Ian McNulty


Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat. 

Ian is also a staff writer for the daily newspaper the New Orleans Advocate, covering the culture, personality and trends behind the city’s famous dining scene.

He is the author of two books - “Louisiana Rambles: Exploring America’s Cajun and Creole Heartland,” a travel narrative about south Louisiana culture, and “A Season of Night: New Orleans Life After Katrina,” an account of the first months in the city after Hurricane Katrina.

He has been a contributor to WWNO since 2009.

If you’re a vegetarian in New Orleans you’ve probably learned to ask questions before digging in and you know to never take the name of a dish at face value. 

This is a town, after all, where the key ingredient in traditional vegetable soup is beef. And it’s widely accepted here that when the cook tells you your beans were made with love, she means made with pork. 

Boiled seafood is a tradition in Louisiana with many of its own rituals.
Ian McNulty / WWNO

Making a good run at a crawfish boil is a two-fisted effort that might even require some juggling. There's the twisting, pinching and peeling, the sorting and rummaging for sides and the concurrent demands of beverage management. 

That also makes the crawfish boil one of the increasingly rare aspects of modern life that remains cell phone free.

The bakery counter at Breads on Oak, a modern New Orleans bakery on Oak Street.
Ian McNulty

From the most basic ingredients, bakers create wonders. It’s that pastry that makes up for getting up early, the cakes that become centerpieces of our celebrations, the anytime indulgences that get us through the day and, it’s even the unadorned loaves that are so tempting we have to tear off a piece before the bread ever makes it home. It all starts with age-old essentials, and the transformative potential of skill and craft.

In New Orleans these days, though, bakers are transforming more than just their ingredients.

Each year at Hogs for the Cause, cook-off teams compete and raise money. The teams have developed a culture that extends year round.
Photo courtesy of Hogs for the Cause

For one weekend, the charity cook-off Hogs for the Cause transforms a big outdoor spread in New Orleans into something like a Southern-style never-never land.

The fried seafood boat at Morton's Seafood in Madisonville.
Ian McNulty

The seafood boat is not a po-boy, and it’s different from a seafood platter. It belongs to its own niche. It flies brazenly in the face of modern low-carb diets, but survives at a handful of eateries. It can kindle cravings in those with a nostalgic bent, and maybe event those who enjoy a little spectacle with their supper.

Matassa's Market dates back to the 1920s in the French Quarter, and it has changed to adjust to an evolving marketplace.
Ian McNulty

Conjure the image of the small neighborhood grocery and I bet the picture in your mind looks pretty appealing – something hands on and small scale, with character and personality between the register and the grocery aisles.

As a business plan, though, maybe the classic neighborhood market these days looks like a flourish of old-fashioned retail romanticism.

Cabbages will be flying as St. Patrick's Day parades roll in New Orleans. Just watch your face!
File photo

It’s March in New Orleans, parades are again on the calendar and feasts are on the itinerary. Have fun, but for heaven’s sake, beware of flying produce and at all times, watch out for your teeth.

I’m talking about a different type of seasonal awareness for our food, and one that was brought home to me in a natural but still unlikely place – the dentist chair.

Louisiana soft shell crabs are a prized find at local markets.
Ian McNulty

People in Louisiana are accustomed to finding delicious local crab everywhere – from fine dining restaurants to neighborhood joints to family affair seafood boils. But right now, Louisiana is finding its crab somewhere unexpected – and that’s off limits.

The state is in the midst of a first-of-its-kind closure of its blue crab fishery. It started just before Mardi Gras and continues through late March.

Ian McNulty

Some of the city's old-guard restaurants hold heralded places in Carnival tradition, and king cakes have been glittering extra brightly lately as chefs and bakers around New Orleans put their own stamp on its form and flavors.   

But, when it comes to keeping people going through the long haul of Carnival, the heavy lifting often falls to much more humble fare from unsung suppliers. These are the grocery stores, the delis and the specialty caterers of New Orleans, businesses that work at fever pitch once the parade season reaches its prime time.