It was a week after Mardi Gras, a US carnival festival that falls on Fat Tuesday. It was also the week when my undergrad friends and I had a week-long Spring break in 2004, a year before Hurricane Katrina crippled the city. We rented a Ford Explorer and drove 17 hours straight to the largest city of Louisiana state.
New Orleans food and culture left a good impression on me. Both food and culture were highly influenced by local Creole, French, Spanish, Cajun, Cuban and many more. It is distinctly unique from other US cuisines. I tasted my first po' boy, a traditional Louisiana submarine sandwich, numerous Cajun fares, French-style beignets topped with confectioner's sugar and Café du Monde's famous café au lait. We had some of the nation's freshest seafood like freshly shucked oysters dipped in various sauces, fish, Cajun-style crayfish, deep fried shrimps and calamari.
Although Mardi Gras festival was over by then, we felt the lingering effect of it. Tourists and locals flocked at the French Quarter, taking pictures and enjoying the sights by day, and drinking and striking up conversations by night. Jazz and blues music filled the air regardless of the time and day. People were friendly and hospitable. The weather was warmer than our campus' but it felt like home.
We visited Mardi Gras World where it housed old and new Mardi Gras floats and props. We tried on some costumes and imagined ourselves on floats.
A visit to NOLA is not really complete if you miss out on the old large plantation homes and above-ground cemeteries. Although NOLA appeared to be festive at times, one couldn't help but sense some dark side of the city. You got to be there to understand what I mean.
I have not been back to the city since my first visit. Nevertheless, I'd like to go back again because the Cajun food alone is that good!
French Quarter in the day