“Tell Me What You Eat, and I’ll Tell You Where You’re From.”
By Marcella Escarfuller
Everyone knows the old adage: “tell me of the company you keep and I’ll tell you who you are.” This version is just as telling: “tell me of the food you eat and I’ll tell you where you’re from.”
Whether we realize it or not, food defines culture in virtually every corner of the world – and the great U.S. of A. is no different. We associate Wisconsin with cheese, and Maine with lobster. So, naturally, it follows that seasonal food traditions would exist. New England has the clambake – and Louisiana has the crawfish boil.
Spring crawfish boils are as much of a social tradition in Louisiana as summer barbeques are for the rest of the country. In fact, locals love them so much that Louisiana produces an average of 50 tons of crawfish a year. That’s 90% of crawfish consumed in the U.S., 70% of which is consumed in Louisiana. And it’s no wonder – crawfish have been abundant in Louisiana for hundreds of years
There are over 30 species of crawfish, but the crawfish we all know and love, the red crawfish, is native to the Gulf of Mexico’s wetlands and swamps. Its culinary history can be traced back to the Native American tribe of southeast Louisiana, the Chitimacha – skilled farmers, hunters and fishermen who fashioned nets stringed with deer meat to attract and catch crawfish.
Today, the crawfish-eating tradition lives on. Local college students host Sunday boils up on the Fly, overlooking the river, with plenty of crawfish and beer to go around. But everyone has their favorite spot. Whether it’s Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar in Kenner, Captain Sid’s in Bucktown, or Clesi’s in Mid City, there is no shortage of mudbug grubbing options.
Ask anyone on the street and they’ll tell you – the secret is in the seasoning. Some buy special blends from grocery stores or seafood markets, others pride themselves on making their own. And experimenting has never been more popular. Take Ideal Market’s crawfish for example. Their special ingredient? Jalapeños. Even Viet-Cajun crawfish are on the rise: fresh from the boiling pot, crawfish are sautéed in a pan with butter, garlic, and Vietnamese spices, then served hot with corn and potatoes.
Some call it sacrilege, altering the hallowed tradition of the crawfish boil. Others call it creative liberty or artistic license. Honestly, as long as it’s served on newspaper and plastic in the company of friends and family, that’s all it’s really meant to be.