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Thu June 11, 2009
Tastes of Home at Hometown Food Festivals
By Ian McNulty
New Orleans, LA –
To look at a festival calendar for south Louisiana this time of year is to see one manifestation of the cultural riches that tie so many locals close to home and keep visitors coming back.
It looks like there's a festival every weekend, with line-ups of local musicians and lots of Louisiana food, which at its best goes way beyond the Anywhere U.S.A. festival fare of pizza and corndogs. You could attend a different festival every weekend, and if you got really ambitious you could even plan a road trip of festival-hopping around the region all weekend long.
Well, this weekend in the French Quarter a line-up of food and music festivals makes just such an itinerary quite easy indeed. On Saturday and Sunday, three local festivals will be held so close together in the French Quarter that to the casual visitor they may well seem like one big fest.
There's the Louisiana Seafood Festival, held at the Old U.S. Mint museum and hosted by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. On the very same grounds around the historic Mint building, the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival is hosted by the folks who put on Jazz Fest, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. And right around the corner, the French Market hosts the Creole Tomato Festival all at the same time.
Though they are separate events, the three festivals are so close together that they have, for all practical purposes, melded into one event. Promoters now even refer to them collectively as the Vieux to Do, as in Vieux Carre, the old name for the French Quarter where they're held. All are free, so there's no worrying about tickets or admission gates.
Naturally, vendors at the Creole Tomato Festival are focused on its namesake produce, that large, bright-red strain of tomato that thrives at this time of year in south Louisiana. For their aficionados, eating a Creole tomato from hand like a juice-splattering apple -- or slicing it thick as the primary filling of a simple Creole tomato sandwich -- is one of the salvations of our hot summers. At the Creole Tomato Festival, expect some slightly more elaborate presentations from restaurant vendors that still keep the sweet, mouth-filling flavor front and center.
At the Seafood Festival, more restaurant vendors serve shrimp, alligator, blue crab, crawfish, catfish and oysters, treating them to preparations that range from traditional Creole - like the boiled seafood from Bourbon House -- to Asian-inspired -- like Vietnamese shrimp toast from NOLA Restaurant. And, given the season, plenty of Creole tomatoes make it into these dishes too.
The solid old Mint building provides a focal point for the Louisiana Seafood and Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco festivals, with its tall, balcony-lined courtyard forming a deep bay for one of the main music stages. Meanwhile, the Creole Tomato Festival's food booths and small music stages are cloistered in the twists and turns of the French Market's alleys and pedestrian malls, inviting discovery.
At some small town festivals, the scheduled activities and food offering for the day can seem like the only things for visitors to check out. Not so for our trio of local festivals this weekend. Those who tire of the bands and food vendors, or simply of the sun, have all the shops, bars, restaurants, museums and river views of the French Quarter within blocks of the festival grounds.
These are not festivals that many tourists schedule their New Orleans visits around, at least not yet. So for now the Louisiana Seafood Festival, Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival and the Creole Tomato Festival are all about hometown pleasures for a hometown crowd.