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Travel Detective Files: The New Orleans Road Food Festival

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International House, New Orleans - Road food festivalLast weekend, Peter chatted with Michael Stern, organizer of the New Orleans Road Food Festival, co-author of Road Food, and co-founder of one of our favorite Web sites, Roadfood.com.

The second annual New Orleans Road Food Festival, will take place March 26-28 in New Orleans, celebrating the great regional foods of America.

Peter Greenberg: Michael, you’ll still talk to me, even though I don’t eat meat anymore?

Michael Stern: You can come and have a Lasyone crawfish pie as opposed to a meat pie at the festival.

PG: Tell me more!

Vaucresson’s Sausage, another New Orleans favoriteMS: Lasyone is from northern Louisiana. It’s not traditional Creole food, but is rather an old Cane River dish that goes back to the Louisiana Purchase. These are little crescents of really flaky dough that get fried with either spiced meat or crawfish in them. And they’re going to be serving them along Royal Street for the New Orleans Road Festival.

PG: When we talk about road food let’s be specific. We’re not just talking about a Philly cheese steak, right? Are we talking about road food that you stumble across when you’re traveling across the country—off the side streets?

MS: What we’re really celebrating at this festival are regional specialties that are unique, by which you really remember visiting a place.

Learn more about regional specialties of the Southern United States with this article: Southern Comfort: Finding Good Food & Down-Home Hospitality.

PG: OK, so a Philly cheese steak would qualify.

Texas Pecan Pie from Roy RoundersMS: That would be perfect. In addition to the New Orleans food and Louisiana food, for example, we’re having Louie Mueller’s of Taylor, Texas, bring his classic Texas barbecue. It’s very different than Southern barbecue, as you probably know. It’s slow smoked brisket that is so tender—well I won’t talk to you about it since you’re not eating meat anymore.

PG: What you can talk about is the seafood chowder from the Maine Diner.

MS: That is one of the great dishes. When we call it award-winning seafood chowder that’s not just hyperbole. I mean every time anyone in New England has a chowder contest, Maine Diner seafood chowder is number one. It’s buttery and creamy, but not too rich. It’s not too thick and gummy the way New England chowder can be. They’re coming all the way down and serving Maine seafood chowder in New Orleans. I think that’s going to be fascinating because people will be able to compare and contrast it to New Orleans gumbo, which we’re also serving down there.

Find more great dining experiences in our Culinary Travel section.

PG: Of course. Well speaking of New Orleans food, does a muffuletta qualify?

World’s Longest Po’boy - New Orleans, LAMS: Absolutely, yes. We’ve got several venders serving muffulettas, and different types of po-boys: hot sausage, Cochon de lait—which you know is a suckling pig po-boy.

PG: Hey, you’re not going to put beignets on that list, are you?

MS: We will be serving beignets at the festival, but on Sunday morning the New Orleans fire department is going up against the New Orleans police department in the first ever beignet-eating contest.

PG: There’ll be a lot of powdered sugar flying around people’s faces and on their clothing that day.

MS: Well, the rule is you’re not allowed to blow powdered sugar in your opponents face when you eat these.

PG: What would you say in this festival will be the most unusual road food?

Don’t miss our Ask the Locals Travel Guide: New Orleans, Louisiana.

King Prawn ShrimpMS: I would say one of the things that makes my mouth water is called Shrimp Uggie. This is a dish made popular by a restaurant called Uglesich’s. It was located New Orleans for several decades but they closed in 2005. When they closed the food world wept because this is one of those inconspicuous, humble places that served spectacular food. And they’d been doing it for generations. The Uglesichs are coming out of retirement to prepare their most famous dish—Shrimp Uggie—for people at the festival.

PG: What’s in that?

MS: I don’t know what’s in it. Shrimp, like 82,000 different spices, and these crisp fried potatoes.

PG: How many different states are represented here at the New Orleans festival?

Learn more about New Orleans with our Spotlight On: New Orleans Travel.

MS: There’s Louisiana, of course. We’ve also got Texas, Maine and Arizona. The Camp Washington Chili Parlor is sending down Cincinnati five-way chili. We’ve also got pulled pork from Alabama.

TamalesPG: What’s coming from Arizona?

MS: Tucson Tamales.

PG: That sounds like you’ve just been admitted to a hospital.

MS: The great thing about this is it’s going to be five blocks of the French Quarter and admission is free. People can stroll along and eat as much or as little as they like. All of the vendors have promised that they are going to make their dishes in sample-size portions so that you really will have the opportunity to taste maybe six, eight, or a dozen different dishes.

PG: Is there any road food that you detest? Come on, I want you to tell me the truth.

MS: Chitterlings steamed in vinegar is not my favorite dish. And I don’t even want to start talking about what chitterlings are.

Plum Street Snoballs, a New Orleans treatPG: And what lucky restaurant provides that experience?

MS: That is not going to be at the New Orleans Road Food Festival.

PG: What is this again, chitterlings? I want to hear this again.

MS: It’s chitterling steamed in vinegar. It’s a specialty of southernmost Virginia, a little area where a lot of restaurants serve it. Some people love it, but it’s one of the very few dishes that I ate once and will probably not be eating again.

For more information on the New Orleans Road Food Festival, visit www.neworleansroadfoodfestival.com. To learn more on where to find inexpensive regional food across the country, visit www.roadfood.com.

By Peter Greenberg for PeterGreenberg.com.

Interested in Southern culinary travels? Check out these articles:

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