Cajun and Creole are two different ethnic groups that settled and evolved in the Deep South region of the United States, namely in the state of Louisiana. Don’t feel bad if you can’t fully grasp the difference between these two groups — even Louisiana natives have a hard time deciphering the exact difference between the two. Although the explanation is convoluted and ever-evolving, here’s a somewhat over-simplified breakdown:
Cajuns originate from the French colonists who settled in Canada, but were later booted out by the British in the 1700s. The Acadians, as they were called, migrated south to the swamps of Louisiana, and became known as the Cajuns. The Creoles are perhaps even more nebulous in definition, but in short, Creoles are those that were born to French settlers in Louisiana. The French settlers intermarried with Spanish settlers, and fraternized with African slaves, therefore the term Creole often refers to a person of mixed race with French colonial decent.
One of the most exciting outcomes from both the Cajuns and the Creoles is undoubtedly their respective cuisines. Creole food includes aspects from Italian, Spanish, African, German, Caribbean, Native American, and Portuguese cuisines. Meanwhile, Cajun food grew out of necessity — after the French colonists were removed from Canada, they arrived in Louisiana with nothing, therefore they made use of every part of each animal they slaughtered, mostly pork. Hence, a lot of traditional Cajun dishes include pork meat. Popular Cajun dishes include: Andouille and Boudin (Cajun sausage consisting of pork, rice, and seasoning stuffed into a casing). Cajun food is usually heavy on the spices and seasonings, as these were traditional ways of preserving meat.
To sum up, both Cajun and Creole groups come from French roots, some mixed, some less mixed, and they both have amazing food that make New Orleans, LA. a foodie paradise. Often these two groups overlap in culture, and cuisine — the famous ‘gumbo’ stew is one of those instances. The dish combines ingredients from several cultures, including West African, French, Spanish, German, and Choctaw. Both groups have their own variations of this popular dish, now a staple in Deep South cuisine. Jambalaya is another famous dish out of Louisiana where both Cajun and Creole make a variation of the rice-based recipe. The rice is accompanied by chicken and sausage, or shrimp, or ham, or even alligator. Some jambalaya recipes use tomatoes or tomato sauce, others use chicken or beef stock instead. The Creole-style ‘red’ jambalaya uses chicken stock and tomatoes. Instead the Cajun-style version uses only stock, making a ‘brown’ jambalaya.
For the best Creole food in town, head over to Antoine’s on St. Louis Street in the heart of the French Quarter. Antoine’s is one of the oldest restaurants in the Deep South (also heard from the staff that this place is haunted), serving authentic French-creole dishes since 1840 — try the alligator soup followed by fried soft-shell crab and top it off with the decadent raspberry chocolate cake (just a suggestion). Instead if you want to try a hearty Cajun-style bowl of gumbo, head over to St. Peter Street (also in Nola’s French Quarter) and stop by the Gumbo Shop.
Tips for Visiting New Orleans, LA. of the Deep South:
- Stay at least one night in New Orleans so you have time to try both Cajun and Creole dining — the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon St. offers a New Orleans-style stay with traditional iron balconies, gabled windows and French detail. More info here.
- Wear close-toed shoes — sandals will leave your feet black from walking the gritty Nola streets all day.
- Stop in to hear some great live music (Louisiana prides itself on being called the ‘birthplace of jazz music’)
- Park at the hotel and go by foot or public transport around the city — parking can be a nightmare during summer months.
- Take a guided tour of the city — there is so much history in the corners of this city, a guide will surely be able to tell you more than you will gather alone!
- Make sure to check out the Garden District — many visitors limit their stay to the French Quarter and miss out on this historical neighborhood.