Po’boy

Or is it poor boy or po-boy? Whatever you want to call it, I implore you to make one.

Long roll/half baguette

Protein of choice

Shredduce (see below)

Optional extras:

Tomato slices

Pickles

Hot sauce – I quite like Tabasco green

Mustard

Mayonnaise

Get a long roll, half a baguette will do. You want something a bit crusty on the outside but with a soft and yielding interior. Also, this a hot sandwich not one with cold fillings and not a toasted sandwich. It’s best if the dressings (ie not the main event) are room temp but stress ye not if this doesn’t happen.

With the bread choice sorted, cut it mostly but not completely the way through. Do you really want all the bits to fall out while you’re scoffing it? Bend the seam open for ease of filling.

I like a bed of shredded lettuce – shredduce, if you will indulge me. I also like several thin slices of tomato but I won’t demand you include them if tomato is not your thing.

My preference is for something like fried shrimp, fried oysters or fried catfish if one is in a country where such things are available. Here in Australia, I’d opt for fresh prawns warmed through in butter and garlic, fried calamari or fried flathead tails. Oysters, I like raw or Kilpatrick style if I’m feeling nostalgic. So choose your protein preference and get that happening because, as mentioned, this is a sandwich with a hot filling.

To construct, you’ve got shredduce on the bottom, tomato then your condiment of choice but don’t overdo things. Stick to one, or two at most, and be parsimonious in the quantity; you want to taste the main event. Finally top with your hot protein and a sprinkle of salt (it makes things come alive on your tongue.)

Oh and don’t’ consume while wearing your best white t-shirt. In fact, for preference, consume it outside.

So where does the name come from? The neat origin story involves the roll being fed to over one thousand striking streetcar workers in 1929. *May or may not be true.

Muffaletta

BREAD

Ideally, it should be a bread as large as your outstretched hand which, when filled, is more than you should comfortably eat. Focaccia, Turkish or even those flat burger buns from the supermarket. (In fact, this whole thing can be sourced from your average supermarket.) I’m not a believer in scooping out any of the bread insides; I just don’t understand this move.

Cut the roll of choice all the way through, please. I promise it’s the right move.

MEAT

Meat needs to cover the porky spectrum, a minimum two. One must be a hot salami plus a pressed deli meat, preferably mortadella. The third can be your choice but again I implore you to stay within the porcine family. I’d choose capocollo or a double smoked ham. Chicken, turkey and beef small goods have no place here.

You need several slices per layer. They can be overlapped as required but they must reach edge to edge. But if you use too many slices, those whole things loses structural integrity.

THE WET STUFF

Now to the wet components. I like them top and bottom for maximum crumb penetration.

A good giardiniera (pickled cauliflower, carrot maybe some celery and onion) is the ideal place to start. If you can’t locate this Italian-style pickle look for something briny and pickle-y. It’s going to provide a satisfying crunch to the finished dish. Obviously, you can make it if you feel the need to. I like to add some roasted capsicums and then dice it all up.

Olive tapenade – again use a bought one for ease but feel free to make your own. Think olives (black or green or both) pitted and finely diced, garlic, anchovy, maybe some parsley, capers and all mixed with olive oil. Generously spread one of these on each side of the bread, ensuring to add some of the carrier liquid.

CHEESE

Provolone – not the piccante which can taste of bile to my mind. Two layers please. I’m ‘one of those people’ who always orders extra cheese on everything. I’ve used Jarlsberg from the supermarket and this works too. You’re looking for something mild yet creamy in flavour to balance out the rest of the components.

Important note.

No mayonnaise, mustard, or butter are necessary. There’s enough going on here as it is. Leave it to sit (and pressed under a weight is best) while you clean up. It needs this time for flavours to meld together and the juices to soak into the bread. Only toast it if you must. Cut into half so you can admire your layered handiwork.

It’s pickle-y, salty, creamy, earthy goodness – enjoy!

New Orleans, LA – Thursday, 8th September

New Orleans, LA – Thursday, 8th September

9:35 AM

1100 N Peters St, New Orleans, LA 70116, USA

MILES 3.16

TRIP TIME 00:18:57

FARE BREAKDOWN Trip fare $8.34

Subtotal $8.34

Total $8.34

Driver – George

When I awake, things feel different. The bed and it’s soft, enveloping mattress, the plush bedding sealing me off from the outside world. I’m not sure if it was the bed or some magical qualities in last night’s purple drink but sleep was solid and refreshing in ways it not always is. Today’s itinerary begins with an Uber ride to the Garden district for a tour. Apparently quite the common tourist attraction and one that Steve has done before, we are booked in at 10am to tour the oldest New Orleanian cemetery – Lafayette Cemetery Number One.

Uber George is one of the quietest drivers we’ve had this trip. He answers Steve’s questions but offers no more. Steve gives up and tries to adjust the vents at the rear of the centre console to direct some cooled air in his direction. I’m left to sit in the back lost in my own thoughts. Outside the areas of the French Quarter, Seventh Ward and Treme-Lafitte pass by. From the expressway, I can see the massive Superdome that was refuge to to many people during and after Katrina’s rampage in 2005. Dropping down into Central city, house blocks become interspersed with estate agent offices, furniture stores, coffee shops, parking garages and playgrounds. We pull up in one of the few empty spots on Washington Avenue, opposite Commander’s Palace restaurant.

‘That’s where we are having dinner tonight,’ Steve casually throws out.

‘Commander’s Palace?’ I ask although I know it’s one of his all-time dining highlights.

‘Yep. Commander’s Palace.’ He checks his watch. ‘We’re a little early. Coffee? There’s a place just back on the other corner.’

We grab a quick caffeine hit from Still Perkin’ Café. A neighbourhood style coffee shop, this unassuming place is heavily air-conditioned much to Steve’s delight. The neighbourhood is a mix of expansive historic mansions with manicured gardens through to more modest single story weatherboard homes. Much treasured shade is provided by the many mature Live Oak trees, hundreds of years in age, dripping with Spanish Moss and ferns nestling in their elbows. Like outstretched arms, their branches reach out along the blocks intersecting with the next one.

In an otherwise residential neighbourhood, the cemetery is free and open to the public. Small groups of people huddle in the shade of a large tree by the entrance. It’s partner on the opposite side on the entrance way fallen victim to some previous hurricane season. A small metal sign attached to the front wall reads No pets, bikes, vehicles or skateboards allowed in cemetery. No soliciting allowed in cemetery. I nudge Steve and point out the sign.

‘Sex work? Here?’ I question sotto voce. He shrugs. Just then our docent arrives, wisely holding an umbrella for sun protection. Clipboard in hand, she enquires officiously, ‘Amanda? Steve? I’m Gayl. From Save Our Cemeteries.’ Stepping through the over-sized gates I can’t help but notice how completely different this place looks to other cemeteries I’ve seen. Walls of vaults edge the block but the most striking thing is the large above-ground tombs. Housing multiple family members, they are a solution to a very unique problem.

‘Shall we begin?’ Gayl begins her spiel, ‘Save Our Cemeteries is a not for profit group dedicated to the preservation, promotion and protection of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries through restoration, education and advocacy. Watch your step.’

The paving stones and concrete beneath our feet are losing to the tree roots, lichen and grass that thrive in the Louisiana climate.

‘ Save Our Cemeteries is the only non-profit in New Orleans that offers cemetery tours. You may have seen some touts at the front gates soliciting for business.’

I catch Steve’s eye and we exchange smirks. I mouth oh that kind of soliciting. Our guide carries on, ‘The cemetery is free to the public but monies collected from these tours go directly to the many restoration projects that the SOC co-ordinates.’

There are few clouds in the sky to provide any break from the relentless heat, so each time we pause at a particular tomb, Steve and I seek out all possible shade relief.

‘Lafayette Cemetery Number One is the oldest of the seven municipal, city-operated cemeteries in New Orleans. Originally, it was laid out in a cruciform or cross-shape pattern. The aisles were lined with magnolia trees and paved with shells.’ Gayl is affable and knowledgeable. ‘More than 7000 people from all denominations and societal groups are buried here.’

‘Ok, I have to ask,’ I interject. ‘What is it with all the mausoleums?’

‘I wondered when that would come up,’ she responds. ‘The first settlers to the area had problems with in-ground burial. New Orleans has a very high water table and when it would rain the caskets would just pop up and out of the ground.’

‘Seriously?’ The look on my face must be incredulous. ‘Bodies would just pop out of the ground?’

‘Yes, absolutely. Though there is also a cultural influence, too. Many immigrants were from Spain and as is the custom there, bodies were buried in above ground family vaults. The cemeteries were also known as ‘cities of the dead’ with the tombs resembling small houses.’

We come across a tomb that is for sale. Rusting fencing, crumbling façade and a broken urn doesn’t dissuade me from momentarily contemplating owning a tomb in a Louisiana cemetery. I start to factor in costs of transporting a body, legal forms to be completed and the difficulty of family visiting to mourn and decide against it. A short lived fantasy. Shame, it was very reasonable at only $7000.

A feeling I’ve encountered before on our trip is that of deja-vu or even just familiarity in a place. I don’t recognise one particular tombs or even a particular view down one of the aisles. It is a more general sense of having seen this before. There’s no point trying to explain these things to Steve as he is a return visitor to many of the places we are traveling.

‘Is it wrong to say that I find this all quite beautiful?’ I say more to Steve than to our guide. ‘The lacework of the small fences, the way those small ferns have managed to grow in the cracks of the brickwork. Even the engraved marble sheets crumbling away. It’s like there’s a slow but incessant battle between Mother Nature and man. Mother Nature is gradually gaining ground, I think.’

Gayl extends her right arm out, her umbrella pausing us. ‘Just down this way is one of our volunteers working on one the tombs. It’s a never-ending job. Once we’ve secured funding, we’ve got to sort out ownership and other legal issues before any of the restoration and preservation work can even begin.’

‘The tombs are so elaborate. All that engraving and sculpting.’ I go to run my hand along a nearby tomb and stop, unsure of the protocols of touching. There’s an odd thing that happens in cemeteries about personal space. The grave sites are private space and there are unwritten rules about sitting or standing on them. Convention says that you go to the effort of walking around them, even though the deceased and meters underground and unlikely to ask you to do so. This historic but still active cemetery straddles a wobbly line between tourist attraction and sacred place.

‘Absolutely. The sculptures are highly symbolic. There are many images to represent a life cut short. Broken flowers, broken columns. Even an upside down torch – the torch being an ancient symbol for life. Many of these, you’ll find on the pediments of family tombs. Another one often used on the graves of children is that of a lamb. Their gentleness and innocent akin to that of the child.’ As she explains these, the cemetery becomes richer and more meaningful. It is more than just a charming ready-made film set.

‘Another common sight here in Lafayette Number One, is the society tomb. Orphanages, benevolent societies, fire companies and more all had their own society tombs with their insignia engraved on the pediment above.’ The tour is a fascinating mix of education and entertainment. While I now know that the name of the piece of stone engraved with the names of the deceased is called a closure tablet, I also enjoyed the many vampire movie references. Anne Rice, the famous author of the Interview With a Vampire series has been a long time New Orleans resident.

The heat of the day is starting to pick up and though we’ve tried to stick to the shade of the plentiful magnolia trees, we are both beginning to fade. We wind up our tour back at the gates on Washington Avenue and thank Gayl for her incredible service.

‘That was so much more than I’d expected,’ I say. ‘Though I’m not really sure what I expected, to be honest.’

‘It was pretty great, wasn’t it?’ and then addressing Gayl directly, Steve asks hesitantly. ‘Can . . . can we give you a tip?’

‘I’m not allowed to accept tips but I do encourage you to donate to the SOC organisation online. Thanks for taking the tour with Save Our Cemeteries. All the best for the remainder of your trip.’ She turns sharply and walks away. I stand still, slightly bewildered by the past hour and a bit. Steve consults the phone oracle and points in the direction of our next destination.

‘I thought we’d walk down to Magazine St and grab something very cold to drink and some lunch.’

Sounds like a plan, Stan rolls off my tongue before I can stop it. We hug the side of the road with the most shade but I can feel the sweat rolling down my back. Luckily it is only a few blocks before we hit Magazine St. It is a buzzing commercial strip with restaurants, gift shops, antique stores and more vying for the tourist dollar. Like all streets located in the is city, they follow a gentle curve as the river forms a wide U-shape around the city. This disrupts one of my usual ploys for getting a grip on a city when I travel. Using a water-body or some striking topography to ground myself in a city helps anchor me, helps me intuit direction. In this ‘Crescent City’ the river curves and streets fan out to meet the river. North, South, East and West are less helpful than they should be. The river can be south, west and east of you at the same time. New Orleans sits on a delta with the river running through it with a large lake to the north of it. New Orleans is lucky that it isn’t water. No wonder coffins float up out of the ground. Sections of the city sit below sea level. Subsequently, when levees and flood walls were breached during the Hurricane Katrina, the water had nowhere to go. Storm surges both from Lake Pontchartrain and the river left 80% of the city and its inhabitants flooded.

New Orleans, LA – Wednesday 7th September – part 2

Coop’s Place is not a place you linger after you’ve finished your meal. It’s noisy and the seating is tight. Our check is dropped at our table while morsels of food remain on our plates. The servings are generous and one of the things about airplane travel is it hardly stimulates the appetite. With so much sitting around plus the free but average-quality food in the airport lounges, we haven’t had the opportunity to do anything to work up an appetite.

‘Shall we take the hint?’ Steve suggests, waving the docket deposited by our server.

Looking around for a till or even a pay bill here sign, I add, ‘Sure. Not sure where though.’

We gather our things, stand and walk up to the bar.

‘Can we pay the bill here?’ I ask when the bartender glances our way in between drink making.

‘Someone will be with you shortly.’ I’ve used this line before. It’s the polite way of saying it’s not in my job description. I turn back to check we’ve not left anything at our table to see another group already seated with menus in hand. In no-man’s land, there’s nothing more we can do but wait.

‘If you want to wait outside, I’ll look after this,’ I offer to Steve. I don’t need to ask him twice. Squeezing between the tables and servers, he steps beneath the faux leadlight transom above the doors and out into the balmy evening.

Wallet and phone stashed, I emerge from the crowded restaurant onto an equally crowded street. Leaning against a pole, Steve looks up and beckons me over.

‘Not far from here is the place where my Facebook profile photo was taken. That one your mum hates cause it looks like the straws are going up my nose.’

‘Perfect. Let’s go and take a photo of both of us with straws up our noses.’ I smile and grab his arm. ‘Mum will hate it.’

We zig-zag across the French Quarter. Down Decatur St til we hit Café Du Monde. This legendary coffee place is open all day everyday. I make a mental note to come back during the day when I may actually want to consume chicory-infused coffee and fried pastries. Swinging right onto St. Ann St we skirt alongside the Jackson Square which is a favoured hangout of all types creative. It’s just after 8pm and an array of musicians and painters are setting up for the evening. Paintings in progress rest on easels. Mime artists, jugglers and lone tuba players sit alongside fortune tellers. The buzz is inescapable.

Left on to Chartres St then right down Pirate Alley. This narrow laneway takes us between St Louis Cathedral and what I later learn is a museum called The Cabildo. I love a dodgy, ill-lit alley. Dumping us onto Royal Street, I’m beginning to see what Steve loves about the French Quarter. It is easy to imagine oneself in another time. Books and movies about time teleportation belong here. The melange of architectural styles, the narrow mainly pedestrian streets and the casual atmosphere in shops and restaurants beckon the visitor to imagine themselves as belonging here. I hear accents and languages from around the globe and yet not one person stands out above another. All are welcome. Maybe that is why this place is known as The Big Easy.

Moments later we are standing out front of Pat O’Brien’s. I’m not sure what I expected but from outside it appears to be another New Orleans bar. Jade green coloured shutters cover the windows. Plants hang from a wrought iron balcony above. The muted red walls give way to a wide alley into a rear courtyard. We go to walk through the alley entrance and I get stopped for ID – an event that used to flatter me until I realised that it is done to every patron.

‘I’ve been here before,’ I say.

‘What?’ A shocked Steve glares at me as though I’ve been lying to him for years.

‘I’ve been here before.’ I repeat whilst trying to rack my brain for the connection. And then it clicks. Several years previous, on a trip to Florida I found myself joining a group of friends on a visit to Universal Studios in Orlando. This entertainment complex and theme park presented among other delights Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Hard Rock Café and a reproduction of Pat O’Briens “N’awlins style”. Of course, I’d never been to Pat O’Briens let alone a Margaritaville, but I went along for the ride unable to discern the fictional from the factual.

‘In Orlando. At Universal Studios. There’s a replica of this bar. There’s a courtyard out back and duelling pianos in a side bar somewhere.’ I point ahead then look sideways. It’s like I’ve taken the wind out of his sails. ‘Frankly, it’s a little disconcerting,’ I add.

‘Okay. Well. I was thinking we would sit out back and order a couple of cocktails. Sound good?’ he asks.

This is his town and I’m eager to get the royal treatment. ‘Absolutely.’

Service is efficient and friendly. The server to customer ratio is spot on for a tourist dependent joint. Patrons rarely sit with an empty glass in front of them and servers circle the small candle-lit tables unobtrusively. A server in regulation white shirt white trousers and green bow tie directs us to a vacant table by the water fountain. Flames incongruously shoot up and out the top of the fountain while rainbow lights below the water at glow brighter and dimmer to someone unknown cue. Wrought iron chairs and tables sit under green canvas umbrellas. Tall iced drinks in all colours of the spectrum adorned with tropical fruit. The drinks only just out do the outlandish surrounds. Tourist trap? – yes but it feels more than that. A place like this feels like it is custom made for a theme park. But there are real people here. People of all origins. Large groups and small groups and individuals sitting at the bar nursing a beer and chatting to the bartender.

‘Two hurricanes please.’ Steve orders while I’m still looking around, taking in all the details and timing them off against forgotten memories.

Soon enough two tall tulip glasses turn up, each with a slice of half orange and bright maraschino cherry nestling into the ice. The branding on the paper napkin extols you to ‘have fun.’ Ok, if I have to.

Back to the drink itself. It’s bright red matching the kitsch maraschino cherry perched a top the mound of crushed ice that fills the large, curved glass. Ostensibly made with dark and light rum as a way to use the plentiful rum supply in the days after Prohibition, the drink is sickly sweet with the fruit concentrate used to pad out the alcohol. I’m not sure I can taste much beyond sweetness. The fruit accompaniment makes me think this is supposed to a fruit juice based drink but the strong red colour gives no hint at its supposed passionfruit juice base. It’s cold and it’s sweet and it’s hard to discern the alcohol. Maybe that’s the point.

New Orleans, LA – Wednesday 7th September – part 1

New Orleans, LA – Wednesday 7th September
There are roadworks on the street which houses our Air Bnb though there is no one actually working. It’s early evening and the traffic from the airport has been thick and slow. I’ve enjoyed peering out the windows watching kids messing about at baseball practice, people stopping off at the grocery store on the way home to pick up something for dinner. We meet the girlfriend of the owner in a pizza joint on the corner of Decatur and Governor Nicholls streets. It is the only time we step inside the place during our visit to New Orleans. We didn’t come to New Orleans to eat pizza. Dragging our suitcases along the sand covered footpath, we try to dodge the rubbish spilling from ripped open plastic bags. Flies hover around the decaying food, dog excrement and other detritus. The girlfriend, meanwhile, nimbly hops over the piles and skips ahead.

Key in hand she opens the first door. ‘So you need to make sure this door is locked every time you come and go. Otherwise, we end up with all sorts of drunkards relieving themselves inside. And nobody wants to step in that.’

Half a dozen steps up, a short landing and then another few steps, unequal in risers and challenging to ascend with heavy luggage. Another different key unlocks the next door which brings us into some sort of laundry and storage area, stacks of timber and tools taking up the space between wall joists.

It is another thirds key that unlocks the tall, narrow double doors that lead to our apartment. Artist’s loft is how it was advertised on Air Bnb. I’m not sure if it comes with an easel and half-finished painting or if it has been the residence of some faintly noteworthy artist at some point in time. What it is when the doors are finally negotiated is a wonderfully cool, dark refuge.

‘Jo and I have the apartment next door so if you have any problems just send me a message and I can pop over.’

‘Ok. Thanks.’ I just want her to leave so I can peel off my sweaty clothes and throw myself on the bed.

Leaning against the kitchen sink she continues, ‘There’s milk in the fridge, tea and coffee right here. Cups, bowls, plates -everything you need really.’

Steve stands by the table and unloads his pockets. Wallet, phone, handkerchief.

‘So as I said, if you need anything, just holler and I’ll be right over. Jo works nights and I’m off til the weekend.’

He can’t help himself and asks, ‘Oh and what do you do?’

‘Me? I’m a burlesque dancer.’

‘Lovely,’ he responds automatically.

‘But I’m thinking of going back to study. Nursing perhaps.’

‘Great.’

I can’t wait this out so I excuse myself and shut myself in the bathroom. Small and airless, it is the wrong move.

‘Oh, should probably leave you guys to it then,’ I hear her say through the door.

‘Thanks so much.’ I hear the doors close and lock. I wait a minute and let myself out.

‘Sorry. Couldn’t do any more small talk,’ I apologise and look to him for a sign of understanding.

His back is turned and he continues to unpack his carry on bag. Crumpled receipts, sugar sachets, a plastic stirrer from his mid-flight coffee. The artfully splayed maps and magazines have been pushed to one side by my handbag and his backpack. Next to the table is a brown leather corner sofa. Saggy bottom seat cushions and shiny leather attest to its years of use. Behind that hangs a series of glass and timber doors, with brightly painted glass panels. Dividing the bed off from the rest of the studio apartment, I’m smitten with its simple yet elegant solution.

Bare brick walls expose the additions and subtractions that the building has seen over its many years. The floor slopes towards the balcony and I unlatch the slim French doors. They fall open onto the tiny private balcony which also lacks a true level floor. I avoid the temptation to step onto it, unsure that it will take any more weight than the pot plants and hanging baskets that adorn the fancy filigreed ironwork.

I hear the street below. Not so much cars but raised voices, laughter and music. This is the call of the hedonist – a common species found in New Orleans.

One foot on the balcony is all I can allow myself as I try to peer forward.

Opposite is a three-storey building, with a wide balcony complete with ornate lacework, large patriotic flags and pot plants. Below that is a bar as it appears most shopfronts are in this section of the French Quarter. I’m glad we purchased a multi-pack of heavy duty earplugs at Walgreens earlier on the trip.

‘Getting peckish my love?’ I enquire, stepping back onto more solid ground.

‘Always, you know me.’

‘Any thoughts on where?’ I persist.

‘I have ideas but I want a shower first.’

I strip my clothes one by one and lay them on the suitcase. Climbing up onto the tall bed, the linen feels cool against my skin. It’s nice not to be moving for a few moments. An armoire placed opposite the end of the bed partially covers an in-filled doorway. I begin to wonder at the things this room has seen. A bordello perhaps to entertain the itinerants that ports attract. A smugglers residence with a view across to the river to watch the ships’ arrivals. Eyes close, shower running, water in drains and before long – ‘Are you going to get ready or what?’

My eyes flash open. The daylight has started to fade. ‘Huh? Yeah. Sure.’

On my feet, I grab a dress from my suitcase and slip on the first pair of shoes I find.

After negotiating the plethora of keys and locks on the way out, we turn the corner onto Decatur St.

‘Let’s stay in the French Quarter for dinner?’ I half-ask half-state. Steve nods.

‘So just up here on the right is a place called Coop’s. Haven’t been there before myself but it is supposed to be a pretty cool joint. Authentic Cajun food.’

‘Sounds good,’ I respond before he offers up any other suggestions.

He picks up my left arm, threads it through his and we weave through the bar patrons who have spilled out onto the footpath. The sun may have started to set but the buildings are holding the day’s heat. It is only a few minutes stroll and we arrive at our intended dinner spot. A menu displayed by the front door has people gathered around it. Above them hangs the restaurant’s sign featuring an alligator wearing a bib with a wineglass in hand. We sidestep them, push open the narrow twin doors and are lucky to nab a last table.

‘Welcome to Coop’s place. How y’all doin’ this evening?’ we hear as our server appears in cut-off denim shorts, logo t-shirt with a tiny pocket apron.

‘Be better soon,’ Steve responds. ‘Can we get a couple of Abitas please? The Purple Haze and the Turbo Dog.’

‘Sure thing, sir.’

Fans furiously spin overhead. Paint is peeling from the walls. Posters of local musicians abut neon beer signs. Condiment bottles jostle for position on the table – mayonnaise, yellow mustard, sriracha, local hot sauces, vinegar, salt, pepper. Customers enter only to be turned away to queue outside along the front wall. A large chalkboard on the walls opposite spruiks this evening’s menu.

‘The real deal Creole seafood gumbo, eh?’ I read off the menu behind Steve. ‘We’ve got to order some of that.’

‘What else is on there?’ The seating is tight and he can’t twist around far enough to read the menu.

I continue, ‘Bayou Appetizer – fried crawfish, oysters, shrimp and crab claws. Sounds like our kind of thing. Rabbit and sausage jambalaya? Absolutely. Lamb ribs, smoked duck quesadilla – no thanks.’

‘Any red beans and rice? Gotta have red beans and rice,’ he asks, twisting again in an effort to have some agency over our evening’s meal.

‘What about a side of fried chicken? Comes with coleslaw so there’s the salad bit covered.’

I’m rarely not in the mood for crispy, salty, chickeny goodness. I do usually have to order multiple pieces though. The first piece is always too hot and I’m not known for my patience. Subsequently, I’ve discovered it’s best to peel the fried layer off with your fingers and therefore exposing the flesh to the cooler outside air. Crunchy seasoned skin is the perfect amuse-bouche or palate teaser. In fact, surely someone has figured out this would be an ideal bar snack – crispy fried seasoned chicken skin to stimulate drink ordering. Chicken skin is always the first thing to disappear from a roasted chicken. My youngest daughter would have subsisted on this alone if I’d let her. To this day, she can devour an entire plate of chicken wings without blinking an eye.

When the gumbo turns up I’m glad the lighting is subdued as it is not a dish you order for the Instgramming opportunities. It’s murky brown depths hide all manner of things. It is the long slow cooking of the roux (browning off flour in pork fat) that lends the finished dish its colour. Near constant stirring in a wide shallow dish is needed to achieve the not burnt but well-seasoned base of gumbo. After this, chopped onion, celery and capsicums are stirred in and simmered. Broth then the chosen protein is added to the whole lot cooked gently then served over rice.

It has been said that gumbo is an apt metaphor for Louisiana and its population. It is the result of a mix of cultures and the culinary traditions they brought with them. The French provided the roux. Slave ships from Africa brought rice and the vegetable okra which has a very distinctive slimy characteristic. Spanish immigrants, especially those from the Canary Islands, contributed seafood and cayenne. German immigrants brought their sausage making knowledge and skills with them to the New World. Local inhabitants introduced filé powder from the sassafras tree as a thickening agent and the corn grits the dish was originally served with.

The rabbit and pork sausage jambalaya is a wet rice dish similar in consistency to a risotto though not as cohesive. It is packed with diced onion, tomatoes, capsicum, shredded rabbit meat (though honestly with all the spices it may as well be chicken) and small slices of smoked pork sausage. It’s tasty without being too hot and spicy and would make a meal on its own. Like gumbo, I can see this dish could vary with seasonality and availability of ingredients.

Next up is a dish that is as unassuming as it is indispensable – red beans and rice. Dried red kidney beans are soaked overnight then added to the holy trinity of the south – onion, green capsicums, or bell peppers as they are known in America, and celery – and simmered away with stock or water for many hours until they are creamy and the liquid gelatinous. Add some prepared spice mix such as Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning or Slap-Yo-Mama seasoning to give it all the kick you need. Though that doesn’t stop Steve adding some hot sauce at the table.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the rice is an afterthought though. Rice is important in the cuisines of the south. For hundreds of years, rice was a common crop of small-scale farmers in the area with seeds saved from the most desirable crops and replanted season upon season. There is a movement to revive heirloom varieties of grains and legumes across the region. Traditionally a Monday night dish, this simple hearty meal fitted in with the domestic rhythms of housekeeping duties. Cooking slowly during the day, red beans and rice made a wholesome dish to nourish the body and soul after a long day at work.

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