Lake Charles: Cajun Mardi Gras, Gumbo And More

Monday, January 13, 2020 - by Ann N. Yungmeyer

From “Feed your Soul” to “Let the Good Times Roll” Louisiana’s fun slogans are certainly fitting in Lake Charles, a vibrant city in the southwestern corner of the state. Known as Festival City, Lake Charles hosts more than 75 fairs and festivals each year, including the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in Louisiana.

 

New Orleans’ Mardi Gras is more famous, but Lake Charles’ version of the Fat Tuesday festival feels a bit different with a focus on family-friendly events and Cajun traditions.

Along with the pomp and pageantry, zydeco music and dancing, there is the famous chicken run, in which participants chase chickens through the countryside, honoring an old tradition of garnering ingredients for the community pot of gumbo. 

 

Mardi Gras season begins in early January with Twelfth Night parties and various events leading up to the actual Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) on Feb 25, 2020, before Ash Wednesday. Lake Charles hosts a variety of celebrations during Mardi Gras weekend including the children’s parade featuring 80 floats and lots of bead throwing, boat and canine parades, a gumbo cook-off and the Royal Gala, where the public is invited to view the royal court costumes of all the krewes. Among favorite Fat Tuesday events, the Iowa Chicken Run is held in a nearby community, and the grand Krewe of Krewes parade through downtown culminates the Mardi Gras celebration.

 

You don’t have to attend Mardi Gras to get the lowdown on the longstanding traditions; you can learn what the pageantry is all about at the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu, which holds the largest costume display in the South. Open year-round, the museum has exhibits on festival history, how the elaborate costumes are designed and made, and the legendary King Cake.

 

Other notable festivals in Lake Charles include the Crawfish Festival and The Louisiana Pirate Festival, where pirates sail in on the waterways and “storm the seawall” in a historical reenactment of John Lafitte privateering. Summer brings the Cajun French Music and Food Festival, the Arts and Crabs Fest, and Boudin Wars.  Wintertime favorites are Christmas Under the Oaks and Light up the Lake Christmas Festival.

 

Cajun or Creole?  

Deeply rooted in Cajun and Creole traditions, Lake Charles is the heartbeat of Calcasieu Parish, which includes the rural towns of Sulphur, Westlake, DeQuincy, Vinton and Iowa. I learned on a recent visit that Cajun and Creole cultural and culinary influences are closely linked, though subtly different. Both cultures exhibit “joie de vivre” (joy of living) and share a love for music and dance. Both combine culinary flavors from Native American, African and European cooking, and many dishes are made with the “holy trinity” (onions, bell peppers, and celery). 

 

“Creole” is derived from the Portuguese word crioulu, meaning homegrown. The distinctive European culinary styles and West Indian influence call for a lot of sauces, fresh herbs and spices.  The French Canadian (Cajun) influence comes from French colonists in eastern Canada who were displaced by war in the late 18th century.  They came to Louisiana with great resourcefulness and ability to live off the land. Their cuisine is often more rich and robust and is usually made in one pot.  

 

Good Eats, where the spice is right 

Being a gumbo-lover, I sought to try Louisiana’s signature dish everywhere I went. By definition, gumbo is an improvised dish, so I found no two that tasted alike; and most surprisingly, none that I sampled was made with okra. Basic ingredients for authentic Louisiana gumbo are the roux (made with flour and oil), seafood, various spices and water.  Usually the trinity ingredients are included for flavor, along with sausage and/or chicken. Perhaps gumbo made with okra is a matter of preference, but I plan to keep using it in my home recipe.

 

Boudin is Southwest Louisiana’s most adored specialty, a hybrid sausage made of pork or beef, liver, rice, parsley, onions, and spices. It combines the traditions and flavors of German, Cajun and Creole cuisine. If you drive the designated “Boudin Trail” you can sample many varieties: boudin blanc, crawfish boudin, shrimp boudin, alligator boudin and more. You can watch it being made at LeBleu’s Landing, a family-owned Cajun meat market and café.

Check 
VisitLakeCharles.org/boudintrail for a map and listing of markets and restaurants along the trail.

 

Seafood lovers are in heaven in Southwest Louisiana with countless choices of fresh Gulf Coast fish and shell fish.  Head for Tia Juanita’s Fish Camp for brunch and a delightful menu of Cajun/Mexican fusion. For downhome cooking, try Southern Spice, a cozy restaurant featuring fried catfish, shrimp and grits, and Cajun dishes including Étouffée and jambalaya. The Jack Daniel’s Bar & Grill at L’Auberge Casino offers some of the best Louisiana cuisine by award-winning chef Lyle Broussard.  Along with Jack Daniels’ craft cocktails and grand selection of beers on tap, the menu features oysters, shrimp, gator bites, gumbo, boudin balls, catfish, redfish and barbecue.

 

Craft beer lovers will find the newest craft brews in town at Crying Eagle Brewing, and rum drinkers will want to visit Bayou Rum Distillery & Louisiana Spirits, the largest private rum distillery in the U.S. Bayou Rum is handcrafted on-site in a traditional copper pot using 100% natural unrefined Louisiana cane sugar and molasses. Distillery tours and tastings are offered.


Whether or not you visit Lake Charles during one of its lively festivals, you’ll find countless opportunities to discover Louisiana’s rich heritage and culinary highlights, as well as year-round attractions, from casino gambling to nature parks, bayou tours and outdoor adventure. 

 

Getting there:  Lake Charles has a small train depot serviced by Amtrak and a small airport serviced by American and United Airlines. https://www.visitlakecharles.org/

 

------


Ann Newell Yungmeyer is a freelance writer and enjoyed learning about Cajun traditions near her family’s namesake town of Newellton, La.


No Way Home (For The Holidays): Spider-Man’s Latest, Polar Express Bring Big-Screen Joy To Aquarium’s Seasonal Celebration

PHOTOS: Rock City Opens 27th Season Of Enchanted Garden Of Lights

Scenic Overlook Panels Unveiled, Marks New Designation For Sequatchie Valley Scenic Byway


The holidays are the one time a year when families and friends brave claustrophobic flights and bumper-to-bumper traffic to see one another. The same is true for your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, ... (click for more)

Rock City Gardens has begun its 27th season with its annual Enchanted Garden of Lights that includes over a million sparkling LED lights and 30 scenes. The event opens nightly at 5 p.m. and continues ... (click for more)

Two new interpretive panels were unveiled Tuesday morning in Sequatchie County. Located at the SR-111 overlook near Dunlap and the US-127 overlook near Signal Mountain, these educational signs ... (click for more)



Travel

No Way Home (For The Holidays): Spider-Man’s Latest, Polar Express Bring Big-Screen Joy To Aquarium’s Seasonal Celebration

The holidays are the one time a year when families and friends brave claustrophobic flights and bumper-to-bumper traffic to see one another. The same is true for your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but Marvel Comics’ wall-crawler probably won’t enjoy the reunions awaiting him in Spider-Man: No Way Home . The third Spidey flick to star Tom Holland as the beloved superhero ... (click for more)

PHOTOS: Rock City Opens 27th Season Of Enchanted Garden Of Lights

Rock City Gardens has begun its 27th season with its annual Enchanted Garden of Lights that includes over a million sparkling LED lights and 30 scenes. The event opens nightly at 5 p.m. and continues through Jan. 2. (click for more)

Breaking News

Hamilton County Has 1 More COVID Death And 81 New Cases; County Death Toll Rises From 680 To 702 Due To "Reporting Issue"; Tennessee Has 100 More Deaths

The Hamilton County Health Department reported one more coronavirus death on Thursday and 107 new positive cases, up from 81 on Wednesday. The total number of cases in the county now stands at 65,721. The death total is now at 702. It was reported at 680 on Wednesday, but due to a reporting issue with an area hospital, there has been a delay in reporting COVID deaths. Twenty-one ... (click for more)

Governor Exonerates Adam Braseel Of Grundy County On Murder Charge

Governor Bill Lee announced executive clemency decisions for 17 offenders who have demonstrated a successful path to rehabilitation and established a new process for individuals seeking clemency for drug-free school zone convictions. Those include an exoneration for Adam Braseel of Grundy County, who spent 12 years of a 51-year sentence for a murder it is now believed he did ... (click for more)

Opinion

In Praise Of EV - And Response (2)

Roy, sometimes I think I envy your uncanny ability to compartmentalize, draw bright lines and to simply conclude that thing one is good and thing two is bad. No electric vehicle for you. In Roy’s universe: Batteries are bad. Gasoline is good. My 30+ years of practicing environmental law and addressing legacy environmental impacts have proved otherwise. As the Eagles ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Winter Blues

Doctors call it Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and scientists are convinced about 10 million Americans suffer from what is commonly known as ‘The Winter Blues.’ Now about the last thing I want to write about is SAD and I know some people will not warm to the subject. But those who know me best know that I’ve had a problem with depression for years. I dutifully take two pills ... (click for more)