If you are looking for a great seafood restaurant, chances are you have stumbled across Cajun cuisine at least a few times. Cajun dishes have a unique spice and flavor to them that end up bringing people back for more and more. But where exactly do Cajun seafood restaurants get their dishes from? What are the origins of Cajun seafood? Cajun seafood is a style of cooking that developed in the southern United States after Acadian immigrants fled Canada a few hundred years ago.
Creole is a term that is often used interchangeably with Cajun. Typically Creole arouses images of charred, blackened fish, fiery seasonings, and red sauce. However, while there are similarities between Creole and Cajun, they are very different. Inhabitants of New Orleans were the creators of Creole food, while the Cajuns settled at a later date in the remote marshes and swamps of Louisiana, and had to improvise to make do with the ingredients in the bayous (no fancy seafood restaurants back then!).
The Acadians were the first French settlers to land in North America. They immigrated to Canada in the 1600s and learned to live off of what food was readily available in the area. Traditional meals of meat and veggies cooked in a stew bot were common. The Acadians adapted each meal to what they could catch or gather from the land and sea. However in 1755, the British Crown attempted to force the Acadians to pledge their allegiance – the Acadians refused. This lead to 14,000 Acadians being deported, the majority of whom moved to the swamps and marshes of Louisiana. Again, the British inadvertently helped make America the greatest country in the world, as you will soon see how this lead to the creation of some of the best seafood restaurant style food in the world.
Once settled in what is present-day Louisiana, the Acadian farmers showed their heartiness and adaptive lifestyle in finding new ingredients that were available in the region. Their cuisine adapted to crab, oysters, crawfish (hence the classic crawfish boil . . . pronounced bow’ell), catfish, and even alligator. All of these animals were readily available in the great bayou. Rice was also used in place of potatoes and bell peppers were thrown into the great pots of food. New spices were also found and introduced, thanks to great influence from the Native Americans. Black pepper and cayenne pepper are common in almost all Cajun recipes.
This incredible diversity should be celebrated not just as the creation of a great seafood restaurant (so to speak), but also to show the hardiness and adaptability of the Acadian people. These were individuals who truly valued their freedom and, rather than submit to British rule, made the trek into the swamps and bayous of Louisiana. Once there, they created a beautiful lifestyle.
Cajun dishes are based heavily on seafood (especially crawfish) and living off the land. The spices are key – especially the hot spices of black and cayenne pepper. Additionally, onions and celery often used to help arouse flavor in the dish. The strong sense of community among Cajun people brought about incredible traditions such as the crawfish boil (again, pronounced “Bow-ell.” Learn to speak properly), family boucherie, and of course Mardi Gras.
So next time you are looking for a great seafood restaurant, tip your hat to the incredible Cajun history and pull up a chair to a crawfish boil. You will be happy you did.