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Hidden Treasures 

Jazz, zydeco ... and omelettes? When it comes to festivals, unfamiliarity can breed contentment.

Louisiana has more than its share of quirky festivals, and there are some with particular oddities that I find quite endearing. If possible, always time a visit to a festival to catch one of the state's many eating contests: strawberry eating, oyster eating, meat pie eating and catfish eating, just to name a few. The boldest eating contest may be at the Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge, where contestants get a full 45 minutes to devour boiled crawfish. That is a long time. The record stands at 55 3/4 pounds. It's hard to even watch the jalapeno pepper-eating contest at the Oilfield Chili Cookoff in Harvey. Over the 10 minutes allotted to the competition, spectators watch as contestants wolf down dozens of peppers, sweat beading on their contorted faces as the emcee reminds the contestants to aim for the trash cans if their stomachs lose the battle. The organizer at the pepper-eating contest during the Pepper Festival in St. Martinville is fond of saying that only out-of-towners enter their event.

The Cajun Joke Telling Contest isn't a festival per se, but it is a uniquely Louisiana event. A couple hundred people gather for an evening in the Yambilee building in Opelousas as contestants vie for the championship. The jokes are always clean and often locally oriented -- so you can't help but feel like an insider as you chuckle to lines like: "I hear a hurricane hit Holly Beach. It did $50,000 worth of improvement." You're sure to catch plenty of Pierre and Boudreaux stories told throughout the night. The price of a ticket includes a meal and live Cajun band that plays at intervals between the dozen or so contestants' routines.

No matter how mentally prepared you are, attending the Angola Prison Rodeo is still an unusual experience. First, you pass through the checkpoint, fully aware that you are entering a maximum-security facility. Then spectators watch prisoners with little or no rodeo experience compete in an afternoon of dangerous contests. For those who don't care to see four prisoners sitting at a card table and waiting for a charging bull to come toward them (the last one left sitting wins), another main attraction is browsing among the art and craft booths. In most areas, prisoners stand about 10 feet behind the craft-laden table -- behind the chain-link -- yelling out special deals to passersby for their leather work, wooden cutouts or frames made out of folded cigarette packages. There's also plenty of good food for sale, too. If it's November, it must be time for Abbeville's Giant Omelette Celebration, a festival designed to honor the city's French heritage. According to legend, Napoleon, while traveling with his army, feasted on an omelette that was so wonderful that he ordered the townspeople of Bessieres, France, to gather all the eggs in the area to make an omelette for his army. In Abbeville, after the procession of the eggs through town, all 5,000 are cracked and added to 52 pounds of butter. Small bowls of this omelette extravaganza are passed out to all those in attendance. It actually comes out more like scrambled eggs than an omelette but, hey, that's OK. This is a two-day event, but the omelette is only cooked on Sunday. Both days feature live music and a variety of craft and food booths.

click to enlarge In Abbeville, the Giant Omelette Celebration is all it's - cracked up to be -- and well worth its salt. - ABBEVILLE¹S GIANT OMELETTE CELEBRATION
  • Abbeville¹s Giant Omelette Celebration
  • In Abbeville, the Giant Omelette Celebration is all it's cracked up to be -- and well worth its salt.
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