Lin Stranberg

“Have some fun, listen to some music, eat some food – come to Louisiana!” Chef Ryan Trahan of Blue Dog Café in Lafayette, who was crowned “King of American Seafood” last year after winning the 15th Annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off, charmed the crowd of media and travel professionals gathered at Vancouver’s Pacific Institute of Culinary Art last week.

In keeping with Louisiana’s tag line, “Feed Your Soul,” Chef Trahan and the Louisiana Tourism team treated the group to a generous helping of Southern hospitality and a hands-on cooking demo of a Louisiana-themed three course menu: shrimp and apple remoulade to start, blackened catfish for the entrée, and pain perdu for dessert. It was delicious, engaging and a ton of fun for everybody, a bang-on match for the message that was delivered between courses – that Louisiana is a lot more than Mardi Gras, and the parishes offer a diversified cultural, outdoors and culinary visitor experience.

Food figures big in Louisiana parishes

Parishes are the equivalent of counties in Louisiana. Each parish has something different to offer - museums, festivals, outdoor activities, history and culture – and food is front and centre in each.

Take Shreveport, for example. Known as “Louisiana’s Other Side,” this northwest Louisiana town has museums, outlet shopping (tax-free for Canadians at participating stores), the gorgeous gardens of the American Rose Center, 24-hour casinos, river cruises, a sanctuary for retired chimps (really!) and history. The 1920s Shreveport Municipal Auditorium is where Elvis Presley gave his first live performance. Being closer to Dallas than New Orleans, there’s a lot of steak and barbecue alongside the Cajun food on Shreveport menus.

With 14 parishes, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is one of the most culturally and ecologically varied regions in the US. It’s an outdoors dream, with hiking, birding, paddling, swamp tours, and bayou B&Bs.

Louisiana is the capital of food festivals, and this area is known for the Cajun-style suckling pig served at the annual Cochon de Lait Festival in May. They also have a unique take on farm-to-table here, tracing pecans from tree to pie.

Lafayette, with its strong Acadian roots, is deep Cajun country, known for its Zydeco music and spicy Cajun food. Chef Trahan’s Blue Dog Café, for example, serves up Sunday brunch with live music, and the one and only Tabasco hot sauce factory is just 30 minutes from Lafayette. You can sample tabasco ice cream, tabasco chocolate and the great beats at local Cajun and Zydeco dance halls.

Creole food reigns in Plantation Country, located within Louisiana’s River Parishes, where visitors can dine or stay in one of the many historic sugar cane plantations that dot the region. Andouille, the region’s most famous sausage, smoked and cooked into gumbo or jambalaya, is a tradition here.  Boudin and cracklings are favorites too.

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is located in Jefferson Parish, a more affordable alternative to staying in New Orleans itself. The parish extends 60 miles from Lake Ponchartrain to the Gulf of Mexico beaches and offers countless family-friendly attractions. Besides enjoying fresh off the boat seafood, visitors can explore the dining options along the Oyster Trail, where art and shellfish mix and mingle.