Monday, October 6, 2014
Stop Calling Creole Culture "Cajun" - It's Not The Same Thang
Another local newspaper article about regional food/customs and another local newspaper writer misidentifying Creole as "Cajun." It's enough to make me spit-take my Cafe Du Monde Coffee with Chicory. Quick history lesson for wannabe food writers: The French established New Orleans in the French Colony of Louisiana in 1718. From that day, everyone born in the French colony (whether they were originally from France or not) would become known as Creole (meaning from the colony.) Meanwhile, the "Cajuns" were the French-speaking farmers who settled in Eastern CANADA in the same time period. Got that? CANADA. The first Africans, both slaves and freemen, came to New Orleans in 1720. From African cooks we get the co-creation and name of the classic Creole dish known as GUMBO - early 19th century: from the Angolan word kingombo "okra." Got that? "Cajuns" did not invent Gumbo. African cooks also contributed new ideas to French dishes such as Etouffee, resulting in the Creole classics Shrimp Etouffee and Crawfish Etouffee. Other Europeans, including Germans, Italians, Swiss, English, Irish, Scottish, Scandinavian and so on, began arriving in New Orleans in 1722. From the Germans, we got potato salad as a side for Gumbo, French/German collaborations on Andouille sausage, French/German collaborations on Boudain and the creation of fried potatoes sold in the French Market that became known as "French Fried Potatoes" and "Creole Potato Chips." From the English, we got battered/fried fish and bread pudding. From the Italians we got loaves of bread sold in the French Market that became known as "French Bread" (German bakers did the same) - as well as the creation of the classic Muffuletta sandwich. And more. All of that is Creole, not "Cajun." The first Spanish came to New Orleans in 1763, bringing more culinary influences, including a popular culinary French/Spanish collaboration called Jambalaya. Again, Creole, not "Cajun." Finally, the first "Cajuns" left Eastern Canada and came down to Louisiana in 1764. By that time the Creole people, culture, food and customs were well established. The "Cajuns," who were farmers, settled in the area west of New Orleans that would become Lafayette. And the rural Creoles of Southwest Louisiana taught the "Cajuns" how to hunt and fish in the bayous, and how to make Gumbo, Jambalaya, Bread Pudding, and everything else in between. Additional note: Following the Haitian Revolution of 1791, people from Haiti, the West Indies, Jamaica and the Caribbean also came to New Orleans, bringing even more diverse influences to Creole food and customs. Additional note: Part of the problem is that way too many people - including cooks and restaurant owners - identify themselves as "Cajun" when many times their families are actually descended from Creoles. And that's a whole 'nuther rant. Christophe Landry writes: "Cajunism operates on a Canadian and French identity; many Louisianians who have no Canadian ancestry will dig hard to find one to validate their Cajunité, too. When the genealogy proves unsuccessful, they parade around claiming to be “culturally” Cajun, anything to avoid being Creole. In their minds, Canada and France are where Whites live and come from, which makes Cajun an implicitly white ethno-racial identity." - "That leaves the remaining “Francophones” in Louisiana to continue identifying as Creoles (or, French Creoles, Spanish Creoles, or Black Creoles), making Creole, therefore, an explicitly black/mixed/other ethnic identity. Still, some Whites, in disgust, will whisper to you: "We used to call ourselves Creoles before this Cajun stuff” - or “They call themselves Cajuns, but they're all Creoles."