You’ve booked your flight, spent countless hours researching which historic neighborhood to rent a house in, and even read up on the difference between Creole and Cajun food. Yep, you’re almost ready for a trip to New Orleans! But before you make dinner reservations in the Crescent City, here are 10 culinary terms (and pronunciations) you should get familiar with:
At countless cafes throughout town, you can find these pillowy, cloud-like pastry puffs dusted with tiny mountains of powdered sugar. Or take a sugar-and-oil-soaked brown paper bag with you to enjoy on a park bench or while walking along the river. Pro tip: Avoid the wrap-around-the-block lines of hungry tourists seeking sugary treats for breakfast by grabbing a beignet dessert instead.
Café au lait (ka-ˈfā-ō-ˈlā)
Simply put, New Orleans’ most popular early morning beverage is a cup filled with equal parts coffee and warmed or steamed milk. Thinner than the omnipresent lattes that dominate coffee shops throughout the rest of the country, these staples are the default coffee drink in some of the city’s most renowned cafes like the French Quarter’s Café du Monde, where a frozen variety is also available. The coffee component of the drink can be made with either the pure stuff, or a blend with chicory.
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The Big Easy’s most divisive ingredient, you’ll either love or loathe chicory. First cultivated as a medicinal product in ancient Egypt, this wild root dramatically rose in esteem during the American Civil War when it was used to help extend the output of heavily rationed coffee. When roasted and ground, this uncaffeinated root can be used to create a high fiber additive to coffee. But beware, the taste is usually an acquired one, as chicory coffee can range in flavor from herbaceous to bitter. Visitors are quick to seek the Southern breakfast staple out, but often wrinkle their noses at the taste before ordering a more traditional coffee when it’s time for a refill.
A Cajun dish with French roots, étouffée typically involves shellfish that have been smothered in a roux made from oil or butter, and then cooked in a covered pan. Depending on the season, you’re most likely to encounter shrimp étouffée in New Orleans, but a crawfish take on the dish is nearly as popular. Though it can be found on countless menus today in New Orleans, historic French Quarter fine dining haunt Galatoire’s is often credited with first bringing the Cajun dish to prominence.
Sometimes known elsewhere as the chayote squash, these pear-shaped vegetables have a mild taste that pair with just about anything. You’ll be hard pressed to find another piece of produce with such a fervent cult-like following. You can try dozens of dishes featuring the hometown hero at the annual Mirliton Festival, celebrated each year in the city’s historic Bywater neighborhood.
New Orleans’ second most famous sandwich, Sicilian Salvatore Lupo first created the iconic recipe at Central Grocery, where it is still prepared today. A round sesame roll is stuffed with layers of cured italian deli meats, mortadella cheese, pickled vegetables, and most importantly, olive salad.
Pain Perdu (pän pur-DOO)
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French for “lost bread,” this is how New Orleans (and France) does French Toast. You’ll most likely find this breakfast classic made with day-old french baguettes instead of the thick-cut loaves holding court in the other 49 states. Regardless of the bread used, you can always count on a generous dusting of powdered sugar.
Po’ Boy (PO-boy)
Arguably New Orleans’ signature dish, brace yourself for countless takes on the city’s iconic sandwich. First emerging in the 1920s to feed the city’s workers on strike, the original roast beef iteration has spawned soft shell crab, fried shrimp, catfish, hot sausage, and fried oyster cousins that can be found today just about anywhere in town. Order it “dressed” to score lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise, or your protein will look awfully lonely on that baguette.
Affectionately translated to “French for diabetic shock,” the city’s signature candies are achingly sweet patties usually made from sugar, butter, milk and pecans. Molasses and chocolate recipes will occasionally creep into glass pastry cases, but if you’re eating a praline in New Orleans, you’ve most likely bought one of the classics from a corner grocery store or gas station.
Remoulade (rem-oo-lahd, ruhm-uh-lahd, ro-mah-laid, etc…)
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No matter how your family pronounced it when you were growing up, a remoulade is versatile mustard-based sauce that traces its roots back to its usage as a French salad dressing of sorts. In New Orleans today, you’re likely to find dollops of the saffron-hued stuff splashed on po’ boys and Eggs Benedict, or served as a dipping sauce for fried shrimp and oysters. Of all the pronunciations you must master to dine out in The Big Easy, this is the one you least need to stress over. No matter how you say it, your server is likely to repeat it back to you almost indecipherably differently.