Each time I go to New Orleans, I love it more and more. When most people think about NOLA they imagine Mardi Gras and drunken stumbles down Bourbon Street, but there’s much more to it than drinking and parties (although that can be fun, too).
When Mark and I traveled to the Big Easy this spring we took a cemetery tour and a cocktail walking tour; something we’d never done. The touristy events usually aren’t my favorite, but these walkable side trips were super fun and during the outings I discovered a few things I didn’t know, so I thought I would share:
- Cafe Du Monde is not just for beignets. In addition to having the delightful French treat, and being one of, if not the, oldests coffee shops in The United States, it also serves the most decadent coffee I have ever tasted. They serve coffee and chicory. Chicory is the root of the endive plant and endive is a type of lettuce. The French started mixing chicory in their coffee during their civil war when coffee was scarce and brought the concoction with them when they settled in New Orleans. Who knew lettuce root and coffee would mix so well. Try it.
- The word “cocktail” originated in NOLA. A French apothecary named Antoine Peychaud started mixing bitters (which was used as a drug to calm tummy troubles) with cognac for his friends when they came by to chat at the end of the day. He mixed these drinks with something called a "coquetier" in French (a small egg shaped vessel with a one ounce measure on one side and a ½ ounce measure on the other… a jigger!). When his American friends joined in on the evening action, they could not pronounce “coquetier” and said cocktail instead.
- The Sazerac is the official and the original cocktail of New Orleans, NOT the hurricane. A sazerac is a made of cognac or whiskey, a sugar cube, absinthe, and Peychaud Bitters (yep… named for the guy above). It is normally garnished with a lemon peel. Don’t go to New Orleans and drink a ton of hurricanes. Drink sazeracs.
- New Orleans is 58-years older than the USA. While the United States was founded on July 4, 1776, NOLA was founded on May 7, 1718. Next year they will be celebrating their 300th anniversary. They are already planning for it. It will be out of control… in an insanely good way.
- The French Quarter is actually built like a Spanish village. The city went from being French to Spanish to French (and then American). During the Spanish rule, the city had two major fires. One happened in 1778 and nearly burned the entire French Quarter down. Therefore, when you walk through Vieux Carre (the old square in French), you will see mostly Spanish architecture.
- There are a bunch of bodies in each mausoleum. You probably know that most cemeteries in New Orleans have above ground burial sites. But what you may not know is that many of the cemeteries are active today and continue to perform burials. Each tomb can house multiple family members at the time of their death. Many tombs have been in families for 100’s of years. At the time of death, you place the deceased into a special, untreated coffin, and place them in the tomb. Over time, as the body and tomb decompose, room is naturally created for another. When the time comes, the bones of the deceased are pushed through opening in the floor of the tomb, which allows space for the next family member.
There is a difference between jambalaya and gumbo. They typically have many of the same ingredients: rice, sausage, seafood, spices, tomatoes, etc. Jambalaya is a rice dish. Somewhat similar to paella (in a way). Gumbo is a soup.
Antoine’s is the oldest family-run restaurant in the country. It was established in 1840 and today Antoine’s is run by the family’s fifth generation. The restaurant is located on St. Louis street, in the heart of the French Quarter, has 14 unique dining rooms, and can seat over 700 people at a time. They have killer sazeracs and invented Pommes de terre soufflées, which are hollowed out fried potatoes that take over eight weeks to make (don’t call them french fries).
If I could recommend two things to try in New Orleans on your next visit, check out Frenchman street (just east of the quarter) and go to Antoine’s. I could go on and on, but I won’t. One more thing, go for a morning run through the French Quarter. They soak the streets with firehoses to get rid of the previous night’s “activities” and all the uneven sidewalks and obstacles make it more like urban hiking, which is really fun.Get out there, be active, and try new things. We would love to hear about your travels. Connect with us on our Facebook page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.