Once again this year, 64 food vendors at the Jazz Fest will peddle twice as many culinary temptations. A gourmand’s dream—or nightmare—when faced with the challenge of fitting it all in, considering the time span of the fair and the limited capacity of the human stomach. If your ambition is to eat everything, this year’s offering of 158 food items, divided by seven days at the Fair Grounds, leaves the belly-boggling prospect of consuming 23 dishes a day.
Much more within the realm of possibility would be the still absurd-yet-attainable goal of eating at least something from every booth—a much more manageable average of nine items a day for the hard-core everyday fair-goer. And if carefully planned, one can indulge in such gluttony and still maintain the energy and awareness to enjoy the music and crafts.
The following schedule covers them all—from gumbo to pralines, from the easy excitement of the first Friday, to the bleary but blissful insanity of the final Sunday evening. The accompanying chart can be used to map out your overall dining strategy, or as quick reference for when a hint of growling indicates a small abdominal vacancy begging to be filled. One basic assumption of this aggressive consumption campaign is that you attend the Fest every day, arriving no later than 11 a.m. and hanging on until at least 7 p.m.—a scenario in which three meals, three courses each, seems easily assailable.
It’s Friday, and no matter what your religious persuasion, if you live in New Orleans seafood has a special appeal. And at the Jazz Fest the soft-shell crab po-boys rule. By indulging today, you avoid the long weekend lines at this popular booth. While eating your po-boy, stroll down a few booths until you spy the signs for shrimp jambalaya and crawfish etouffee. Kill two crustaceans with one stone by ordering the etouffee without rice and pouring it over the jambalaya. Now go dance and drink beer for a few hours and work up an appetite.
When it’s time to sit down for a while, it’s also the perfect time to pick over boiled crawfish. Before finding your resting spot, pick up some crawfish bread and fried crawfish tails to complete this restful repast. Fortified with mudbugs, you’re ready for several more hours of madness before dessert, which should include a sweet potato pie, a pecan pie and one praline.
It worked yesterday, so why not start today with more fried seafood on French bread. Fried shrimp po-boys, followed by boudin and some fried chicken with potato salad, makes for a bracing breakfast any day, and if you feel a lingering reminder of the night before, this should offer some relief (or at least take your mind off of it). Other meals today could include gumbo ya-ya (the chicken and andouille variety), stuffed bell peppers, red beans and rice, lemon crepes, strawberry shortcake and a nectar cream soda—in any order of your choosing.
Sunday, feast day, day of rest. Day to eat the rest of the food required of this weekend’s all-New Orleans food and culture binge. Today’s assignments: Cochon de lait, hot sausage po-boys, and shrimp etouffee; Oysters en brochette, crawfish pies and oyster rockefeller bisque; Bread pudding with praline sauce, a coconut praline and three sno-balls. Sampling three renditions of a particular dish affords you the opportunity of comparing the wares of competing merchants, and sno-balls serve as excellent intermezzos—cleansing the palette and aiding digestion between courses.
By now you should know how to pace yourself for maximum consumption, so eat at will—but beware the temptation of one large meal. After such a weekend of heavy hedonic abuse, it could put you out. Grazing works well today, assuring a constant flow of caloric fuel to keep you in motion and at least functionally cognitive.
Today may even be the day to try some freshly fried cracklins—the anti-health food—after one bite of which you can feel your arteries firm up a bit as the blood rushes faster and faster through the narrowing channels. To some, the gastronomic thrill of this cardiovascular bungee jump outweighs the risk, but judge for yourself.
Recovered? After only three days spent back at work, at the gym, at the all-natural deli, or in bed, it’s time to get up, get down and eat again. If the weekend has left you still a bit torpid, today would be a good day to cleanse the body and absorb some nutrients by sampling the Fair’s cornucopia of vegetarian offerings.
In Food Area I, start with freshly-squeezed lemonade and a fruit salad followed by spinach and artichoke casserole, sweet potato pone, and a stuffed artichoke. Meatless, yes, and tasty, but hardly macrobiotic. It’s in Congo Square that the true vegetarian feast awaits. Caribbean fruit salad, fried plantains, peanut soup and sauteed vegetables with rice, coconut pies and banana nut bread to fuel your body, freeing your soul to soar with the ambient earthy rhythms of the area. While wandering, refresh with herbal teas, strawberry smoothies and frozen yogurt. And if you don’t feel great by the end of this day…well, this is as healthy as it gets out here. Go have another beer and forget about it.
The culinary heritage of Louisiana is rich and diverse. Besides the obvious French contribution, Spain, Africa, the Caribbean, Italy, Ireland and Germany shipped over many of their cooking traditions with their wandering or displaced countrymen. In Congo Square, you’ve tasted some of these influences in their pure form, before being amalgamated into the Creole melting pot. This year the Grandstand features four vendors selling samples of some of the early foreign gifts that graced our developing cuisine. You may catch a cooking demonstration while you’re here, and the Grandstand is also a great place to soak up some shade while checking out the local art.
While avoiding the sun, be sure not to avoid the booth operated by El Sol, where the empanadas filled with turkey,
garbanzos, olives and raisins are stellar. Spend a little time in this area and try the Teutonic fare, including bratwurst, potato pancakes and apple streudel. Continue your ethnic eating expedition while hiking around the Fair Grounds with stops for soft chicken tacos and spumoni, perhaps a little goat stew and some jollof (an African jambalaya) or benna chin, and end the day by cleansing lodged food particles from your teeth by chewing a stick of Roman candy.
The past two days of mellow meandering must now yield to the frenetic pace of the final 48 hours. The key here is not stopping. Early Saturday morning, get a mind’s eye fix on Sunday evening and keep going til you get there. There’s still a lot yet to eat, but the end is near.
With the weekend treated as one extra long day, the feast before you includes okra gumbo, alligator pie, stuffed mirliton, more red beans, barbequed chicken, shrimp and crab bisque, a muffuletta, oyster patties and crawfish sacks. Follow all that with barbequed pork ribs, turtle sauce piquante, blackened fish, Creole stuffed bread, and an order of the venerable crawfish Monica.
Reserve just a small space for freshly roasted peanuts and one more pecan pie and you have done it. Spending approximately $150 for seven days of food, you have patronized every vendor at the Fest and probably sport the extra pounds to prove it. Having attained your honorable goal, you may now give your digestive tract a rest and be happy and at peace with yourself, for you have danced with the god of food and revelry until the music faded, and he is appeased.