New Orleans is one of the most culturally rich cities in the United States, littered with historic buildings and surprises around every corner. Chain stores and fast food have been shunned for Royal Street art boutiques and homestyle restaurants brimming with local seafood. While there’s no denying that there’s tourists crowding the streets, nearly everyone you talk to is a local eager to reveal their own favourite spot for gumbo or beer; you may have been to San Francisco or Boston, but New Orleans is unlike anyone else in the USA and worth a visit in it’s own right.
Along with rambling about, simply enjoying the ambience, there are several uniquely NOLA things you must try!
Sweet and crumbly, New Orleans is home to the best american pralines. Sweet wafts of sugar will follow you around the french quarter until you can no longer resist a bite (or many).
With the introduction of Airbnb it’s easier than ever to stay in local areas such as the Marigny, Bywater and Upper 9th, where every house has a unique personality and colour scheme. These neighbourhoods are Creole, favouring wooden low rise residences with double fronted porches – the polar opposite to the ‘american’ Garden District with grander Victorian mansions and large front gardens. One of our favourite things to do in New Orleans was wonder the streets of these areas looking at the houses and dreaming of evenings sipping cocktails on rocking chairs.
This isn’t really something I can comment on being a vegetarian, but Louisianans really know how to make the most of their natural surroundings. Along with crayfish, blue crab and andouille sausages, you’ll also find gator on the menu on some places. More Cajun than Creole, Sarah sampled some in Lafayette while the French Market offered it in multiple forms including jerky for when you need gator on the go!
Voodoo in New Orleans is a relatively positive practice, fueled by charms rather than curses, with some very modern intentions such as to “Win in court”. Yet there’s still something alluring dark in its appeal, especially when looking through shelves of little labelled bottles or bags. There are several stores catering to all your sage and grisgris bag needs across tourist areas, although take their integrity with a pinch of salt (!).
‘Beignets’ or, as we called them, “Bei-nae-naes”, are fried choux pastry covered in powdered sugar. While they are of french origin, the dish is synonymous with New Orleans, and I first dreamed of trying one after watching The Princess and The Frog. Cafe du Monde is the most famous spot for them, but you can’t go wrong anywhere in the city.
Situated in the Lower 9nth District, The House of Dance and Feathers is the most extensive collection of Mardi Gras Indians memorabilia, and curator and former chief himself Ronald Lewis is on hand to answer any questions you might have. Mardi Gras Indians are dance ‘tribes’ inspired by the Native Americans who accepted runaway slaves into their society, and a way for black communities to develop their own style of celebrating. You’ll also be able to hear about some of the more troubled history of the rival tribes, but it’s good to know that now all rivalry is friendly.
With the whole city buzzing with jazz, it’s easy to catch amazing musicians without even trying. Frenchman Street is the obvious first stop, with cafes and venus lining both sides – while most midrange restaurants will also have a band on hand for the evening. We were lucky to have an even greater experience in the true heart of jazz, Treme, the neighbourhood where most of the musicians live and practice. It’s so notorious you might have caught the HBO drama dedicated to it;s unique personality. Thanks to a new local friend we were invited down to Ooh Pooh Pah Doo bar for the Monday night collaboration night, where swarms of talented musicians jammed throughout the night to a jubilant crowd.
What have been your most unique experiences during your travels?