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Where Y’Eat: The Crawfish Boil and Value of Time Well Spent

Served in huge, help-yourself piles, the crawfish boil can seem engineered for social interaction.
Ian McNulty
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As more people get vaccinated, it’s common to hear that life is getting back to normal. Hogwash, I say. Those of us who pursue life in Louisiana did not sign up for normal.

But more of the rituals and traditions that mark our way of life are coming back, and one piece of it in full bloom now is the crawfish boil.

There’s nothing normal about a crawfish boil. It’s a feast where we ravenously eat something called mud bugs, where recipes codified through generations meet experiments inspired by the urge to add a little more flavor, where we must wash our hands like surgeons afterward lest we spread the spicy burn.

Normal is not the goal. But it is glorious, and after too much time away from it I’ve been returning to the table with fresh appreciation.

Crawfish did not disappear in the pandemic, quite the opposite. Demand for the stuff kept many businesses going when so much else fell apart.

But the scale of it all was reduced, often down to pandemic pod size. Now that bigger gatherings are realistic again, the social aspect of the boil is back too.

Embedded in the crawfish ritual are lessons about time. We know crawfish season has its limits, and as it ticks down there’s a reminder not to take any of that time for granted. That weaves right in to one of the biggest things I’ve taken from the pandemic experience: gratitude for time together.

The crawfish boil, with its pace and process, with the extra steps you take to make it special, with the way it draws everyone in, with the way it reduces the world, just for a spell, to the table you've prepared and the people you've gathered around it, is a testament to time well spent.

Spring is now melting into summer. Seasons are changing and time is passing. We’ll have plenty of shrimp and crabs to throw in the pot. But right now, while we still have crawfish, it feels great to get back to the boil.

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