Once again, I have been sent to travel to find the most peculiar foods and rate them for the post. This mission has led me to New Orleans, Louisiana, the capital of Cajun cuisine. This trip was essential after the opening of the first Popeyes in England which boasted bringing its Cajun-inspired cooking to British palate. To summarize the review I gave to that restaurant in 2021 in a few words, let’s say that a few trips to the loo were needed, alongside trips to the fridge for more water, in the hours after the sandwich was picked at.
After landing in New Orleans at 13:00, I attempted to explore the area and ask locals about the best cuisine in the area. However, as I stepped into the open air, I was immediately assaulted by the most hostile environmental conditions I had ever faced. I felt as if I had stepped into a steaming shower fully clothed, and began to sweat profusely. After five minutes, my three-piece suit was trickling with sweat as the 24° weather assaulted me on all sides. I decided I needed to seek refuge in the nearest building, before I could brave the climate and seek picks from locals’ favorite dive-ins.
In America, most buildings are equipped with a cooling system known as air conditioning, a peculiar device you would not find in the United Kingdom, which makes the air cooler. The institution that had employed this particular savior of my sanity was the local Westfield Mall. After 45 minutes of wringing out my clothes into the potted plants in the median of the walkways, I decided to postpone my search for the best Cajun cuisine, an uncomfortable experience that would be paralyzing in my current beaten-down state. I rode the escalator to the second floor and found the food court, where I promised myself one simple meal to remind me of home, before I stepped back out into the hazardous conditions of a February day in Louisiana.
To my surprise, the food court had none of the usual commodities of a British food court. Nowhere did I see a chippy, nor beans on toast; not a single menu mentioned Shepherd’s pie. Instead, I had somehow crawled from the harsh and hazardous cuisine desert of the outside world into an exotic oasis of forgotten and bizzare foods.
Who knew that in the middle of a French-based food capital, I would find myself surrounded by Italian, Mexican, and Chinese restaurants. At the register, I ordered a meal I had never experienced before: one Doritos Locos Taco and a Baja Blast fountain drink. I took a tentative bite into the open side of the taco, open to new experiences but fearful of unknown dangers that may be lurking. My first bite was full of lettuce, tomato, and cheese, with no meat in sight. I then noticed a major flavor kick from the shell; a spice like I had never encountered before. I tried to swallow the bite as fast as I could to prevent my mouth from being engulfed in flames, but as I shot it down my throat, the shards of the hard shell stabbed my throat; I was engaged in warfare with this entreé. I reached for the Baja Blast to wash down this dish and was electrocuted by the liquid that entered my mouth. I spat out the swig I had taken and fell to the floor. While my vision swayed, I looked up at the indoor palm tree, which was becoming obscured by black dots. I was falling in a forever-stretching void, leaving all of my comforts behind as I prepared to meet my end. Just as all light had left my surroundings, I had an epiphany.
I came to a few minutes later when the teenage attendant of the food court nudged me with his dustpan, asking me if I was done with the food I had left on the table. I knew I had a mission now. I grabbed the shaft of his broom and climbed upwards, hell-bent on my life’s purpose. I pushed the attendant aside and took a second bite directly in the center of the taco. A divine blend of meat, cheese, shell, and grease entered my body, and I was enlightened. Despite the hazardous design of the taco and the overwhelming nature of the Baja Blast, I crammed the shell into my mouth and drowned in the sea of soft drink until I had finished my meal.
God had sent me on a mission to be reborn in classic cuisine; he sent me to New Orleans to become reborn in the ways of the American food court. My week in Louisiana changed. No longer would I have to brave the sweltering weather, or the tame and benign flavors of Cajun cooking. I had discovered a hidden beast, full of flavor and exotic nature.
I slept on a bench in the mall that night, right in front of the stained skeleton of a Sears that had closed long ago. Every day, I walked back up that escalator, ready to experience new and deadly cuisines, ranging from pizzas slung by Sbarro himself, to the delicate application of orange zest to Panda Express chicken, to the dominating and empowering swig of Orange Julius one takes while reminiscing on the great empire of Rome.
I can say with one hundred percent certainty that if you are traveling through New Orleans, you should stop by the Westfield Mall’s food court to be blown away by the bizarre peculiarities that are hidden from the world. While Cajun cuisine was the original focus of this installment, the hidden capital underneath the Creole capital was arguably a larger prize than I ever would have received from cuisine made by local restaurants. With my new mission in mind, I set my sights to find more hidden gems around the world …