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10 Traditional Cajun Dishes You Need to Try in Louisiana

Picture of Dominique Becnel
Updated: 6 April 2018
There’s no doubt that Cajun culture runs through Louisiana as prominently as the mighty Mississippi river. Chef Paul Prudhomme got it right when he said, “When the taste changes with every bite and the last bite tastes as good as the first, that’s Cajun.” Chances are, if a Cajun dish is sautéed with the trinity – onions, bell peppers and celery – a pinch of Tony Chachere’s and a couple of shakes of Tabasco, it’s bound to be tasty, but we have to admit, we do have a few favorites. That’s why Culture Trip is narrowing down 10 Cajun dishes you have to try on your next visit to Louisiana.

Jambalaya

If you’ve been to any SEC tailgating event, chances are you’ve tasted one of our favorite Cajun dishes: jambalaya. A must-have at every Southern football game, this rice dish is cooked in a giant pot with enough room to feed the masses. Fans of Spanish paella (where the dish got its roots) will fall hard for this unbeatable mix of rice, traditional spices and seafood, chicken or sausage. Lucky for you, we’ve rounded up the best jambalaya joints in Louisiana so you don’t have to waste any time finding a great spot to chow down as soon as your plane hits the runway amid the swampy marshes.

Jambalaya is traditionally served with chicken, andouille sausage or shrimp.
Jambalaya is traditionally served with chicken, andouille sausage or shrimp.

Gumbo

If there’s one thing those of us in The Boot are experts in (besides tailgating and Mardi Gras), it’s how to cook a pot of gumbo. Pro tip: start with a roux and ignore any advice from Disney’s healthy gumbo recipe to pull off the OG of Cajun dishes. A symbol of the melting pot that is the state of Louisiana, every pot of gumbo is different than the next. Whether you like seafood, okra, andouille sausage or chicken, this thick soup traditionally served over rice or potato salad can be found in different variations on family tables across Louisiana. If you don’t feel like stirring the pot yourself, check out some of our favorite places to get gumbo in Louisiana.

Gumbo, a thick stew with meat and seafood, is a traditional Southern dish usually served over rice.
Gumbo, a thick stew with meat and seafood, is a traditional Southern dish usually served over rice. | © Kevin Tao

Boiled crawfish

If there’s one thing that defines Louisiana culture every spring, it’s crawfish season. As people get bolder and bolder with the lagniappe ingredients they throw in the boil with their mudbugs, we’re not complaining about the pineapple, sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts that have come to recently accompany the traditional corn, potatoes, celery, onion and garlic. Whether you suck the heads or don’t, if you visit Louisiana, be sure you learn how to peel, eat and repeat.

Hot boiled crawfish are often served out of giant ice chests designed to trap the heat after the crawfish leave the pot.
Hot boiled crawfish are often served out of giant ice chests designed to trap the heat after the crawfish leave the pot. | © Chris Young / londonfoodlink.org

Pecan pie

Paired with a piping hot cafe au lait, there’s nothing better than a piece of homemade pecan pie, no matter how “unhealthy” it might be. Everyone deserves a cheat day, so take our advice and add a scoop of ice cream to make this Cajun dish a la mode and go nuts!

Pecan Pie is a favorite Cajun dessert especially during the Thanksgiving holidays.
Pecan Pie is a favorite Cajun dessert especially during the Thanksgiving holidays. | © Chad Miller

Boudin sausage

This specialty Cajun dish found throughout southern Louisiana is a delicious delicacy. And how could it not be when you combine ground pork, Cajun seasoning, rice, onion and green peppers and stuff it into casings? Whether you roll the finished product up into balls and fry it or slow-smoke it, you can’t go wrong with boudin sausage. Take our advice and run, don’t walk, to any roadside stand, restaurant or gas station across south Louisiana and place your next order. We won’t tell if you sneak some home in your carry-on luggage.

Boudin is a delicious delicacy of ground pork, cajun seasoning, rice, onion and green peppers and stuff it into casings.
Boudin is a delicious delicacy of ground pork, cajun seasoning, rice, onion and green peppers and stuff it into casings. | © Danielle Scott

Shrimp and grits

If you eat one thing on your next trip to Louisiana, make it an order of shrimp and grits. A brunch favorite, this savory meal iconically combines two Southern staples – creamy grits and spicy sautéed shrimp, to create the perfect Southern ying and yang of flavors.

Looking for a Cajun classic to order for brunch on your next visit to Louisiana? Get the Shrimp and Grits.
Looking for a Cajun classic to order for brunch on your next visit to Louisiana? Get the Shrimp and Grits.

Wild duck

One thing Louisianans love to do in the fall is hunt. So naturally, there’s not many Cajun dishes that can beat some fresh fowl cooked to perfection in an array of savory spices. Whether you slow roast the duck, throw it in a gumbo, stuff it or smother it, the explosion of flavors will have Daffy and Donald swimming out of your mind in no time.

There’s not many things that can beat the taste of fresh caught fowl.
There’s not many things that can beat the taste of fresh caught fowl. | © LWYang

Alligator

Louisiana food culture unapologetically challenges your food palate (you’re welcome). While eating turtle and alligator may be frowned upon in other places, we revel in these Cajun delicacies. Whether you try it served in a spicy red piquante sauce over rice and garnished with green onions and parsley or fried in delicious little bits, you’ll swear that alligator meat tastes like the best chicken you’ve ever had. If you want to try wowing your friends back at home with an authentic Cajun dish, you really can’t go wrong by following Emeril’s Alligator Sauce Piquante recipe.

Trust us, Alligator will taste like the best chicken you’ve ever had.
Trust us, Alligator will taste like the best chicken you’ve ever had. | © City Foodsters

Crawfish étouffée

We can’t deny that we’ve got étouffée on the brain. Sautéed shellfish in a tasty sauce over rice, étouffée is translated from French to mean smothered or suffocated, which is how all of the ingredients are combined to create a delicious gravy. If you didn’t grow up eating this Cajun dish, you might want to check your driver’s license to make sure you were actually born and raised in Louisiana.

Crawfish Étouffée is a delicious Cajun gravy with shellfish served over rice.
Crawfish Étouffée is a delicious Cajun gravy with shellfish served over rice. | © leighklotz

Corn maque choux

When eating in Louisiana, it’s pretty hard to find anything that rivals the main Cajun dishes on the menu, but we’ve found the perfect side for your tasting pleasure. Sautéed with onions, peppers, tomatoes and Tasso, corn maque choux is a smothered corn dish a lot like traditional succotash. This savory side is proof that the best things in life are simple. If you see this on the menu during your next visit to Louisiana, make sure to order it a la carte or you’ll definitely regret it.

Looking for a savory Cajun side? Our top pick is Corn Maque Choux.
Looking for a savory Cajun side? Our top pick is Corn Maque Choux. | © stu_spivack

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