Lafayette, Louisiana

In Louisiana’s Cajun Country, mystic bayous teem with unusual wildlife; locals dance to accordion and fiddle music; and herbs, spices and regional ingredients create flavorful foods that bring everyone together. Join the locals in Lafayette over dishes such as these.

1. Crawfish

Depending on who’s talking, these might be called crayfish, crawdads or even mudbugs. In truth, they are freshwater crustaceans nurtured by southern Louisiana swamps and marshes. And while they’re a staple of regional cooking, they’re only in season December through June. When the time is right, at least 40 Lafayette-area establishments — from corner grocers to full-service restaurants — serve the specialty. Try them boiled with zesty seasonings, corn and potatoes.

2. Boudin 

Boudin is a savory blend of pork, rice, onions and green bell peppers, encased like sausage. Eat it warm, right out of its butcher-paper wrapping. It can also be rolled into balls and golden-fried, or formed into a patty and enjoyed as a burger. Lafayette’s Boudin Cook-Off in October is an ideal time to sample inventive preparations and listen to local music.

3. Lafayette plate lunch

Heap a plate with meat — maybe tender short ribs or rabbit — then scoop it on rice, a local staple. Then ladle both with peppery brown gravy, add two vegetables and a slice of bread for your Lafayette plate lunch. The end result is comforting, sustaining and delicious. Historically, these simple plates were created last century to fuel Lafayette’s working class.

4. Gumbo

There is no one recipe for gumbo. Rather, the dish changes according to the cook’s heritage and ingredients on-hand. These could be crab, oysters, shrimp, chicken, sausage and/or tomato, thickened into a soup or stew using okra or a roux and served over white rice. The aroma is intoxicatingly flavorful, particularly during the World Championship Gumbo Cook-Off held in New Ibera each October.

5. Jambalaya

Jambalaya is reminiscent of Spanish paella, starring ingredients such as plump shrimp, smoky pork (called Tasso) and the “trinity” of diced onions, green bell pepper and celery. Served over rice, jambalaya is easy to find in Lafayette, but perhaps nowhere is as festive as October’s Black Pot Festival, when local chefs compete with their recipes.

6. Étoufée

This stew is brimming with crawfish or shrimp, thickened with a flavourful blonde roux and smothered in green peppers and onions. (Its name is French for “smothered.”) The dish, based on a family recipe from the 1920s, warrants its own festival — an April fête on the grounds of St. John Francis Regis Church in Arnaudville.