Cajun Food History and Louisiana Creole Cuisine History
"Cajun food" comes from the deepest Southern parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. Like the area it originated from, Cajun flavor is spicy, rich, and really, really good! A lot of people don’t know that the typical Cajun food was developed by extremely poor people. Refugees and farmers used what they had to feed large families.
This is one reason that rice is a staple in Cajun food. Adding rice to a stew, or a dish, ‘stretched’ the food so that there would be plenty. Rice is still added to Cajun food, even if it is for the love of the flavor, and not for necessity.
Since Cajun people are so close to the Gulf of Mexico, seafood is a big item in their dishes. Favorites are crawfish, catfish, crabs, and oysters. This is another example of the Cajun people living with what they had. Seafood was available, as there were a lot of fisherman, and that’s what they had to eat.
Cajun spices always consist of three things. Bell pepper, onions and celery are the favorite vegetables to add flavor for the Cajun food. It is referred to as the ‘Holy Trinity.’ A couple of other favorites are cayenne pepper and garlic. Cajuns are fond of their spice, and add it to most dishes that they prepare.
Many Cajun foods are made from a roux. This is pronounced ‘roo.’ This is a base that is made from flour,fat and water. It is the consistency of a gravy, and is used to make things like gravy, stews, and of course, Gumbo. If you’re not familiar with what gumbo is, well, it’s one of the greatest Cajun foods there is.
It is a type of stew that usually has sausage, shrimp, crab, oysters, and can also have chicken or pork. It also contains tomatoes and okra, and is flavored with the trinity, and many other spices and seasonings. Served over rice, this Cajun treat is addicting!
Cajun food hasn’t changed much over the years, and that’s probably what makes it so charming. If you’re visiting New Orleans, Louisiana, or Waveland, Mississippi for instance, you will find the menus at different restaurants usually contain the favorite Cajun foods. Along with a burger and French fries, you can get a delicious helping of Seafood Gumbo, Red beans and rice, or Jambalaya.
From the times of the bayou shacks where farmers lived with their families, and poled little ‘boats’ called Pirogues down the bayou, to now, the food and flair of the Cajun people is wonderful. These days, visiting Cajun country is like being in another world. From the street performers to the beignet shops, the love of Cajun food is stronger than ever.
Ever wonder what the real difference is between Louisiana Creole and Cajun Cuisine?
If you ask a resident of the area, you will find out that Louisiana Creole originated with the settling of European immigrants around 1690. These folks brought with them the influences of European traditions including their cuisine.
Most were upper class aristocracy, so Creole today is seen as a classier, fine cuisine while Cajun is more of a common cuisine. The main difference is that Cajun cuisine uses wild vegetables and game animals. It is also characterized by it’s “one pot meals” with dark, rich sauces and gravies. Typically a Creole sauce will be lighter in color with a more delicate flavor.
Most of these settlers were upper class folk with palates that demanded a flavorful and distinctly savory, rich taste. This is still evidenced today in the Creole cooking we enjoy. As a lot of these people were probably second sons with no hopes of inheriting land or holdings at home in Europe, they arrived here to search out their fortunes.
Many of these immigrants were French. The classic French dish named Bouillabaisse is a tribute to that heritage.
In reality, Louisiana Creole cuisine is a mixture of several different and varied cultures. Soon after the immigrants arrived in the area, native Indians introduced the use of local grown vegetables like corn, ground sassafras and bay leaves.
Tomatoes from Central and South America were also introduced. As these ingredients began to see utilization, the Creole cuisine we know today started to take shape.
The Creoles that settled in the Louisiana area enjoyed a fairly rich lifestyle. A few years later, the influx of African slaves brought okra seeds into the culture. Okra was added to some dishes, especially soups, and since the African word for okra is “gumbo”, that is what we called the signature dish of Louisiana Creole cuisine.
It is said that French "Bouillabaisse" is the forerunner of gumbo, Spanish Paella developed into "Jambalaya" and Germany is attributed with bringing the use of charcuterie and sausages to light.
So as Creole cuisine is a combination of different cultures melding into one, Cajun is an entirely different story. Cajun cuisine is influenced by Creole and differentiated by the use of wild game like possum, deer and rabbit.
It has been explained that Cajuns use of wild game and fresh grown vegetables is the main difference from Creole, which is seen as “fine dining”. This is sort of like “country cooking” to us.
Without the arrival of European immigrants, our own native Indians and African influences, we would not have the Creole cuisine we know and love today.
America still holds her title of “the Melding Pot” in many areas, including food and culinary delights.
Creole and Cajun restaurants abound today and give homage to our European roots.
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