MAR. 26, 2007
Cajuns will eat damn near anything. If it runs, crawls, flies, hops, swims, or slithers, there’s probably a Cajun recipe for it. Cajuns are highly omnivorous – either that or they’re starving. As Charles Dickens once said, “Hunger is the finest sauce in the world,” and even though it’s safe to say Dickens never enjoyed a decent roux, he was mostly right. Then again, Dickens came from a world where the sauce choices are Worcestershire, an unpronounceable dark brew ostensibly comprised of salt, vinegar, mold, dead fish, rat droppings, and poor people’s sweat; and something called “brown sauce,” which contains similar ingredients plus the pureed remains of red-headed Irish orphans. It’s hardly a surprise then that Dickens would award the gold medal to hunger. Cajuns however, through a long, meandering route that involves a swamp, several murky rivers, and a transatlantic voyage, trace their origins to the French, for whom sauces are an integral part of most meals. Like Cajuns, the French will eat damn near anything … as long as it’s slathered in a delicious, mouthwatering sauce: Horses, frogs, snails, geese, bunnies – you name it, and keep in mind French cuisine is considered to be some of the finest in the world. So the Cajuns took that culinary tradition and ran with it … at least until they reached a steamy swamp in the funky taint of America where they settled down for some real gastronomical depravity. In South Louisiana, if it can’t be deep fried, boiled, or blackened, it probably belongs in outer space, at a circus, or on an endangered species list. Cajuns themselves qualify for all three as well. Nowhere else in the world will you find such a bizarre clusterfuck of cultures, a steamy dreamscape of sleeveless camo T-shirts, wrap-around Wal-Mart sunglasses, spectacular mullets, and belligerently indecipherable patois that so brilliantly refutes the notion of intelligent design. And yet, despite ravenous alligators, relentless humidity, and hellish swarms of mosquitoes, Cajuns have managed to survive and thrive in a place where most people won’t even stop to take a piss. Their key to survival has always been adaptation: The ability to make the best of what’s available. What’s available in South Louisiana in April is crawfish, millions and millions of mudbugs, freakish little creatures palatable mainly to ’coons and cormorants. Of course, since their southward migration, you can add another “C” word to that list. Crawfish are a peculiarly Cajun delicacy, an earthy blend of swamp-water and spices. If done right, they’re surprisingly addictive. They’re a little messy too – sort of like eating lobster in a mud puddle – but always worth the effort. True Cajuns like to suck the head, but they won’t dis you for being a dilettante. They’re much too good-natured for that. Besides, it’s crawfish season, and everybody’s fat and happy. If you’d like to get fat and happy too, check out this Saturday’s Louisiana Swamp Thing and Crawfish Festival at the corner of Congress and MLK. Not only will there be authentic Cajun food done up by 20 different cooks, there will also be great music by folks like Cyril Neville, Big Chief Kevin, T Broussard, Dwayne Dopsie, and others, as well as Zydeco dance lessons, arts and crafts, carnival rides and a crawfish eating contest you’ll surely want to enter. Who knows? You may be a natural.