Cajun or Creole?

20 Sep


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. 

Boudin, a sausage stuffed with meat, rice and seasonings, is one of mankinds earliest convenience foods. Served with spicy mustard...sublime!

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.

Etoufee comes from the French word for “smother”. Here, crawfish is smothered in a tangy tomato sauce and served over rice.

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!


8 Responses to “Cajun or Creole?”

  1. Brandy Rowden September 20, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

    Cajun or Creole…’re making my mouth water. 🙂 What a nice break on your trip. Thanks for sharing your journey with us folks stuck in the office. 🙂

    • mish September 21, 2010 at 2:02 am #

      LOVE this post. You’ve got it all 100% right. I’m going to repost this with your permission on my blog b/c it’s a great, condense and clear explanation of the differences b/n the two cuisines. Nice work!
      p.s. Muffaletta is Italian. I wrote up a piece on it and adapted a recipe for easy-to-find ingredients. Check it out:

      • ruminski September 22, 2010 at 8:36 pm #

        Feel free to repost, Michelle. I will go check your muffa-whatta blog now.

  2. Aralena Malone-Leroy September 21, 2010 at 9:01 am #

    Miam miam ! Ca donne envie… the etoufée is making me salivate.
    Interesting how spicy the cuisine got once the French left their native land. Things are still pretty mild back here.

    • ruminski September 22, 2010 at 8:37 pm #

      I’m sure you know how to spice it up though, Sweetie!

  3. Dale Moana Gilmartin September 21, 2010 at 9:02 am #

    Aloha Lisa,

    I am really savoring the e-postcards from your trip. This last entry took me back to our visit to New Orleans way back when…. Remember, we rented a canoe to paddle through the bayou and part of the “instructions”, given by the sexy Cajun tour operator, consisted of what to do if a water moccasin snake fell into our little boat? (Use the paddle to fish it out!) Later we learned Cajun dancing at the Maple Leaf Cafe.

    After I got back to Honolulu, you mailed me a care package of boudin and andouille that was amazing!!!

    Anyway, love and hugs and much aloha to you and Eddie.


  4. Kate Warthen September 21, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    Well, Dale’s comment reminded me of the time I came to visit you in New Orleans after one of your trade shows..and we had too many martinis at that spining bar . Next day, with a 5 star hang over, we had crawfish etoufee at that great, classic, old time New Orleans restaurant – we had a a mean and condescending waiter to match our hangover… but the food was great. Remember that?
    The big beach umbrella is in my car! Can’t wait to see you and Ed here in in St Augustine.

    • ruminski September 22, 2010 at 8:30 pm #

      Dale and Kate…we loved us some N’Awlins, didn’t we? Thanks for the memories! Dale…we also asked the Cajun guide what we should do if we tipped over our canoe and he said “Stand up, cher. The watah’s only 3 feet deep.” LOL!

      Kate…remember I bought one of those little toy accordions and played it with the street musicians. I probably had an excess of Hurricanes in me.

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