New Orleans Roadfood Festival rolls in March 24-25

new orleans foodThat New Orleans is a food town is no secret. What I just discovered, however, is that it’s host to a food festival spawned by one of my favorite pastimes ever: road food (and no, I’m not referring to this kind). Way back in the day, when I was a wee college student, I discovered the late, great Gourmet magazine, and became obsessed with “Roadfood,” a column (now a website) written by the road-trippin’, big-eatin’ couple Jane and Michael Stern.

In every issue, the Sterns would choose a micro-region of the U.S. and a local specialty on which to focus their column. Each month, I read about chicken and dumplings in Indiana, pasties from Montana, green chile from El Rito, New Mexico, or barbecue from Owensboro, Kentucky. Then I’d wipe the drool off of the pages and stash each article away in a manila folder to be saved for future road trips, both real and imagined.

Apparently, nearly half a decade ago, while I was lost in some “best roadside diner biscuit” reverie, the Sterns helped create the New Orleans Roadfood Festival. The 4th annual food fiesta will be held March 24-25 in the city’s historic French Market. It will provide a showcase for over 30 restaurants across the country, which will serve the dishes that made them famous. Attendees will be able to street-feast upon Texas and Memphis barbecue, Tucson’s best tamales, custard from upstate New York, Cajun and Creole delicacies from across Louisiana, and many other regional culinary specialties. There will also be cooking demos, live music, a beignet-eating contest for the N.O. Fire Department, and a kickoff party featuring the Sterns, local chefs, and noted cookbook author Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

And get this: admission to the festival is free. You’ll still have to pay for those good eats, but a portion of the proceeds will benefit Cafe Reconcile, a non-profit restaurant that uses innovative strategies to provide life skills and job training to youth from at-risk communities in area. Just in case you need a guilt-free reason to indulge. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

How to Fight a Food Coma and Treat Indigestion

[Photo credit: Flickr user Adam Melancon]

Welcome back to New Orleans

This isn’t a New Orleans story about disaster. It’s a story about rebirth. Despite all that has happened to New Orleans in the last five years – the damage, the loss of life, the oil spills – the fact remains: New Orleans is still one of the most musically rich, culturally vibrant and historically important cities in the world. This is not a city that gives up easily. In fact, we’re here to tell you that despite all you hear on the news, New Orleans is as good as ever, and it’s about time you came down to pay it a visit.

New Orleans is also much more than just throwing beads at Mardi Gras – there’s plenty to discover and celebrate about this amazing city year-round. From the genteel colonnade-lined mansions of the Garden District, the wide avenues shielded by shady canopies of old-growth trees, to the raucous nocturnal playground of Frenchmen Street, where funky brass bands and “go cups” of Abita Amber flow freely, to sinful culinary delights like Beignets and Muffuletta sandwiches, New Orleans is jam-packed with enough one-of-a-kind pleasures to please even the most jaded of travelers.

New Orleans is back, baby. Are you ready to take a whirlwind tour? Keep reading below to discover all this great city has to offer…Getting Around
Most New Orleans visitors arrive at Louis Armstrong International Airport, located about 15 minutes from downtown. The most convenient way into town is by taxi, which costs $33 for 1 or 2 passengers and $14/person for 3 or more. Many hotels in the French Quarter also offer their guests free shuttle service. If you’re doing New Orleans on the super cheap, the Jefferson Transit Airport Express is only $2.

Once you arrive in New Orleans, getting around by foot or public transport is relatively easy. Unless you need to get out of town, don’t bother with renting a car. Many of New Orleans’ attractions are either in the French Quarter or within walking distance. The city’s vintage street cars also offer connections to visitors hoping to get away from the French Quarter madness, all for just $1.25 per ride.

City Layout
The cultural heart of New Orleans lies along a series of bends in the Mississippi River, earning the town the nickname of “Crescent City.” The beating tourist heart of New Orleans is clearly the French Quarter, which has lots to do even if you don’t want to be drinking hand grenades all day on Bourbon Street. To the Northeast of the French Quarter is Faubourg Marigny, an up-and-coming neighborhood with a killer nightlife and live music scene. To the South and West of the French Quarter is the skyscraper-filled Central Business District (also home to a growing arts scene) and the southern-mansion-lined streets of the Garden District.

What to Do
You’ll never run out of activities in New Orleans. Simply walking the atmospheric streets, stumbling upon street musicians and the city’s beautiful architecture, is a joy in and of itself. Make sure to leave plenty of time to simply wander and take it all in. Here’s a few of our favorite highlights:

  • The food – if you haven’t eaten proper New Orleans cuisine, you simply haven’t visited New Orleans. Wondering where to start your Big Easy culinary tour? Try Central Grocery for a spicy Italian Muffuletta, Johnny’s or Mother’s for a Po’ Boy sandwich and Jacques-imo’s for Creole and Cajun specialties. And don’t forget a beignet and Cafe au Lait at Cafe du Monde (preferably late at night when it’s less crowded).
  • Garden District tour – spend an afternoon getting a dose of old-school Southern charm by hopping on a street car to this historic New Orleans district of stately mansions and intriguing shopping. Grab a green line street car from the French Quarter and sit back as you’re transported back in time, past enormous Antebellum-style mansions fringed by gardens of lush greenery. Take a break on Magazine Street to find top-notch shopping.
  • French Quarter Wandering – most New Orleans visitors are already familiar with this quintessential neighborhood. But there’s much more to the French Quarter than Bourbon Street. Start your French Quarter wander with brunch at Stanley, where you can dig into Bananas Foster French Toast. Just across the street is the picturesque Jackson Square – make sure to check out the statue of U.S. President and commander of the Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson and take a peek at St. Louis Cathedral. From there it’s time to get lost, admiring the intricate wrought iron balconies, numerous thrift stores, record shops and art galleries that dot this historic neighborhood.
  • The music – New Orleans music is unrivaled in its influence, diversity and quality. For a burst of musical energy head to Frenchmen Street, where you’ll find concert venues like Snug Harbor and d.b.a. as well as streets packed with revelers bouncing along to street corner brass bands, banjo players and cellists. The music is just as good outside as it is inside. Make sure to keep your eyes and ears open for Second Lines, brass band street parades that unexpectedly fill the air with music and joyous dancing.
  • Volunteering – though “tourist New Orleans” is in great shape, many parts of the city outside the tourist areas are still in recovery mode. Looking to do your part to help rebuild? Check out the “voluntourism” page on the Official Tourism site of New Orleans

Where to Sleep
Staying in New Orleans can get downright expensive. Before you spring for a hotel, consider one of the city’s numerous private apartment options on sites like VRBO. You’ll not only save money, you’ll also get a more authentic neighborhood feel during your visit. If you simply must stay in a hotel, consider spots like the Iberville Suites, the Queen & Crescent or The Chines Bed & Breakfast as starting points.

[Photos courtesy Mike Lee and Jonathan Rodrigues]

Festival Mizik Jakmel

FestivalWorld music lovers listen up and get ready to pen this one on your festival calendar if you haven’t already. On May 25-27, 2007 a beach not quite as well known to the world as those on the neighboring country will play host to the Haiti’s first international music festival.
Jacmel is just 25 miles south of the country’s turbulent capital and yet worlds away from the headlines that too often keep visitors away from the country as a whole. Festival Mizik Jakmel will include 24 bands from across the globe with Stephen and Damien “Junior Gong” Marley headlining the free event. In addition to the live shows parallel events include a tourism conference, art events and workshops. An attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest drumming ensemble will also take place. As of now India currently holds the title by having 7,951 people drumming continuously for five minutes in 2006. The organizers of Festival Mizik Jakmel are hoping to have 10,000 in attendance and anyone is welcome to bring a drum and join – though you might want to register online first. For complete details I suggest swinging over to the official event website and if you can’t quite make it or find an affordable ticket to the island look into other ways to join in from afar.

Word for the Travel Wise (01/29/07)

HaitiAs I mentioned earlier, I hear a personal vacation to Hispaniola calling. I not only want to go to the Dominican Republic, but I’d also like to venture into Haiti for a few days and see the differences between the two countries on the tiny Caribbean island with two very different cultures.

Today’s word is Kreyòl (Haitian Creole) word used in Haiti:

vwayaje – (v) travel

This Kreyol website features comprehensive cultural and travel info on Haiti. Their overall goal is to spread positive messages about the country and create positive images. Their online Kreyòl dictionary is one of the best! iCreole is a good place translation tool if you wish to know a word within seconds. For a fun look at some popular proverbs check out this Discover Haiti site. Make note that the Creole used in the proverbs is not that of the Creole spoken in Port-au-Prince. Lastly, leave it to good old Pimsleur to have audio books dedicated to learning Creole. Expensive, but you can also look for them in your local library.

Past Kreyòl words: evite, il/zile, voryen, chalè, move, maltêt

Word for the Travel Wise (12/07/06)

Haitian FlagNow here is a word you can surely get away with doing some sign language to get your point across if needed, but things would probably go so much smoother if you knew it off the top of your head. It could save you the extra dizziness you could be experiencing from your achy head already.

Today’s word is Kreyòl (Haitian creole) word used in Haiti:

maltèt – headache

This Kreyol website features comprehensive cultural and travel info on Haiti. Their overall goal is to spread positive messages about the country and create positive images. Their online Kreyòl dictionary is one of the best! iCreole is a good place translation tool if you wish to know a word within seconds. For a fun look at some popular proverbs check out this Discover Haiti site. Make note that the Creole used in the proverbs is not that of the Creole spoken in Port-au-Prince. Lastly, leave it to good old Pimsleur to have audio books dedicated to learning Creole. Expensive, but you can also look for them in your local library.

Past Kreyòl words: evite, il/zile, voryen, chalè, move