David Abolafia

Background on New Orleans: Cajun vs. Creole

David Abolafia

New Orleans (2)

Among people who visit and talk about New Orleans, the words “Cajun” and “Creole” are used almost interchangeably. They know that there are some distinctions between the two, but aren’t sure just what those distinctions are.  So in order to be educated for your next trip to the Big Easy, we’ll break down the differences.

First off, the Cajuns are an ethnic group consisting of the descendants of Acadian exiles (French speakers from Acadia in what are now the Maritime provinces of eastern Canada). Creoles, on the other hand, are people who are descended from the colonial settlers of Louisiana, especially those of French, Spanish, African and/or Native American origin. And these differences have led to the development of similar (but unique) cuisine, language and culture.

Cajun Food vs. Creole Food

In the simplest terms, the difference between Cajun food and Creole food comes down to one thing: tomatoes. Creole cuisine uses tomatoes, proper Cajun food does not.  But even that’s not true 100 percent of the time, as certain Cajun creations, such as a sauce piquant, are tomato-based.

Another way to look at it is that Creole cuisine is “city food,” and Cajun cuisine is “country food.” Which is not to say that you can’t get the latter in the city, but rather that it was developed by people who lived away from it – specifically, the regions of south Louisiana that included the levees, bayous, prairies, swamplands and coastal marshes.

Early Cajuns learned to make use of every part of the animal. Boudin, a type of Cajun sausage which consists of pork meat, rice and seasoning stuffed into a casing, also commonly contains pig liver for a little extra flavor. Tasso and Andouille are two other Cajun pork products that use salts and smoke as preservatives. Cajun food is famous for being very well seasoned, which is sometimes misunderstood as spicy. Most dishes begin with a medley of vegetables based on the French mirepoix. The “holy trinity” of Cajun cuisine utilizes onion, celery and bell pepper to provide a flavor base for many dishes. Garlic, paprika, thyme, file (ground sassafras leaves), parsley and green onions are also very common ingredients in Cajun kitchens.

Creole food is a blend of the various cultures of New Orleans, including Italian, Spanish, African, German, Caribbean, Native American and Portuguese, to name a few. The dishes consisted of an array of spices from various regions, along with creamy soups and sauces. Creole cuisine has a bit more variety, because of the easier access Creoles had to exotic ingredients and the wide mix of cultures that contributed to the cuisine. That’s why you find tomatoes in Creole jambalaya and not in Cajun jambalaya, or why a lot of times you find a Creole roux made with butter and flour while a Cajun roux is made with oil and flour.

Louisiana Language

Cajun French is a variety of the French language spoken primarily in Louisiana, specifically in the southern and southwestern parishes. The Cajuns assimilated the Colonial Louisiana French Choctaw patois dialect, but many mistakenly label it Cajun French. Significant populations of Louisiana Creoles — descended from European, African and Native American ancestors — continue to speak this variety of French.

Louisiana Creole is a French-based creole language spoken by some of the Creole people of Louisiana. The language largely consists of elements of French and African languages. Speakers of Louisiana Creole are mainly concentrated in the southern and southwestern portions of the state, where the population of Creolophones is distributed across the region. “Creole” is actually a term that refers to the native inhabitants of the area, so the language is one that developed naturally based on the cultural shifts of an evolving population.

Zydeco and Cajun music

Cajun music, an emblematic music of Louisiana, is rooted in the ballads of the French-speaking Acadians of Canada. Cajun music is relatively harsh with an infectious beat and a lot of forward drive, placing the accordion at the center. Besides the voices, only two melodic instruments are heard, the accordion and fiddle, but usually in the background can also be heard the high, clear tones of a metal triangle.

Creole music applies to two genres of music from south Louisiana: Creole folk and Louisiana Creole. Creole folk dates from the 18th century or before, and it consists primarily of folk songs. Louisiana Creole is preserved primarily in the form of recordings rather than sheet music. Along with Cajun music, Louisiana Creole music played a role in early development of la-la, zydeco and swamp pop.

Ready to put your knowledge to the test? Or just hungering for some etouffe and jambalaya (with or without tomatoes)? Then take a trip to the Crescent City. To make it happen, give us a call at (888) 269-0182 Mon – Fri 9am to 5pm.

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