It figures why it’s called The Big Easy

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by Nikki Mantell on October 6, 2010

Feeling pudgy? Want an instant self-esteem boost? Take a trip to New Orleans.

This scribe felt like a veritable Vogue waif after her recent trip to the Big Easy (emphasis on Big).

This is a city of large people. This is not an uncommon observation about any number of U.S. cities, where everything and everybody is super-sized.

But New Orleans takes it to a new level. Big people, big personalities.

Yet, truth be told, if I stayed any longer than a week in this deep fat fryer of delicious southern cooking, I’d be big as plantation estate house, too.

Jambalaya, gumbo, grits, Po’Boys, giant Muffalata sandwiches, deep-fried oysters, deep- fried shrimp, Southern fried chicken. Hoo boy, what a greasy mess of lip-smacking good food.

After a summer of grilled local beef, heritage tomato salads and numerous earnest zucchini dishes to deal with the garden overflow (apologies to food columnist Gaye Chicoine) five days of artery-clogging, authentic soul food was just what the doctor would never have ordered.

Even innocent-looking dishes like tomato-sauce based Cajun shrimp belie the secret of Southern cuisine. Before a night of gorging on giant portions of collard greens, jambalaya (the real thing is nothing like the slop most Canadian restaurants serve) red rice and beans served by giant-sized servers at the famous Mother’s restaurant downtown, we happened across a Louisiana cooking show on our hotel TV.

There was Paul Prudhomme, a giant personality of Louisiana cuisine, was seated (too heavy to stand) in front of his gas stove, showing the world how to prepare blackened shrimp on pasta.

He starts with a half-pound of butter on high heat (to create the “blackening”), adds the shrimp, the rest of the ingredients (tomato sauce, Cajun spices) go in, and then he adds “a tad more butter,” which to our horrified delight, was the other half-pound.

No complaints here. Having experience the real thing, I’m a fan of authentic Southern soul food, whose mix of fat and hard-to-identify spices are produce fare nothing like we can get in these parts. (Though Wakefield boasts 21 restaurants, I suppose the village would need actual “soul” people to produce “soul” food.)

It’s no wonder people are so big in New Orleans. It’s the South and it’s hot (42 C in summer!), who’s going for a jog?

Instead of fretting over their figures, from what we could see most ‘Nolans’ find it a better use of their time listening to great music, cracking jokes with anyone who’ll listen (our breakfast-diner waitress served up her grits with a side of sass to an elderly foursome of tourists, sitting one’s lap and telling his wife, “Watch it or I’m-a steal yo’ man!”) and just trying to have a good time.

It’s a city on the rebound, and food, music and good times are what’s going to bring the Big Easy back five years after Hurricane Katrina put it under. Try it, you’ll like it.