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Where Y’Eat: With Jazz Fest Off, Festival Food Still Sings to Our Souls

mcnulty mango freeze.jpg
Photo by Ian McNulty
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Mango freeze is a sweet, cool classic at Jazz Fest.

You can absorb the news that the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is again pushed back, this time to October, and you can accept it as a sign of the pandemic times.

But then something else might start working on you - your cravings – and then all you can think about is Crawfish Monica, a Vaucresson Creole hot sausage po-boy, the cheese pulling apart in crawfish bread, a praline-stuffed beignet, a crawfish sack, next to an oyster patty next, to crawfish beignets or maybe some jama jama with chicken on a stick ... and then you feel a pang of despair from somewhere deep in your very being.

More than at any other music festival, the food at Jazz Fest is an entwined part of the experience.

Local food vendors return year after year, almost always serving the same time-tested dishes, creating a framework for relationships and rituals. People have made these dishes their own, incorporating them into their Jazz Fest planning and anticipation as much as any particular act on stage.

Happily, they remain within reach, even while Jazz Fest is off the table again this spring. The vendors are still out there, at their restaurants, at pop ups and collaborative events, eager to reconnect with the people who miss them.

You can find a link to my story with details on how to find dozens of Jazz Fest food vendors this year here.

We’ve already seen what’s possible. Last spring, from the depths of the coronavirus crisis, people embraced the idea of Festing in Place - they dressed for the fest, they cranked the radio broadcast of past fest sets and many got after their favorite Jazz Fest dishes, foraged direct from local makers who needed the support more than ever.

It was a triumph of the New Orleans determination to wring goodness from hard times. Here we are again. The times are improving. But even with big events still off the table, in New Orleans the food we love will always connect us.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.