One of the horrors of my life so far is that I haven’t been to New Orleans. Nope, I’ve never strolled the French Quarter past the wrought-iron trellises as jazz wafts through the air. And now I’m way too old and modest to road trip to Mardi Gras to drink hurricanes, flash my goods for beads and stumble around Bourbon Street. I kind of regret that I didn’t visit before Katrina, though now the city gets to show off its pluck and battle scars, which can only give it more character.
I’ve always thought New Orleans would have the same sensibility as Savannah, since they share deep historical roots, stifling humidity, a dark undercurrent of voodoo and mysticism and a general style of “elegant decay.” This is shameful to admit, but a lot of what I know about New Orleans is only pieced together from scenes in The Pelican Brief, those Zatarain’s commercials or The Real World: New Orleans. But I hear it’s a great foodie town. And that brings me to the next item on my culinary bucket list.
Today’s Eatocracy blog has a nice roundup on traditional New Orleans fare, and there are a lot of things listed that I’ve never eaten. I’ve never tasted true filé gumbo, sucked the brains out of a crawdad, enjoyed a shrimp po’ boy or a mouth-searing dish of jambalaya. I am confounded by something called étouffée, but I do enjoy saying it over and over again. Of all those foodie experiences though, my number one goal is to someday enjoy a cup of chicory coffee.
I don’t even know what chicory coffee is, but it sounds mysterious and decadent. From what I understand, folks back in the day added ground chicory root to coffee to stretch it when they didn’t have the money for or couldn’t get coffee. Think soldiers on the battlefield or pioneer families isolated in the mountains. Camp Coffee, a chicory-coffee blend that was created in the late 1800’s, is apparently a nostalgia item in Scotland. Louisiana’s version was created during the Civil War when the Union naval blockade cut off coffee shipments to its port. Somehow it just became tradition.
I keep reading that the chicory coffee makes a thick, “malty” brew that is much more bitter or acidic than regular coffee. The place to get it in New Orleans is the famed Café du Monde, where they mix it half-and-half with steamed milk and call it a café au lait. The proper experience is to drink it alongside an order of French beignets. Fried dough with sugar? Twist my arm.
Café du Monde has a few other outposts, notably in the Atlanta Underground, but I just don’t think that would be the same. Someday I’ll have to wrestle my way through the tourists and a have a real, authentic New Orleans café au lait.
Have you ever had chicory coffee? Have I really been missing out, or is it not worth all the fuss?
Click here to view the other items on my Culinary Bucket List.