When people from out side of Louisiana think of Cajun or Creole Cuisine, the first thing that may come to mind is heat -- something that is so hot it will make you sweat. This may be true for some dishes, but that is a small number. When South Louisianans think of food, they think of flavor. Cajun or Creole Cuisine is a blend of fresh proteins, well rounded spices, vegetables, and herbs to be flavorful, not just spicy. So, next time you think of Cajun or Creole Cuisine, do not think heat and sweat, think about flavorful dishes that make you crave more.
No matter if you travel from Avoyelles Parish south to Vermilion Parish or from Acadia Parish east to Orleans Parish, you will find someone who can either cook a Cajun meal or Creole meal, and probably both. Yes, there is a difference in Cajun Cuisine versus Creole Cuisine. This difference goes way back to when the first group of settlers came to South Louisiana. The Creole Cuisine comes from the Caribbean Creoles who settled in what is known as present day New Orleans. And they wanted to maintain some of the cooking techniques learned in their homeland, these were people who had the means to eat this type of food. These were dishes that were very rich, made with cream, shallots, herbs, and spices. These sauces were used to top oysters, fish, or shellfish. They also ate a lot of baked goods like pastries, breads, and cakes. This cuisine was referred to as city cooking.
On the other hand, Cajun Cuisine derived from Acadians who started to settle in the areas west of New Orleans. These people did not have the means for expensive ingredients, so they had to live off the land. They learned how to adapt to the environment to sustain themselves. This cuisine was usually cooked in one pot using vegetables, rice, fish, shellfish and strong spices. This cuisine was referred to as peasant food.
Present day Cajun and Creole Cuisine is somewhat different even though the same principals of cooking were used back in the 1700's. Since the first settlers in these areas started cooking, the cuisine has evolved thanks to the seven different nations that inhabited the land: Native Americans, French, Italian, English, Spanish, German, and African. These diverse groups contributed to the distinct dishes that are cooked in South Louisiana today. These dishes were a product of the knowledge of these nations combined with the abundance of natural resources available to South Louisiana either from its land or water.
South Louisiana is blessed with many different crops such as rice, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, and okra to name a few. There is also the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding bays where you can catch fish, shrimp, crabs, and oysters. South Louisiana also has an abundance of swamps and marshes where turtles, frogs, rabbit, deer, crawfish, ducks and geese can be found. When you combine the abundant amount of resources with the unique herbs and spices, you get a cuisine that people just can not get enough of.
So when thinking of Cajun or Creole cuisine remember the spice should be second. Flavor is always first. Cajun dishes such as jambalaya, sauce piquante, gumbo, etouffee and chicken stew should be about flavor. When you think of Creole Cuisine dishes like Oysters Bienville, crawfish bisque, and shrimp romoulade remember the same. These two cultures have evolved and melded into a place where good food and friends are a part of everyday life, and it will continue in that direction for as long as the Cajun and Creole people are around.