The main reason I was in New Orleans a couple weeks ago was to attend the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival. It’s one of the best music events in the country—12 stages showcasing everything from gospel to blues to rap, and of course, jazz—but it’s just as much about the food. Basically my heaven (although temperatures made me feel like I was in the opposite place).
What’s so awesome about the food is there are no corporate vendors—all of the stands are New Orleans-based restaurants and caterers, each selling something unique. No repeats! With about 70 catered food stands, that’s quite a feat. (Click through the vendor names for some interesting stories.)
I did my best to get to ‘em all, and made it through about a quarter of the stands. Enough chit chat—let’s get to it. Here are my top five Jazz Fest eats.
5. Alligator Sauce Piquante, Fireman Mike’s Kitchen. Although a little difficult to eat in sweltering heat, I couldn’t pass up the chance to try alligator stew. The gator chunks were chewy morsels, the sauce was spicy sweet, and the flavor was a nice break from the many fried and cheesy options that dominated the festival. If only I could have teleported myself to a cold snowy day in Wisconsin.
4. Mango Freeze, WWOZ Community Radio. Definitely a festival favorite, this sorbet ball provided perfect relief from temps stretching to the 90s. The flavor was vibrant and tasted natural—it’s just mangoes, sugar, and water. What’s more, profits help WWOZ broadcast New Orleans music out to the world. Double win!
3. Cochon de Lait Po’boy, Love at First Bite. Fancying myself partial to seafood, I went with the soft shell crab po’boy. But after a bite of my friend’s pork, I immediately regretted my order. The meat was tender and dripping with natural juices. The catering company’s name is too true.
2. Crawfish Monica, Kajun Kettle Foods, Inc. This is probably Jazz Fest’s signature dish, so popular that they’ve trademarked the name. They also sell 16 tons of it each year. Thin cream sauce covers spiral noodles and huge chunks of crawfish. A simple, classic dish. Try the recipe for yourself.
1. Crawfish Bread, Panaroma Foods. This was the very first thing I ate at Jazz Fest, and hands down, without a doubt, it was the best. Think cheesy, spicy, crawfish-stuffed, doughy garlic bread that melts in your mouth. I could have easily eaten only this all four days, but then, of course, I might not be here to tell you about it.