What to Eat at the New Orleans Jazz Fest

By: Sara Levine

At the annual New Orleans Jazz Festival, which kicks off this weekend, food doesn’t play second fiddle. In fact, the Fest could be double-billed as a full-fledged food festival. Regulars — locals and visitors alike — love to hop from stage to stage at the sprawling fairground, dancing to everything from gospel choirs to Billy Joel to Trombone Shorty. But Jazz Fest fans also give serious consideration to their food agendas, making sure to hit favorite stands year after year. We like to zone in on the vendors who serve unique dishes that are hard to come by outside of this two-weekend event.

One such dish is the crawfish bread, a garlicky, cheesy half-loaf of French bread stuffed with crawdads. This pizza-sandwich hybrid-of-sorts easily disproves the “no cheese with seafood” myth.

Crawfish are abundant at the fairground — you could spend an entire day sampling them in different preparations. Another perennial favorite is Crawfish Monica, in which rotini pasta is tossed with a creamy, seafood-rich sauce and lots of meaty crawfish.

Moving into meatier territory, the Natchitoches meat pies are a must. Think empanadas, spiced Cajun-style. My Louisiana-native husband grew up eating these as a regular snack — even some local gas stations make them from scratch! — but the ones served at the Fest are in a class all their own.

Consider the aforementioned dishes “small plates,” if you will. Come lunchtime, you’ll want to head back to the food stalls for a cochon de lait po’boy. Outside the Fest, fried shrimp and roast beef are our po’boys of choice, but nothing beats this slow-roasted suckling pig at the fairground.

Some classic New Orleans dishes just taste better at the Festival. My Louisiana family agrees that the jambalaya is top-notch. There are a few vendors who serve different versions, so look out for a helping of andouille-studded rice that’s brown, not red. Authentic jambalaya has no tomato.

Nothing beats a sunny day at Jazz Fest, but spring temperatures in New Orleans can be summertime-hot. To beat the heat, it’s all about the mango freeze — a sweet-tart sorbet made with nothing but fresh mangoes, water and a little sugar.

Can't make it to Jazz Fest? Browse Cooking Channel's Cajun recipes for a taste of New Orleans at home.

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