Acadian revelations

A foodie’s winding journey to Cajun country

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stanley Dry writes the “Kitchen Gourmet” column for Louisiana Life. He is a former senior editor of Food & Wine magazine and author of “The Essential Louisiana Cookbook” and “The Essential Louisiana Seafood Cookbook”, both published by the parent company of Acadiana Profile.

My Acadiana love affair began on a high school trip to Sulphur, when my hosts awakened me with an early morning demitasse. The aroma and taste of that strong black coffee was a revelation to a Shreveport boy who knew only coffee the color of tea. I was hooked, and for years after moving away from Louisiana, I had a regular supply of dark roast Community Coffee delivered by mail.

College in Lafayette cemented my bond to South Louisiana and frequent trips afterwards kept that relationship fresh. For most of my adult life I have been involved with food, either cooking it or writing about it, so it’s no surprise that my love for Acadiana has a lot to do with eating. No other part of the country has such a strong regional food culture, and you find evidence of that everywhere. I know of no other area where you can eat so well on a daily basis without really trying. It’s an exception if you don’t get a good meal in a local restaurant or café or even a gas station, for that matter.

I remember arriving at the Lafayette airport on a breezy spring afternoon in 1985. The weather was a welcome tonic for someone living in New York City, where the temperature was decidedly not mild. In my 25 years living away from Louisiana, mostly in Chicago, Boston and New York, March was the cruelest month. The long winters, while brutal, were bearable, but March broke your spirit. Although my internal clock told me that spring should have arrived, that was never the case. Sometimes it wasn’t until May that the season flipped.

That trip was one of many that I made to Acadiana in the mid-to-late ‘80s, some of them on assignment to write about Cajun country. I drove the back roads from Ville Platte to Cypremort Point, from Morgan City to Forked Island, stopping at little cafés, bars, grocery stores, meat markets, dance halls — any place that looked interesting. In a week’s time, I logged 1,000 miles. Of course, I ate prodigiously and well, and each trip strengthened my desire to return, not just for a visit, but to live.

In my years away from Louisiana, I kept close a few items that provided cultural, as well as practical, links to the state — a French drip coffee pot, a bottle of Tabasco, a bottle of Peychaud’s Bitters and a worn Cajun cookbook. By 1990, I decided to move back to Acadiana, plant a garden and find a way to make a living. By the fall, I had left New York behind and moved into a house on a bayou south of New Iberia. My neighbor made good, barrel-aged moonshine at his camp in the Atchafalaya Basin, but that’s another story.