People have said that Louisiana (New Orleans in particular) has the best food in the world so often throughout its history, it’s become a cliché or a stereotype by this point. But there has to be a definite truth to that cliché if so many people have said it. Whether it’s beignets, muffulettas, po-boys, etc., our state is recognized as a crowning achievement of culinary excellence. That being said, there are some dishes made in Louisiana that tourists (and even some locals) might give a glance at and shutter. So, let’s recognize some weird or exotic foods that are served in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana.
Locals are going to think I’m crazy to put crawfish (pictured above) on a list of exotic Louisiana foods, but it’s true. While it’s common to have a crawfish boil for any type of get-together in Louisiana, these critters (crayfish, as some tourists might call them) become strange and exotic outside of the state, unless they’re used as bait. Since Louisiana supplies about 95 percent of the crawfish harvest in the U.S., we know how to properly eat them. Commonly, someone from the outside coming in might be a little bit weirded out by these shellfish, especially if they try to peel them and realize they only get a minuscule amount of meat for their effort. While crawfish are as familiar to us as mosquitos in the summer, the rest of the country is silently wondering, “Why the hell are they sticking something that lives in mud into their mouths?”
The practice of using frog legs (pictured below) as food in America came mostly from France. Recognized as a delicacy in French cuisine, parts of the Deep South that have had strong French influences (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida) started incorporating frog legs into their diets. Commonly taken from bullfrogs and leopard frogs, frog legs can be grilled or deep-fried, marinated or battered. Rich in vitamin A, protein, and potassium, frog legs are one of the few foods that actually “taste like chicken” because they have the same texture and type of flavor as chicken wings. While frog legs are also commonly eaten in parts of Asia and Europe, frog legs in America really only tend to hop into Southerners’ mouths, and that includes ours here in Louisiana.
Known commonly as caouane in Creole communities, turtle soup has also made its way into New Orleans cuisine, mainly through local restaurants like Galatoire’s, Commander’s Palace, and Brennan’s. Finding its origin in Singapore and China, turtle soup (which really is soup made from the flesh of a turtle) started becoming recognized as a delicacy in America as early as the 19th century. The type of turtle that is usually used in American turtle soup is the common snapping turtle, which the South has plenty of. Not only is turtle soup a regular part of Creole cuisine, it is also a huge part of Philadelphia cuisine. So, if you ever find yourself in Philadelphia, try some turtle soup and see how it compares to the New Orleans variety. Just ignore the kid next to your table crying out loud because he thinks you’re eating one of the Ninja Turtles.
The mirliton (pictured above), or chayote squash if you’re not Cajun or Creole, is a type of gourd indigenous to Mesoamerica. Even though mirliton is quite common in Asia and Latin America, it can be kinda hard to find it used in American-style cuisine, unless you’re in Louisiana. Having been cultivated in Louisiana since around 1867, mirliton is a very good source of vitamin C. Although you can try to eat it raw, it is really not recommended because its tough texture makes it practically inedible. While it can be eaten whenever you want, in Louisiana mirliton is considered to be a seasonal dish, mainly for Thanksgiving. So, the next time you go out to get a Thanksgiving turkey, pick up some mirlitons, too. I’m sure you’ll get some interesting looks from your party guests, locals or tourists.
Used in various different cuisines in the Deep South, alligator is another “tastes like chicken” type of meat, and it actually has some health benefits. It is high in protein and low in fat and contains large amounts of vitamin B12 and potassium. Alligator meat can be prepared using a number of different recipes, from tenderloins and ribs to fried balls and pies. Tourists may scoff at the idea of eating a giant lizard, but they can take comfort in the fact that we locals are basically eating the closest the earth has to a living dinosaur. So, that’s cool. The next time you take some out-of-town friends on a bayou tour, point to the first alligator you see and say, “Y’all wanna eat that?” I’m sure their reactions will be priceless.