In the short time I was there, the French Quarter of New Orleans became one of my favourite places in the world. Located in the South-East of Louisiana along the Mississippi River, the French Quarter has a wonderfully rich cultural diversity that is steeped in history.
New Orleans was founded by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville of the French Mississippi Company in 1718 and named for Phillipe d'Orleans, Duke of Orleans. This French colony was then given to Spain as part of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, then was taken back by France in 1801. Napoleon sold New Orleans to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which led to an influx of American, French, Creole, Irish, German, Haitian and African immigration, both voluntary and involuntary. This melting pot of cultures has made the architecture, cuisine and even the language and diction of New Orleans unique.
New Orleans is a city defined by the hardships they endure. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina tore a devestating path through the city when the federal flood protection system failed. 80% of the city was left flooded, and many citizens took shelter in the Louisiana Superdome and the New Orleans Morial Convention Centre, but these shelters had little food and less water, and over 1500 people died - some are still unaccounted for. Despite this and other natural disasters, both long past and recent, New Orleans is still a city bustling with life and energy - a city that prides itself on it's ability to bounce back and recover again and again.
When Stephen and I visited, we were lucky enough to be staying right on Royal Street, in the heart of the French Quarter. I knew for certain I wanted to check out the famous French Markets, but Stephen wanted breakfast first, so we stopped by Cafe Du Monde nearby.
Cafe Du Monde is an institution by its own right. It opened in 1862 on Decatur Street, and for over a century has been supplying New Orleans with beignets and cafe au lait.
The dining room is scattered with photos of the cafe in all its previous incarnations, and the staff all wear little paper hats and bowties straight out of the 50's. The menu is very limited; in the way of food, only beignets are sold, and there are only a few different kinds of coffee. We ordered, and our server joined a line of other servers in a canteen-like fashion to pick up our coffee.
Cafe Au Lait - US$2.42
Cafe Du Monde is famous for cafe au lait, which is served in a way unique to New Orleans: the coffee is spiked with chicory and the milk is scalded. Its bitter flavour is iconic to this cafe, and is a great foil for the sweetness of the beignets.
The iced version is like a cafe au lait slushy, and comes in a more generous size. I, personally, prefer the original - everytime I took a sip of the iced coffee I kept expecting something sweet.
The beignets were deep-fried square pillows of choux pastry, with a deliciously crispy outer, yet fluffy on the inside. Mountains of icing sugar topped them - apparently it's customary for first timers to blow the icing sugar off the top and make a wish, but we refrained.
We moved on further down Decatur Street to the French Markets. Established in 1791, it's 6 blocks full of enclosed and outdoor shopping (which of course I took full advantage of), but there's about a block of food stalls that we were really interested in, and we found it to be a great introduction to the cuisine of New Orleans.
Muffuletta is the signature sandwich of New Orleans. It's made with a large, round loaf of bread similar to a foccacia in texture, and almost always consists of olive spread, provolone, ham, pepperoni, coppa and salami.
I had never tried egg nog before, and was quite keen. Beneath the cinnamon, nutmeg and custard flavours I was surprised to taste a trace of rum - I had forgotten that it was legal (and even normal practise - my ID wasn't even asked for) to drink in public.
A Po' Boy is a type of sandwich made with New Orleans French bread. We were sampling lot of dishes, so we ordered a 6" or a "shorty" between us. The pulled pork was soft and tender, cooked in a sweet and mildly spicy sauce until it fell apart. It was served with sharp green tomatoes and salty pickles.
In another display of public drinking, we went to The Organic Banana stand and ordered a cocktail. This icy concoction of fresh banana, amaretto, coffee liqueur and chocolate syrup was sweet and fresh, a great way to end a marathon of eating.
New Orleans was extraordinary. The atmosphere was fun and carefree, the shopping excellent and the food even better. There were many more places we visited, but I found the French Markets and Cafe Du Monde to be quintessential experiences of the French Quarter.
French Market District
On Decatur Street
Between St Peters Street & Barracks Street