Let’s say you’re a tourist who has come to New Orleans to listen to music, eat, shop, eat, explore the Quarter, and eat. You have only three days, but you’ve gotten at least 50 restaurant recommendations from friends. You study menus, you consult Trip Advisor, and you cross-examine your hotel concierge. You agonize, then whittle down, and then mercilessly slash your list. It’s your own Battle of New Orleans.
Lay down your weapon, pick up your fork. Welcome to the world of food tours. A food tour is a guided series of restaurant stops where folks sample iconic dishes, while hearing about the history of the the city and its cuisine. I tagged along this week on a Tastebuds Tour, to see what these happy tourists were smiling (and burping) about.
We started off at Serio’s, and enjoyed muffalettas while our guide, Dave Thomas, explained how New Orleans’ food has been influenced by the different groups who settled here: Native American, French, Spanish, African-American, German, Cajun, Irish, Sicilian, and Vietnamese. He told the story of the muffaletta (Hint: there’s a reason there’s no mayo), and made a good case for why olive salad is an essential life ingredient.
The next stop was Cafe Beignet, where Dave discussed local music venues while the group indulged in coffee and beignets. Then we headed to The Old Coffee Pot Restaurant, featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, to sample gumbo and jambalaya. The Old Coffee Pot is in a Spanish-era building, so Dave took the opportunity to tell us about different architectural styles in the Quarter.
By now, we were kind of full, so we took a short detour into The Spice & Tea Exchange, where Robin invited us to smell her amazing local spice blends. (Hint: great shopping opportunity.)
Back to eating. From Johnny’s Po’ Boys, we picked up a bag of roast beef po’ boys, dressed. We walked a block and picnicked on the riverbank. While gravy dripped down our forearms, Dave related the history of the po’ boy. (Hint: it has to do with a streetcar workers’ strike.)
We ended the tour at Laura’s Candies, where Miss Rose encouraged us to sample pralines, as well as Mississippi Mud, which Dave refers to as “crack.” (Hint: It’s chocolate, and it’s legal, but I should do jail time for inhaling an entire handful.)
I asked my co-eaters what their favorite food had been.
“Definitely the gumbo,” said one lady from Australia.
“No doubt about it, the beignet,” said someone from Arizona.
A man from Florida loved the muffaletta, but several people swore by the po’ boy.
Would they recommend a food tour to friends coming to NOLA? “Absolutely,” was the uniform reply.
The tour over, Dave asked if there were any last questions.
“Yes,” replied one woman. “We’re looking for a bar. Can you guide us?”
Of course he could.
New Orleans boasts several food tour options, including Tastebud Tours, New Orleans Culinary History Tours, Taste of New Orleans Food Tours, and French Quarter Culinary History and Tasting Tour.