While Eddie and I were scarfing down our crawfish, andouille and boudin feast in Baton Rouge yesterday, he asked me between bites, “Do you know the difference between Creole and Cajun food?”
Based on my quotidian understanding of the terms Creole (in Spanish criollo…a person of European descent born in the West Indies or Spanish America) and Cajun (a derivative of Acadian), I told him that it was the difference between fancy and plain, or city and country. Well, boy howdy, the Internet proved me right.
The Creoles came from the affluent, aristocratic families of Paris, Madrid and other European cultural centers and brought their haute cuisine, and even their chefs, to New Orleans. A singular French contribution, bouillabaisse from Provence, evolved into gumbo. Spanish paella became the foundation of jambalaya, and the Germans, knowledgeable in all forms of charcuterie, adapted their skills to the making of andouille and other forms of sausage and cured meats.
The Acadians, or Cajuns as they came to be known, originally left France for Nova Scotia, but when the British flag was raised over Canada the French speaking Catholics were exiled from the country and found a new home compatible with their religion in southern Louisiana. Accustomed to roughing it, and having had established good relationships with the Mic-Mac Indians when they were isolated in the woods of Canada, they quickly befriended the native Americans in Louisiana and learned how to forage for the abundant wild game, seafood, vegetation and herbs in the area, and then convert that bounty into “one pot dinners” or etoufees.
The Indians taught the Cajuns how to use file powder, the ground sassafrass leaf which is a distinctive element of Louisiana cuisine. Enslaved Africans also brought with them the “gumbo” or okra plant from their native soil, which gave name to the soup. And then there’s the muffaletta…Italian, French, African? I got ALL mixed up on that search.
Talk about a melting pot? Small wonder it’s hard to distinguish between Creole and Cajun when you are chowing down on this mélange of flavors that bites, soothes and connects you to the swamps, bayous, lakes, rivers and woods of the Gulf Coast.
I doubt that my extended French family will be able to understand this tune, but nevertheless I share it. Laissez les bon temps rouler!