Gumbo is famous. Po-boys get plenty of press and king cake is now a seasonal sensation, splayed across social media for all the hungry world to crave.
But red beans and rice? That gets into a homier appeal in New Orleans. It doesn't normally turn heads, but the dish is worked into the rhythms of life in this town, always there when you need something soothing. In an era of rapid fire food fads, it’s a satisfying slow simmer.
But now, red beans have inspired their own kind of craze, and in March we’re right in the midst of it.
Red beans and rice is in the spotlight thanks to a citywide event called Bean Madness. It’s a month-long competition of red beans styled after the March Madness college basketball tournament, complete with brackets to predict winners, break your heart and cheer for those Cinderella stories.
Run by the Red Beans Parade, a Carnival group, it’s a fundraiser for local nonprofits, and it’s a uniquely interactive way to celebrate the humble but vital dish.
Contenders from restaurants to corner stores have been working their way through the bracket, going head to head at pop-up tastings. They’re held in stores and theaters, bars, farmers markets and other venues to spread the judging for this everyman dish widely around New Orleans.
As veterans of March Madness already know, the tournament process can be a harsh one. One bad outing, and brackets are busted. For Bean Madness, decisions can turn on preferences for texture, pickle meat and seasoning set long ago by family tradition, house style, even generational differences.
Madness indeed, but eventually it all comes down to the “Final Fork” match ups and then a red beans champion.
It’s still red beans, of course, a dish that’s never going to be glamorous. But don’t underestimate its power over the New Orleans palate. After all red beans can even make people look forward to Mondays.
Get details, schedules and more information on Bean Madness tastings at redbeansnola.com.