When you hear the words “Cajun food,” “Cajun music,” and “French Louisiana,” what place comes to mind?
New Orleans, right? That’s what I thought, too.
When I finally started to research Louisiana in preparation for our Uncle’s 90th birthday and crawfish bonanza, I was surprised to learn that rural south central Louisiana is actually a better place to learn about the traditionally French-speaking Cajun people. New Orleans has plenty of French place names on hotels and restaurants (some to look fancy and increase the prices, I suspect), but not much remains of the traditional culture and history.
Instead, the small city of Lafayette (population 120,000) is the place to go.
Lafayette is the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country, or “Acadiana,” an eight-parish region in south central Louisiana. This is where the bulk of the “Acadians,” French immigrants living in Eastern Canada, settled in the early 18th century after they were forced to leave the, then, English colonies for refusing to pledge allegiance to the queen. The remote, swampy area in Louisiana had also once been a French colony and was relatively welcoming of their lifestyle and language. Fact: The word Cajun evolved as slang for “Acadian” (Acadien –> Ca’dien –> Cajun)
Today, southern Louisiana offers many ways you can learn about this unique culture and heritage:
First, there’s Vermillionville, a “Living History Museum and Folklife Park” where you can walk through a restored 19th century Acadian community and talk to docents in period dress about what life was like in the historic Acadiana.
At the neighboring Acadian Cultural Center (part of the National Park Service’s Jean Lafitte National Historic Park), we reviewed exhibits on regional and cultural history, food, music, and the local environment.
You can take a boat tour on the nearby Atchafalaya Basin, the nation’s largest river swamp, federally protected as a US National Heritage Area.
Our guide shared stories of what life was like a century ago when thousands of rural people lived on the water in houseboats, some of which are still sitting out on the bayou abandoned.
(And we spotted some ‘gators…)
Where to Eat & Drink
We spent one wonderful evening at Randol’s Restaurant and Cajun Dancehall (salle de danse) where after dinner, local people crowd the floor to dance to traditional Cajun and Zydeco music.
…and another night at Prejean’s Restaurant where local French-speaking Cajun performers accompany classic Cajun meals.
For lunch one day, we stopped into an informal, local dive where folks on their lunch break line up for simple plate lunches and traditional Cajun dishes.
For local beers, Bayou Teche Brewing Company, is a family owned craft brewer that is brewing up some innovative and traditional ales inspired the food and culture of the region. In a previous post, I mentioned their “Crawfish Season Ale,” a beer brewed to pair perfectly with a spicy crawfish boil.
Where To Stay:
We stayed at the Wyndham Garden Lafayette, formerly known as the Hotel Acadiana. When we were there in the spring, it was still branded as the Hotel Acadiana, but they were starting to rebrand to become part of the Wyndham system. The rooms had already been renovated–they were spacious and comfortable, and while the lobby was a construction zone, I can see from the photos now that it looks great. Most importantly, the hotel was in a good location, close to downtown Lafayette, the major sites (like Vermillionville and Jean Lafitte National Park’s Visitor’s Center), and the highways out-of-town. It was a great base for exploring Lafayette and the rest of Cajun Country, Louisiana. Disclosure: Wyndham Garden Lafayette hosted our stay but all opinions and photos are my own.