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Kosher in the Big Easy

Krewe de Mishigas

Not too long ago, I was in New Orleans on a three-day work conference.  Having never been to the Crescent City before, I decided to seek out many of the city’s culinary delights.  But after I had tucked into a bucket of boiled shellfish, enjoyed a platter of jambalayaétouffée,  and maque choux, at Mother’s Restaurant (World’s Best Baked Ham), slurped down a fried oyster po’boy and munched on a muffuletta – I was acutely aware that the only kosher thing I had enjoyed during my brief stay was a bucket-sized plastic cup of beer.

So, what could be kosher in New Orleans a city famed for its Creole cooking – a cuisine dependent on many non-kosher foods?  According to one kosher-keeping Tulane alumni, and a couple of rabbinical students, it is tough to keep kosher outside of one’s home in NOLA.  Before Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city there had been several vegetarian restaurants and the Creole Kosher Kitchen in the French Quarter – although to date none have reopened.  Possibly the only kosher restaurant left in town is Casablanca and the Kosher Cajun Deli located in the suburb of Metarie.  Café du Monde, the French market cafe famed for its beignets (fired dough doused in powdered sugar) and chicory coffee received its kashrut certification in time for Chanukah this past year.  But are there any traditional New Orleans dishes that are kosher?

One traditional dish NOLA revelers are treated to during the Mardi Gras season (Fat Tuesday can fall on any Tuesday between February 3 and March 9) is the King Cake.  Twelfth Night Cake also known as King Cake is a braided yeast cake smothered in brightly colored royal gaze and sprinkles. A bean, coin or even a glass figurine is baked into the cake (this token represents Baby Jesus) and whoever finds the token in their slice of cake is crowned the “King” and is obligated to make the cake next year.

Mardi Gras is the celebration whereas Christians clean their kitchens of things that would be forbidden during the following 40 days of Lent – like a more debacherous Biur Chametz.  This celebration manifests in various ways around the world – from the classy masked balls in Venice to the near-naked debauchery in Rio – New Orleans’s traditional Creole-influenced Mardi Gras celebrations involve weeks of parades kicked off with the Krewe du Jieux and the Krewe de Mishigas.

So, looking at recipes of King Cake, it sounds a lot like challah (except obviously for the Baby Jesus part) as challot are sometimes covered in sprinkles or baked with chocolate chips.  I’m told there is a similar practice (at least in part) once a year when some Jews place or imprint their house key into the Schlissel challah.

But what else do people enjoy in the Big Easy?  Anyone else know any other good kosher Creole dishes?

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5 Responses to “Kosher in the Big Easy”

  1. Leah Says:

    Wow – what a timely (and kind of depressing) article. :) :) Yosh and I are going to New Orleans in a couple of weeks, but I guess our eating options might be limited to those big cups of beer. I did find one all-vegetarian restaurant, but those pickins seem slim too. If anyone has any suggestions, that would be great!

    beignets are kosher (unless they are fried in lard) – that’s another pastry though…not a very diverse diet.

  2. David Says:

    When I moved here, I was told that an observant Jew in New Orleans breaks the Yom Kippur fast with a crawfish boil. Hardly any of us keep kosher here, but that is true of most American Jews, so we are not unique in that. Avoiding pork or shellfish will limit your menu options in many restaurants, but there are still many delicious local foods to be had without them. If you want to go vegetarian while here, there is no need to limit yourself to vegetarian restaurants (of which there are very few). Most of my vegetarian dining companions do very well by simply letting the chef know when they arrive. In high end restaurants this often results in something delicious and unexpected (if you tell them when you make your reservation they will really put themselves out for you). Some restaurants also have excellent vegetarian options on the menu already. Finally, there are several excellent Middle Eastern restaurants here (Mona’s, Lebanon’s Cafe, Byblos, among others) where you can get tasty and nutritious food. If you want strict kosher, then you will have difficulty, but really, that is true in most American cities. But if you want to embrace our wonderful local food in even a limited way, you will easily find great things to eat down here. Just keep an open mind.

    (Just fyi, the Kosher Cajun deli is good, but very inconveniently located in the dismal suburbs. Casablanca is also inconvenient and not very good either, although I have not been in years. The Cafe du Monde is indeed certified kosher and wonderful, so eat there often!)

  3. Eric Says:

    One of the great culinary moments of a trip I took with our teen group to New Orleans last year was Shabbat at the Touro Synagogue – there was jumbalaya at the oneg!

  4. Ruby K Says:

    Knucklehead and I are making the trip down for Jazzfest in a couple weeks (okay, months really, just wishful thinking) and I’ve been racking my brain. I’m a treyfatarian but she’s a vegetarian with occasional fish tendencies. Veggie options seem pretty miniscule if you’re not cooking at home. And while I could live on beignets, that’s not quite Knucklehead’s style…

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