We Live our Culture! Each day in St. Landry Parish we engage in enduring traditions of history and culture such as dancing to the exciting sounds of Cajun and zydeco music while enjoying the cuisine loved the world over. With its dramatic history and diverse cultures, St. Landry Parish boasts une différence, which few if any, places in America can claim today. The influences here—Native American, European, African, Acadian, and American—have mixed and matched for more than three centuries to produce the rich and colorful experience that is St. Landry Parish today.
From boudin to yams and a little seasoning on the side, St. Landry Parish is the “Prairie Home Cooking” loop of Louisiana Culinary Trails and home to internationally known Chef Paul Prudhomme, Tony Chachere’s Creole Cajun Seasoning and Bayou Teche Brewing featuring its own brand of Craft Beers that complement the region's local Cajun and Creole Cuisine. Local restaurants offer exclusive settings in historic landmarks featuring great Cajun and Creole food. And our many festivals celebrate our culinary treats like cracklins and étouffée! Located in central southwest Louisiana in Cajun Country, 20 minutes north of Lafayette and two hours west of New Orleans, St. Landry Parish is a gateway to the Atchafalaya Basin, and part of the Bayou Teche Corridor, within the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area. By traveling our Zydeco Cajun Prairie Scenic Byway, you’ll be sure to visit our many historic communities.
Discover the Prairie Home Cooking trail's "Don't Miss Dishes" according to Food Network Star Season 11 competitor, Jay Ducote.
As St. Landry Parish is the site of one of the oldest European settlements in Louisiana, le Poste des Opélousas, an administrative territory established by the French in 1720, its' cuisine naturally reflects its dramatic history and diverse cultures. Home of the Opelousas Indians, the district was larger than some European empires of the day. By 1791, the military outpost had been governed by the French and the Spanish and was also settled by some English, Scotch, Irish and German colonists, as well as a group of Acadian exiles who managed to find their way to the lush and fertile lands of the district.
They found the area perfect for agriculture and raising cattle and the government post soon developed as a commercial center serving their farms and plantations. Men and women of African heritage began arriving in the 1700s as slaves with the first Europeans and in the late 1700s as gens de couleur libres or free people of color.
With this in mind, one might best describe the history of St. Landry Parish’s cuisine as that of a cultural gumbo!
The mild climate and rich soils allow a wide variety of vegetables to be grown year around. Also, our many bayous and rivers and close proximity to the coast make seafood an important ingredient in our cuisine.
What typifies the area's cuisine today?
Our French, Creole and Cajun culinary traditions of making the most delectable fare with the simplest of ingredients are still recreated today. Food is a “religion” in this part of the world and it’s the love and attention that goes into every dish—from the field to the table that is celebrated with every meal. The holy trinity includes onions, bell peppers, and celery.
What are the area’s ingredients?
Rice, soybeans (vegetable oil), corn, okra, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, figs, pecans, pond-raised crawfish, catfish, cattle, and poultry including guinea hens
What are the area’s unique dishes?
The indigenous dishes to this area would be our stews, gumbos, bisques and fricasseés. What makes them unique to this area is that they all are made with “roux”. A roux is the combination of oil and flour in equal parts that is cooked by stirring constantly until it becomes a dark brown color, often compared to that of peanut butter. This base imparts a flavor that is rich and distinct. It also acts as a thickener to the dish.
It's a wonderful example of something so simple, yet so important to our culinary world. For those that have not mastered the skill of making a roux from scratch, all is not lost. Roux is also commercially produced, packaged in jars and readily available in grocery stores.
What is considered everyday food?
Everyday food in this area would be rice and gravy of some sort whether it be chicken, beef, pork or seafood. Many dishes are served with at least two seasonal vegetables (the more starches the better) and sliced white bread.
Special Events and Seasonal Food
From December to June, it's crawfish time and the numerous crawfish huts open their doors and get their burners blazing. Some of these restaurants even have drive-up windows for their “to go” orders of boiled crawfish. Of course, there are restaurants that serve the succulent crustaceans, as well as other crawfish items like étouffée and fried crawfish tails.
It is also during this time of year that the Lenten season is observed by this predominately Catholic area. For 40 days, many refrain from their favorite food or beverage and followers must abstain from meat on all Friday’s during Lent.
In earlier times, this was truly a form of penance and eggs often provided the needed protein in a dish (gumbos or stew with only eggs). Today with the abundance of crawfish and ease of obtaining fish, shrimp, and oysters from the gulf, it’s definitely more of a treat and less of a sacrifice.
Hunting and fishing are favorite pastimes for both men and women, so naturally whatever the season may be our menus conform.
Spring and summer fishing bring sac-a-lait (crappie), brim and catfish that populate our local waters, so fish-frys and the delicate preparation of courtbouillions are reasons to gather.
In the fall, the wonderful tradition of a boucherie (community hog butchering) is held. After the crops were in, our ancestors prepared meat for the winter months. Families gathered to butcher the hog. Boudin, hogshead cheese, cracklins, and bouilli were made as every part of the pig was used. Sausage was stuffed and smoked, along with tasso, a seasoned meat that was used all year long in flavoring vegetables and gumbos. Today a stop at any local meat market or slaughterhouse will result in finding these long revered and essential items in the Cajun and Creole diet.
As the temperatures begin to drop, gumbo pots are filled with wild game, like ducks and geese. The aroma of slowly simmered gravies with doves and quail or even squirrels fill the air. And hearty stews, rich from the roux, stick to your bones. And of course in the winter months, everyone heads to the woods for some of the best deer hunting around. A “back strap” of venison is oh so flavorful. It’s hard to beat a venison chili on a damp Louisiana winter night.
All year long, bar-b-que pits and smokers are kept handy for weekend meals. Our sauces are made with lots of onions, resulting in a delightfully tangy accompaniment to chicken, ribs, and of pork steaks.
What are the area’s unique utensils?
Our fingers! So many of our wonderful foods are eaten with our hands, like boudin and cracklins, fried fish and hush puppies, boiled crawfish, shrimp, and crabs.
Sauce Piquante (sôs ˈpē-kənt) – Sauce Piquant literally translates to “spicy sauce”, so don’t be shy with the cayenne or red pepper flakes. This dish can contain either poultry of seafood, dressed with a thick tomato based sauce over a bed of rice.
Etouffée (āto͞oˈfā) – Most locals have their own spin on this Louisiana dish, but étouffée can simply be described as a seafood stew. Like most local dishes it begins with a roux, in this case, a light roux. Then either a seafood or vegetable stock is added in order “to smother” the rest of your ingredients. The most popular protein for an étouffée is crawfish, which gives the end product a beautiful reddish hue and a flavor profile that’ll knock your socks off.
Boudin (boo-daṉ) – See “boudin” under the Eat & Drink tab.
Cracklin (ˈkrakliN) – So you’ve heard of pork rinds? Well, a cracklin is a pork rind’s bigger, better, and tastier sibling. This popular, southern snack is made by deep frying chunks of pork in its own rendered oil…twice. Stop at almost any gas station or specialty meat market, and dig for that perfect piece of cracklin containing all three layers—skin, fat, and meat.
Tasso (ˈta-(ˌ)sō) – Though it isn’t typically the main protein, tasso still plays a major role in several Cajun dishes. Tasso is a lean piece of pig shoulder which is smoked and added to gravies, gumbos, sauces, and vegetables for added flavor.
Andouille (anˈdo͞o-ē ) – Andouille is a smoked sausage made with pork. Much like tasso, it can be used on its own or to complement the main protein in a dish.
Filé (fee-ley) – Filé is made by drying the leaves of the sassafras plant then grinding it into a fine powder. The powder can then be added to sauces and stews as a thickener, but also has a natural flavor that enhances the dish. You’ll most likely find this spice next to gumbo, but caution–add it to the bowl, not the whole pot!
Courtbouillon (Koo-Bee-Yon) – Seafood is the main star in this comfort food, type dish. A courtbouillon begins with a light tomato based liquid in which the seafood of your choice is poached along with onions, bell pepper, and celery, then served over rice.