New Orleans has been on the top of my travel list since I was young. I’ve always wanted to experience the eclectic city, eat the vibrant Creole and Cajun food, listen to live, heartfelt and soulful jazz every night, ogle at the Spanish, French and American architecture and take a deeper look into the city’s rich history.
This summer holiday a New Orleans trip was finally a reality. We stayed in the French Quarter for four nights and three days and it didn’t disappoint.
Even though we only had a few short days to scratch the surface of New Orleans – we crammed as much as we could into every day.
Because we crammed so much in and I took a billion and one photos, the Summer in New Orleans post has been divided into two parts.
For part 1, I’ve compiled a look at our hotel, our first night and our first day in New Orleans, Louisiana.
We stayed at Hotel Provincial on Chartres Street in the residential area closer to Frenchman Street in the French Quarter.
The hotel was just over $100 a night for a double room with easy access to the pool. I’d say the service isn’t what you’d find at a five-star chain, but we loved the low-key feel to this family-owned hotel away from the noise of Bourbon Street.
I’ve been told by locals, you can’t visit New Orleans without experiencing a courtyard. The Provincial had it’s own courtyard where we sat one night and shared a bottle of wine and enjoyed the tropical weather.
The hotel’s pool transported us to Europe daily as we cooled off from the heat. If you’re looking at hotels to stay at, try your hardest to get one with a pool and courtyard, it’s worth it.
Dinner at Gumbo Shop
We stumbled upon Gumbo Shop on our first night in New Orleans to try some Creole cuisine. I was skeptical at first, but my god did this place set the standard high for the rest of the trip!
Our first dish was BBQ shrimp – hands down best shrimp I’ve had in America. And don’t even get me started on the sauce! We cleaned it up with some fresh crusty bread and butter.
Next up we shared gumbo and jambalaya. This was our first time trying gumbo and jambalaya and I was instantly hooked.
Jambalaya reminded me of paella which makes sense as it’s a Louisianian dish with Spanish and French influence – hence creole cuisine.
I’ve wanted to try gumbo ever since I was a kid, I must have seen it in a movie once and was fascinated. So when I tried it for the first time, I was ready to judge it pretty harshly to not meet my expectations. I thought it would be a runnier soup dish, however, it’s more of a stew.
I wasn’t disappointed with the flavour bursting from this state dish and had it several times throughout our trip. My favourite part about gumbo, you add as much hot sauce as you like.
Nightcap on Frenchman Street
Every single local we met diverted us away from Bourbon Street and on to Frenchman Street for jazz clubs and street music.
This lively district at the edge of the French Quarter was buzzing with trombones and trumpets and is known to have the best live music New Orleans has to offer.
We shared a few cocktails at the Blue Nile in the heart of Frenchman Street and listened to some funk, soul and blues bands.
If you’re looking for a fun night out, away from other tourists and rowdy people, Frenchman is where it’s at.
Breakfast at Cafe Du Monde
Our first morning I made it a priority to have a beignet breakfast with a side of chicory before heading on our walking tour around the French Quarter.
Both beignets and chicory were brought to Louisiana by the Acadians who were French colonists that settled in Acadia – now known as Eastern Canada.
Fun fact – the Acadians became known as ‘Cajuns’ once they settled in Louisiana after the British pushed them out of Acadia.
Our first tourist activity in New Orleans was a Free Tours by Foot, French Quarter Walking Tour with our no-shit-Shirley tour guide Renee.
We all met at Jackson Square where Renee gave us a quick history lesson of New Orleans and the French Quarter.
We then walked the streets of the French Quarter where she discussed the architecture, famous alleyways, fires that have ripped through the district and of course, the food.
The tour goes for about two hours and is ‘free’. You basically pay the tour guide what you think they deserve for their time.
Renee gave us some really great tips and insight into the region and was very personable. She didn’t waffle and she showed us her version of the French Quarter – local and factual – not the tourist version.
She mentioned that there are very few original houses in the area after several fires blazed through the district, and that most houses have a mix of French, Spanish and new American architecture.
The council for the area has a selection of paint colours and cast iron designs that you must choose from if you want to renovate.
Most houses also have courtyards that were used for a horse and carriage and had a water fountain that gave you access to water. Now they’re used as restaurants, cafes or personal areas for residents to use.
The side-street view of the houses are actually the back of the houses, hence why you must check out a few courtyards when you visit.
At the end of our tour, Renee left us with some food recommendations at the French Market where we grabbed some lunch. We were also treated to some young guys playing jazz on a street corner a block away.
Lunch at French Market
Muffuletta, cocktails and ‘gator sausage
A muffuletta is one of those dishes that you just have to try when you’re in New Orleans. It consists of olive salad, mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham and provolone.
I didn’t think I’d enjoy the muffuletta – the olive salad looks strange and I’m not a sandwich fan to begin with. However, I could eat a muffuletta any day of the week – it was delicious!
We bought ours at the French Market on recommendation, however, the most popular muffuletta sandwich is at Central Grocery and Deli.
We couldn’t leave Louisiana without trying some alligator. Our guide pointed out a popular stall that sold ‘gator on a stick and wow. It was bloody tasty. It was very rich and squirted oil all over my shirt – you’ve been warned – but it’s definitely worth a taste.
Dinner at New Orleans School of Cooking
This cooking school had to be one of the highlights of the trip. This is where we got down to the history behind the food that came from the French, Spanish and German settlers.
It was a small intimate group of 10 people and a head chef. The chef led us through the school’s shopfront (perfect place to buy spices and hot sauce), through the kitchen and into a room with a large round table.
This is where we got to pour some wine, talk about New Orleans history and look at our recipes for the night. The open hands-on class menu was gumbo, BBQ shrimp & grits and bananas foster.
After our history lesson and a lowdown on what we’ll be attempting to cook up, we headed back to the kitchen area and got started.
First up was the gumbo.
We started off making a roux with lard and flour until it was a dark brown before adding the trinity (onion, celery and capsicum). The roux then turned into a molasses colour and consitancy before we added it to a larger pot with chicken and sausage.
Then we added some stock, seasoning, blood and sweat and viola. Best damn gumbo I’ve ever had.
Then on to the BBQ shrimp & grits.
I was clearly working hard whisking up the grits. I’d never eaten grits before and was told this would be the best I’d ever taste – mainly because we added butter, milk and a heap of cheese.
For non-Americans, grits is made from ground corn and then boiled. Similar to polenta and same consistency as porridge.
Have to say, I’m not a grits gal. It was time consuming and tasted bland – which I was warned about. The shrimp was amazing on it’s own, so in the future I’ll substitute grits for cous cous.
Despite the title – BBQ shrimp was actually cooked on a pan in a rich sauce made of butter, garlic, worcestershire sauce, beer and the school’s special seasoning mix.
After finishing the two main meals, we sat down, topped up our wines and ate our cajun and creole creations.
Next was dessert. We started by making some crepes, followed by a flambe.
The finished product was so sweet, the flavours reminded me of the tropics with the brown sugar and bananas.
After finishing the cooking class we walked on down to Frenchman Street with wines in hand and enjoyed another night of jazz before hitting the sack and getting ready for day 2.
This post is to be continued next Monday. I promise, it’s worth the wait.