Famous for its festive celebrations, French colonial architecture, and incredible jazz and American blues music scene, Louisiana is home to delicious food inspired by numerous cultures. Well known for its Cajun and Creole cuisine, fresh seafood and hearty rice dishes are abundant throughout the state.
Boasting meals that have made their way around the world, including jumbo, jambalaya, and bananas foster, there’s nothing like trying them in the state they were created in. In no particular order, here are 11 of the best foods in Louisiana that are absolutely worth traveling for:
One of Lousiana’s most iconic dishes, gumbo is made with a combination of meat or seafood, like chicken, sausages, and shrimp, as well as celery, bell peppers, and onions, which together are known as “the holy trinity” of cajun cuisine. Using a roux or okra as a thickener, it’s then often served over rice.
While a myriad of other ingredients can be added, there are two main variations of the dish: Creole and Cajun. The major difference between the two is that Creole gumbo typically contains tomatoes while Cajun doesn’t and usually has chicken added. Gumbo z’herbes is another adaption of the meal that contains no meat and is ideal for vegetarians or those abstaining from meat.
Believed to be created in Louisiana in the 1800s, the dish encapsulates the state’s blend of cultures, pulling inspiration from French, Spanish, and African cuisine. A great meal for larger groups, gumbo takes a minimum of 3 hours to make, although some will let it simmer on the stove all day.
In southwest Louisiana, crawfish étouffée (pronounced ey-too-fey) is a stew made with crawfish and spices. Dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, this seafood-centric dish has Cajun and Creole variations similar to gumbo.
Using a blond or brown roux, which differs in that the blond roux is cooked in a few minutes and has a nutty flavor due to constant stirring while the brown roux takes 30 minutes to make, crawfish étouffée is served with rice. A popular dish among locals and tourists, there’s nothing quite like the taste of the bayou.
Originating in New Orleans’ French Quarter, Jambalaya is a one-pot meal that’s typically made with shrimp, chicken, and sausage. With French, Spanish, and African influences, there’s no exact information about its creation. Nevertheless, Louisiana residents take pride in this beloved meal so much so that in 1968, the Governor named Gonzales, LA “the Jambalaya capital of the world.”
Similar to gumbo and etouffee, there are key differences between the three dishes. While gumbo has okra, jambalaya lacks this ingredient. Moreover, etouffee differentiates itself with an abundance of seafood and no sausage. There are two variations of Jambalaya: one with tomatoes called creole jambalaya and one without known as cajun jambalaya.
With an annual festival held in Gonzales annually, you can’t visit Louisiana without trying this famous meal!
Originating from Italian immigrants, particularly Sicilian, who moved to New Orleans, a muffuletta consists of ham, salami, mortadella, Swiss cheese, and provolone cheese on a round loaf of bread. Topped with an olive salad with chopped olives, celery, carrots, green onions, garlic, oregano, and olive oil, the first sandwich was made in the early 1900s.
While the exact creator is debated, muffulettas are sold as in multiple sizes including quarter, half, and full-sized. Designed with the intention of being a quick and easy lunch option for workers in the French Market, make sure you try one of these Italian-inspired sandwiches while in Louisiana.
Red Beans & Rice
A Creole dish traditionally made on Mondays, red beans and rice is a dish commonly served in restaurants and people’s homes across Louisiana. With Haitian and African origins, the meal usually consists of kidney beans, the aforementioned “holy trinity”, a mix of spices, and meats like andouille sausage and ham.
A staple at gatherings, the tradition of consuming red beans and rice on Mondays has carried on within the state. A favorite of Louis Amstrong, you can enjoy the dish on its own or as a side to one of the many other iconic foods available in Louisiana.
Created in New Orleans and named after the chairman of the city’s crime commission, Richard Foster, Bananas Foster dates back to 1951. While Brennan’s Restaurant is often awarded the title of the originator, the dish actually got its start at Owen Brennan’s other establishment, Vieux Carré.
A major import hub for bananas from South America back in the day, Bananas Foster is made by sauteeing the fruit in butter and sugar until they become soft and caramelized. Sometimes made tableside, a dramatic flamebé effect is created by adding rum and cinnamon to the pan.
Topped with ice cream and garnished with fresh whipped cream, the dessert is known for its unique flavor and impressive presentation. Sticky, sweet, and boozy, bananas foster is a must while visiting the Big Easy!
Typically served at breakfast, although also considered a dessert, Louisiana-style beignets have French origins. Eaten while fresh and hot, these square or rectangular pastries have been part of Creole cuisine since the 18th century. While there are many establishments that make this iconic dish, nowhere is as famous as Café du Monde.
With locations throughout Lousiana, Café du Monde has kept the same secret recipe for over 160 years. Often having a line that may require you to stand around for a few minutes to hours to get seated, it’s absolutely worth the wait! The moment you bite into the beignet’s powdered sugar-covered dough, you’ll be left speechless.
However, for those who have plans or a tight schedule, there’s also a take-out window at the restaurant. Declared “The Official Donut of Louisiana” in 1986 because of its great taste, nothing screams New Orleans like a beignet.
The po’boy has been a specialty of New Orleans for over a century, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down in popularity. With a history dating back to the Great Depression, many people credit the Martin Brothers for these “poor boy” sandwiches, although it’s been debated whether they actually created them.
While you can make po’boy in many different ways, some key ingredients remain the same: cheese and a local style of French bread. Often coming “dressed” with toppings like lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, butter, mustard, and onions, there are a few variations of the sandwich.
From the sloppy roast beef version known as “debris” from the pieces of meat that fall out to ones that contain alligator, duck, seafood, or rabbit, there is a po’boy for every type of eater.
It should be mentioned that while oyster po’boys exist, they’re actually called oyster loaf and have a different history from this iconic sandwich. Additionally, a po’boy containing both fried oysters and shrimp is called a “peacemaker.” A favorite of locals and tourists, you can head to New Orleans during the Oak Street Po’Boy Festival to try as many as possible.
Associated with Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and Carnival celebrations, especially in New Orleans, king cakes are a type of round cake decorated with icing and colorful sprinkles that are often purple, green, and gold. Containing a tiny plastic baby inside, if you end up finding it in your slice of cake, you’re said to have good luck for the rest of the year.
There are a number of styles of king cakes, with the most traditional being a ring that’s been twisted similar to a cinnamon roll. While the exact origins are unknown, according to one theory, French settlers brought it to New Orleans in the 18th century. Although many countries have their own version of this dish, trying one in Louisiana is a must.
When visiting Louisiana, you might be surprised to know that one of the state’s most popular dishes is actually Chinese. Yaka Mein can be served with chicken, shrimp, or beef and is found in restaurants all over the state. Containing ingredients like hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and boiled eggs, there are many variations versions of this dish.
With Creole or Cajun seasoning bringing a Louisiana flare to the dish, “Old Sober”, as it’s also referred to, is commonly eaten by locals to cure hangovers. Although the exact history behind the dish is unknown, it was said to have been created during the mid-19th century.
A crawfish boil is a Cajun dish that typically includes crawfish, potatoes, corn on the cob, and sausage. Often made for large gatherings, there’s nothing like sitting around a big table with friends and family, grabbing food to your heart’s content.
Made in a large pot, a “boil master” adds a heavy mix of seasonings and ingredients in a specific order to ensure everything is cooked in the right sequence. While there is no exact recipe, as it’s made to the individual’s taste, there are a few guidelines to follow to make sure the boil comes out correctly.
Drained and dumped onto a table covered in newspaper, hot sauce, lemon, butter, and cocktail sauce are often served alongside the meal. With festivals and events held across the state honoring this dish, it’s no wonder that crawfish boils are known for bringing people together.
Louisiana is truly a food lover’s paradise. With hearty rice dishes, delectable desserts, and plenty of seafood to go around, traveling to the Pelican State to try its most famous meals is absolutely worth the journey. Whether it’s Cajun or Creole, Lousiana’s cuisine has something for everyone.