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The History of Cajun Food in New Orleans (and how it’s different from Creole)

Contrary to popular belief, Cajun food is not native to New Orleans. It’s often confused with Creole fare, and while the two Louisiana cuisines share a common ancestor, they have distinct differences.

Cajun food, culture, and the people who make it trace their ancestry back to L’Acadie, an early French settlement in present-day Canada. They were forcibly expelled by the British in the mid-1700s and migrated south in what is known as Le Grand Derangement (or the Great Upheaval). Some of them went to Louisiana west of New Orleans, where they became known as the Cajuns—and the area they settled, Acadiana. Their cuisine evolved as a direct result of the natural environment and resources at hand. Without refrigeration, Cajuns had to learn to utilize the whole animal (sausage is a specialty), and one-pot meals were the norm.

Lagniappe: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie” describes ‘Le Grand Derangement’ through the eyes of starcrossed lovers Gabriel and Evangeline. It was made into a film of the same name in 1929 starring legendary Mexican actress Dolores del Rio.

Creole food also emerged from French culinary practices; however, it developed along a parallel but distinct path. Creole cuisine is generally associated with New Orleans where—much like the city itself—its French base was seasoned by Spanish, Italian, Native American, West African, and Caribbean influences. Many “old school” New Orleans restaurants like Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, and Arnaud’s serve traditional Creole cuisine. 

While there is some crossover with dishes in both traditions (for example, there are both Cajun and Creole types of gumbo), some say a rule to distinguish the two is that, traditionally, Creole cuisine uses tomatoes while Cajun cuisine typically does not. Today, the line separating Cajun and Creole cuisine has begun to blur as many chefs born and raised in Acadiana with Cajun food in their blood have brought their cuisine to New Orleans.

Food lies at the heart of life across Louisiana. So whatever the occasion (or non-occasion), celebrate it with a taste of Cajun country at one of these restaurants.

Where to Eat Cajun Food in New Orleans