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Where Y'Eat: Shifting Season, Shifting Cravings

Ian McNulty
Crawfish season brings invitations that are as much about socializing as feasting.

Here’s one thing about the seasons in New Orleans: they don’t heed the weather.

Not in a town where you’re likely to be hanging Christmas lights wearing shorts, a T-shirt and a light sweat, or where the most famous winter holiday, Mardi Gras, is celebrated primarily outdoors no matter if its balmy and beautiful or spitting down freezing rain.

Now I ask you, how’s a guy supposed to arrange some nice satisfying seasonal food cravings when the calendar, the temperature and the particular cultural callings of our region all point in different directions at once?  

But here we are at the start of Lent, and that’s a bit different when it comes to the New Orleans appetite and its intersection with the seasons.             

Lent is, of course, religious. But in New Orleans, Lent is also cultural, extending past faith in the same way that Mardi Gras does. Which is why the seasonal cues showing up now fit the times, never mind the weather.

On the table, Lent means seafood. And of course that sets up the corny old saw about what a penance it is to have to eat seafood here in Louisiana.

Yes, truly, it does not seem like a sacrifice in a place so rich in delicious seafood to forego meat for a few Fridays, or even for the whole 40-day Lenten season. But there’s more at play here than a one liner.

Seafood in New Orleans is the food of plenty. Seafood in New Orleans is the flavor of community. It is the seafood platter, which sometimes gets denigrated as too much, too big, too fried, too low brow. Whatever. Done right, the seafood platter is a thing of beauty and, usually, a thing to share. The best seafood platters are the ones everyone picks at around the table.

Then there are sacks of Gulf oysters, which are probably still cheaper than they should be for all the work that goes into them and all the joy they bring. Get, a supple knife, a sack of oysters and some people who love them and you have happiness, no matter where you open those oysters up. The kitchen table, the backyard deck, the back of the truck. It doesn't matter. Oysters in Louisiana are handheld happiness.

Lent means the true start of crawfish season, and I don't need to tell you how that brings people together over the cheap thrill of spicy abundance.

And Lent does bring people to church... to eat, whether they’re of a religious persuasion or not. The fish fry is a draw that knows no denomination. From now until Good Friday, the parish hall, the parking lot or the multipurpose room at churches across New Orleans are transformed into bustling community cafeterias, full of people, suffused with the aroma of frying fish and driven by the pulse of deep tradition and the pride and commitment of the people who make it all happen.

It's not spring. Not yet. But Carnival is over, lent is here, and there are still feasts to come. I don't care what the weather is like, that kind of forecast sounds good to me.

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