2021 is here, and I’m starting it off by making a culinary New Year’s resolution. Here in Louisiana, we love to eat, and for the coming year, I resolve to eat local and buy local whenever possible. And to ensure Cajun authenticity, I am revisiting my “Signs You Are Eating Real Cajun Food.”
You see, in every culinary culture, there are certain misconceptions and downright mistakes that, if allowed to perpetuate, will work to erode the authenticity and traditional foundation of the cuisine. Our precious Cajun culinary heritage – the most treasured of American cuisines – has been under siege since the blackened craze of the 1980s. Just go to any American city, and you’ll find a Cajunized dish chock-a-block full of cayenne or a watered-down, soupy mess of a so-called gumbo.
Stop the madness.
To help define our cuisine’s authenticity, the folks at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture created the Certified Louisiana program. This designation assures consumers that the products they are buying have been screened and are truly Louisiana-based food companies. I urge you to look for food products bearing the Certified Louisiana or Certified Cajun logo in supermarkets everywhere.
But that’s only the start. Here at Acadiana Table, I am launching a grassroots consumer movement that will establish official policies and procedures for what is, and what isn’t real Cajun food. I know. I know. This is sure to meet with some resistance, and controversy is inevitable, but the dialog must begin. The objective will be to develop guidelines and the tell-tale signs that our culinary heritage is under attack. But, I need your input. I will start the discussion, but I want to know what you think and whether you agree or disagree. Here’s my list of things to look for, so please comment and add yours to the list.
#1 More flavor, less heat.
Real Cajun food is not overly spiced. It lures you in with a depth of flavor and well-balanced spices that are unmistakable. Heavy-handed cayenne is how chefs outside of Louisiana interpret Cajun.
Why do you think the bottle of hot sauce is on the table?
#2 No tomatoes in the gumbo.
That’s right. You might find tomato in a citified New Orleans Creole gumbo, but not a true Cajun gumbo. Deep dark roux and quality ingredients for sure, but no tomatoes.
#3 Andouille, tasso, and chaurice, but never bratwurst.
Cajuns have a sausage language that is unmistakable and unmistakably delicious. Anything ending in “wurst” is the worst mistake you can make.
#4 Crawfish, not crayfish.
This is the dead giveaway. If you see “crayfish” on the menu, run as fast as you can.
#5 It’s toe-tappin’, two-steppin’, foot-stompin’ food.
Like no other, Cajun food comes with a chank-a-chank soundtrack that makes the food taste even better.
#6 No soup in my étouffée.
There is a trendy little recipe going around that adds mushroom soup to the classic crawfish étouffée. This must be stopped at all costs. Notify the authorities at once.
#7 No crawfish on ice.
A steaming, hot tray of just out-of-the-pot crawfish is divine, but I once ordered boiled crawfish in a fancy big city restaurant and a dozen whole crawfish came out on a platter of ice. Blasphemous!
#8 Boudin is not spelled Boudain.
C’mon, Texas. If you love our food so much then learn how to spell it.
#9 White Rice Is Always On The Table.
White rice is king! Cajuns love their rice, and a pot of steaming Louisiana white rice is sure to make
an appearance at most every occasion.
#10 Red beans on Monday, Catfish on Friday and Ice-Cold Beer any day of the week.
Cajuns love tradition and the Holy order of things in the universe.
#11 Louisiana yams! The sweetest potato of all.
Yam right! Cajuns love their sweet potatoes, and you’re sure to see them on the dinner table often.
So, this is just the start. I’ve got dozens more, and I want to hear from you. Do you agree? Disagree? And more importantly, help me add to the list with your authentic Cajun suggestions. Let the discussion begin.
D. Darleen Washington says
As a homegrown New Orleanian, I hate to see or hear about fish in gumbo! I live in Texas now and I refuse to eat anyone’s gumbo that doesn’t smell enticing when you hit the door. Love my fresh seafood from Westwego, LA!
DAMARA THORN says
Me either. I hate all of those Cajun spots. All of their food is fake Cajun copycats.
Canned roux? Not in my house.
As a damn yankee, I agree. No canned roux here. No self respecting cook would use it or boxed “cajun” mixes, like red beans or jambalaya.
Myra O'Neal says
I am going to disagree! My go-to jambalaya mix is Oak Grove. Now of course, I doctor it up with my fresh trinity!
Bob Stoute says
Agreed, on all things said! Granted, I like my food hotter than most, but the undeniable fact is that it should have FLAVOR.
However, I’m against okra in my gumbo. It’s a cheap and fast way to thicken, which instead requires hours of love and patience.
I just realized the reason I dislike authentic Mexican food is because it’s all heat and no flavor. No surprise I’m a texicajun through and through!
Sandy Carey says
While my family is not Cajun or from the South, we love our Cajun and Creole flavors. I have researched recipes from popular chefs to local parish recipe booklets (my personal favorites). Everything you say is true! Thank you. Although I have been known to make red beans and rice on a Sunday because it just tastes so darn good.
George Graham says
Hey Sandy – Thanks for the kind comments and rest assured, red beans are good any day of the week. All the best.
Jimmie C Lindsay says
What you say, this is some good information. Thanks so much. I’m from Louisiana, and people in Georgia want authentic. You can tell when, as they leave, they sneak away with some in any kind of container they can find.
Terry E Carr says
I love Cajun/Creole food. The awful part is that unless you have had the real thing you have no idea how it is supposed to taste. Like the article mentioned, some chefs think it has to be heavy on the cayenne, when it’s not. If you can’t find what you need to make the dish correctly at your grocery, order it online. Don’t settle for substitutions. You owe it to yourself to demand the real thing.
George Graham says
Hey Terry – You said a mouthful, and you couldn’t be more correct. There are so many sources online for truly Certified Cajun ingredients. Thanks for reminding us.
I am from central Louisiana, which is where the line goes straight across South Louisiana as us Cajuns call it!! You are SO CORRECT on what Cajun food is!! New Orleans’ food is good but, that is Creole cooking. Cajun is the best. I have NEVER HEARD OF ANYONE SAYING THAT IT IS NOT GOOD!
Danielle Castain says
I Love this article because it is so “Head On” about EVERYTHING! It is refreshing to finally read an article about our true food and recipe names. I am from Opelousas, La. & I Live in Texas now. I can’t believe how they try to call themselves “Cajun/Kajun/Creole Restaurants” & there is nothing Cajun about their foods!
Cookie LeGree says
Its so good to hear someone talk about my culture. You are respected in my eyes. Well said!!
Raymond LeBlanc says
I’m so glad my wife found this website. Now she cn see that I was tellin da truth about Cajun cookin’ che’!
Antonio Gonzalez says
Red beans and rice any day of the week!
No canned roux at our house. Mamma makes it fresh upon use! For the most part everything was spot on! Boudin first breakfast! Only true Cajuns know what I’m talking about there buddy! With a glass of milk! Geaux Tigers!
Boudin, Cracklin’, and Steen’s syrup with Community Coffee for breakfast!! That’s where its at!!! Steen’s needs to be on this list!
I grew up in Cut Off, Lafourche Parish, and over the decades I’ve come across a lot of folks not from Louisiana that try to tell me that it’s not a gumbo if it doesn’t have okra.
One more thing you will never find in a true Cajun gumbo and that’s corn. You’re making soup not gumbo!
Cleve Chesson says
Amen to the truth in this post…l’aissez les bon temps rouler.
I beg to differ about okra in gumbo. I grew up in Abbeville, LA, the heart of Cajun country. My parents made both types of gumbo, roux and okra. Both are legit! You’re right though about putting corn in gumbo… no way! Yep, that’s soup. I enjoyed reading your article.
A great cookbook for Cajun wannabes is “Talk About Good” from the Lafayette Junior League.
George Graham says
Hey Richard- That cookbook is one of my favorites and is a treasure trove of recipes from generations of home cooks. It should be a part of every cookbook collection. All the best.
Linda Gay Harrison says
My hubby cooked gumbo…Louisiana style..for my job ..we live in SC and they love..he also made shrimp etouffee and empty the pot..every thing from scratch…homemade roux…Nd bread pudding with whiskey sauce….nothing like fresh ingredients!
Tim Faucheaux says
Never a “craw-DAD” either! If I see craw- DAD anywhere in a “Cajun” restaurant, I’m out. Also, don’t try to pass off that frozen fish from Vietnam as “catfish” to this Coon***! I can instantly tell it’s not catfish. And tilapia? Don’t get me started!
Toni Bergeron says
My daughter lives in Georgia now but was born and raised in south Louisiana. She said that the first time she cooked red beans and rice, her Georgia neighbors came out of the woodwork. Everyone loves Cajun food. It’s the best!
AMEN! I have been preaching!
Jon Jenkins says
I’m not from Louisiana, but I have been a few times, most recently working in Lake Charles. I hope they recover from the storm. I love Cajun food, and when I make it, I try to be as authentic as I can. But cream of mushroom soup in etouffee? Really? Why would anyone do that to themselves?
Very happy to have found this website full of good dishes from dear Louisiana, and all those comments by people knowing Cajun culture.
Laisse le bon temps rouler !
Right on! Plus, you know the Maw-Maw, Paw-Paw, parrain, and/or marraine of the person who sold the product to you, or produced it!
Cream of anything in an etouffee is true blasphemy. Unfortunately we have more and more local purveyors adding too much heat to their boudin, sausage and seasoned meats. There absolutely is nothing to compare to the smell wafting from a Cajun’s kitchen.
Amy McLavy says
Baton Rouge native who lives in Iowa now. Been practicing my roux skills to ensure my children learn too and don’t think gumbo comes from a box. I have encountered many folks from outside of Louisiana who think tomatoes also belong in jambalaya, so bad, so very very bad. Why would you argue with me? I am literally from Cajun country, but they do. I am also opposed to the use of jalapenos in Cajun food. That green you see in Cajun food is the trinity, not jalapenos folks! Love the site George; keep it up.
All true! I once had a coworker from a Texas market in town (Lake Charles) for lunch. He wanted to go to a Cajun place, so I picked a good one. He then proceeded to order one pound of boiled crawfish. I haven’t stopped laughing about it, and that was 3 years ago. I told him I was never able to show my face in that place again. I didn’t even know you could order only one pound, but the lady there said they could do it. LOL. I informed him he might need to get something else too since that’s like 10 crawfish. LOL. Thanks for this article and your recipes. Now I hope some people in other states (including North Louisiana) read it.
Charles Beazley says
Joseph Soileau says
Bonjour George. I agree with you in all your points of facts. Raised in southwest Louisiana, traveled the world with the Navy, and settled down in France…my cooking style always has a Cajun touch or flair! Just can’t help it…always with a gravy et over rice! Ha! À bientôt.
David in Lafayette says
Hello. I loved reading this article and the comments. We always had chicken-sausage gumbo or shrimp okra. My grandmother never mixed seafood and meat together as some recipes seem to do. I am told you do not combine okra and filé in the same gumbo either. Sadly, really good Filé powder is hard to find. I am given to understand the leaves must be hand-picked and the central vein must be removed lest it make the green powder bitter. Good luck with that. Uncle Bill, out of Baton Rouge, use to make it by hand. Cajun vs. Creole is an interesting dichotomy. But I have begun to see more and more the term Creole used for those Francophone African-American people, Catholic, French-speaking, often more mixed-race appearing, who live in the Acadiana area. Apparently, this term has undergone a unique meaning. My grandmother also made potato stew during Lent. To a dark roux, one adds diced potatoes, no meat, no boiled eggs either, like in shrimp stew. It was good and I do miss it. But the one dessert she made that I have never seen anywhere else was cracker custard. To fresh saltine crackers was added a light custard sauce. That was then put in the fridge and eaten later. Making something out of nothing is part of the Cajun tradition. Really, you thought that the bread pudding was new-bought fresh bread, not recycled, rather stale bread. French bread stales so fast lacking eggs as it does. Oh, and blackberry sweet dough pies. I understand these and other fruit-filled pies were made on Good Friday. You might have coconut, pineapple, sweet potato, blackberry, or lemon or custard pie- this latter sometimes called pap pie. Best.