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Where Y’Eat: Bringing Flavors of New Orleans on the Holiday Road

Andouille sausage from LaPlace, Louisiana
Ian McNulty
Andouille sausage from LaPlace, Louisiana

There's an old adage that New Orleans food doesn't travel well. But it will take a lot more than an adage to keep people from trying, especially during the holidays.

Christmas puts a lot of us on the road, or in the skies, and many who visit friends and family outside of the New Orleans area are expected to bring New Orleans food when we come calling. It's often the best-received gift we can bring, and sometimes it can even feel like the price of admission. Forget the figgy pudding. They want New Orleans food and we can't go until they get some.

But when we New Orleanians on the road field such requests, we have to remember that these are often the cravings of needy Crescent City transplants. Their desires come from a conspiracy of the heart and the belly, and they don't much heed logistics, aesthetics or even strict food safety standards. Demographics and recent history are at play too. A big chunk of this city's pre-Katrina population have settled-in permanently elsewhere, but New Orleans is still the culinary cradle that shaped their food cravings.

There are other ways to sate these yearnings. We live in an age when people in Alaska can get live Louisiana crawfish delivered for an arctic boil -- when turduckens are flown in to supply holiday dinners in New York apartments. Web sites and retail hotlines make our food accessible far from its font. But for someone pining for a taste of home at the holidays, maybe it makes a difference to have it all delivered direct by someone still anchored to that home.

In this way, as New Orleanians take to the highways with carefully packed ice chests of crawfish bisque, as they queue up at airport security ready to separate andouille and tasso from their carry-on bags, they can see themselves not as mere mules ferrying product, but maybe as envoys, bearing the flavors, and memories, of home.

That makes a pretty powerful Christmas gift. It’s worth going the extra mile to make it happen.

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