Thursday, October 20, 2011

Feasting Cajun style along Bayou Lafourche

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2011 at 12:13 PM

Jack-o-lanterns of cracklins: must be time for the French Food Festival.
  • Ian McNulty
  • Jack-o'-lanterns of cracklins: must be time for the French Food Festival.

The French Food Festival, one of the best eating weekends in south Louisiana, is coming up Oct. 28-30 down on Bayou Lafourche, and it’s well worth marking the calendar for a short road trip to experience it.

The French Food Festival is the biggest annual event in Larose, a small, hard-working town in Lafourche Parish. Don’t let the festival name fool you. In Acadiana, what the world knows as Cajun music is often just called French music, and the same sometimes goes for the food. So don’t expect French bistro classics in the spotlight, but rather Cajun home cooking, blown up in scale for a festival that draws some 35,000 people over three days.

The scene at the festival. A new pavilion replaces the tent this year.
  • Ian McNulty
  • The scene at the festival. A new pavilion replaces the tent this year.

The action goes down at the Larose Regional Park & Civic Center, and there are carnival rides, a craft market, art shows and the other trappings of a small town fair. The main event, however, will be inside a new pavilion, just completed and being dedicated at this year’s event. Inside, you’ll find a music stage at one end and food booth after food booth lining the flanks.

Bayou region offerings at one booth. Customers pay with tickets.
  • Ian McNulty
  • Bayou region offerings at one booth. Customers pay with tickets.

Families, businesses and various community organizations sponsor these booths. They each feature a few specialty dishes, which in some cases are old family recipes that have become French Food Festival traditions over the 38 years Larose has hosted the event. Each booth is also elaborately decorated, the festival beauty queens judge and present awards for the best booths.

While there isn’t a formal contest for the cooking, you can bet a solid dose of pride goes into the dishes here.

“There’s a lot of backyard competition among the families here for bragging rights,” says festival organizer Jasmine Ayo.

Some families have been cooking their prized recipes at the festival for generations.
  • Ian McNulty
  • Some families have been cooking their prized recipes at the festival for generations.

The number of food booths is up to 25 this year, and along with some new additions (seafood-stuffed potatoes, steak po-boys) the line-up includes festival favorites I had the over-indulgent pleasure of sampling last year.

A basket of fried crab claws.

Alligator sauce piquant was one stand out, and Ayo affirms the gators for that dish are caught “practically right behind the civic center.” I ate fried crab claws from a cup like popcorn, shrimp boulettes (basically, fried croquettes of chopped shrimp), routee (sort of a pork grillades dish with peppery gravy), a pork etouffee po-boy and of course seafood gumbo. Go early enough and you might score a tarte a la bouille, a custard pie and a regional specialty rarely seen outside the Bayou Lafourche area.

Boutee, a Cajun pork grillades dish with peppery gravy.
  • Ian McNulty
  • Boutee, a Cajun pork grillades dish with peppery gravy.

It’s easy to over eat here, but also easy to work some of that cooking off. Swamp pop, Cajun and country bands perform throughout the festival, which stretches on late into the night. They’re rocking along the bayou at this festival from 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 28; from 9:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29; and from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 30. See a complete festival schedule here:
French_food_fest.pdf

Bands perform late into the night, so you can dance off some of the cooking.
  • Ian McNulty
  • Bands perform late into the night, so you can dance off some of the cooking.

Admission and parking is free. The drive to Larose takes about an hour from New Orleans, and it’s a nice one at this time of year.

Bayou Lafourche, near Larose.

French Food Festival
Oct. 28-30
307 East 5th St., Larose

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