicken.
Another gator goodie is the Louisiana alligator filets, seasoned, breaded, and served with seafood boulettes. I’m dying to try the alligator cheesecake, smokehouse alligator sausage, and fresh gulf shrimp, blended with cream cheese and creole seasoning. The dish is baked over a parmesan and panko crust and topped with crawfish cardinale cream sauce.
Despite the fancy-sounding menu offerings, Prejean’s is casual to the core and completely unpretentious. You can comfortably bring the kids, and if they turn their noses up at the idea of eating gator, there’s a vast assortment of other tasty options from which to choose.
6. King Cake
King Cake, with its traditional green, purple, and gold icing, is generally associated with Mardi Gras, but its story goes much farther back than the first New Orleans Mardi Gras parade in 1857.
The cake is a French tradition dating back to the middle ages. It was part of the epiphany celebration on January 6. A dried bean was placed in the cake batter before baking and the person receiving the bean in their slice became king for the entire day. The king would also have good fortune throughout the year if he didn’t choke on the bean first, that is.
Today, the bean is replaced with a small figurine representing the Baby Jesus, making it less of a choking hazard. Another change is that the person receiving the baby will host the next party. King Cake is only available between Epiphany and Mardi Gras.
Generally, sweet yeast dough is used to make King Cake, but Poupart’s uses brioche dough to give it a soft, rich, buttery texture and stuffs it with pecan, cinnamon, and cream cheese filling. It still looks like King Cake, but the taste and texture take it to a loftier level.
Bakery owner, Francois Poupart, arrived from France in 1960 and opened up shop in 1967. He lives over the bakery and still comes down at 4:00 a.m. to bake bread.
Pro Tip: It’s hard to find a bad meal in Lafayette Parish — although researching the possibility could be great fun — but you might want some guidance. A food tour is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with traditional Cajun foods, as well as the history of the Acadiana Region. We took an Original Cajun Food Tour with Marie, owner of Cajun Food Tours. Not only did we enjoy some excellent examples of traditional Cajun cuisine, but Marie also regaled us with stories and interesting facts as we rode her decked-out 14-passenger party bus from location to location.
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