I was fortunate enough to get to spend some time down in Cajun country recently, Mainly the small towns surrounding Lafayette. I can't say enough good things about it. The culture there is thick and pervasive like you'd expect to find in an Italian village, or the hills of Thailand.
The region brandishes it's own signature music, language (French Cajun) and distinct English accent, community and of course, food.
The people are so nice, it's easy to get caught up and feel like a part of it. I caught myself silently accosting other tourists, who doubtless stood out as much as much as me, for taking advantage of the hospitality; but there's plenty to go around.
Our first meal lead us to Crawfish Town, USA. Despite it's uncanny resemblance to a Cajun outback steak house, it was outstandingly delicious. The menu read like a dream I once had, frog leg etoufe, gator bites, jambalaya, po-boys, and of course everything crawfish: etoufe, bisque, boulettes, crawfish pie, enchiladas, and my personal favorite, boiled; extra spicy with corn please.
The bisque was very good, done the right way with the head of mudbug stuffed with crawfish dressing and served next to a steaming pile of rice. The crawfish pie changed my outlook on life. A crispy little cornmeal crust, still soft in the right places; like a pretty lady. It was filled with a rich, full-flavored goo, and they weren't shy with the crawfish tails.
The next day reiterated what I've always known, the freshest and best fish and seafood you will ever eat in your life, is inevitably purchased from a pickup truck. This little guy was peddling fresh shrimp by the side of the road. Huge wild caught gulf shrimp for 4.95 a pound!!!
I can't remember last time I paid less than ten.
For lunch, I had giant bowl of turtle soup. In the spots in the city (New Orleans), turtle stew is always made with ground turtle, and is rumored to often be replaced by veal for cost and availability reasons. This soup was unmistakably turtle, and let me tell you it was amazing!
The last item to check off the list was a tour of the area's butchers. Each sporting their own selection of "specialty meats" including unique cuts and preparations. Numerous things you won't see anywhere but down here. The Cajun chaudin for instance: a pig's stomach stuffed with more pork and about a million other ingredients. Intended to be roasted and then sliced and enjoyed. If only I'd had a kitchen to cook in.
These butchers also compete for the locals' taste for the best boudin, a sausage of pork meat, rice, scallions and spices. Though many places have a seafood version that's good too. It's typically fished out of a pot of water and devoured on the spot with a spicy cracklin' chaser.
If you ever find yourself down in that part of America, take the extra time to tour the Cajun country. The people there will make it well worth your while.