Cajun VS Creole. What's the difference?
Cajun / Creole: Tomāto / Tomăto – Wait! Tomato / No Tomato!
A few years ago, before masks and hand sanitizers were de rigueur, your humble narrator, Drew Carré, found himself in a hole-in-the-wall diner somewhere between Houma and the Texas-Louisiana border. It was late in the morning and I was looking over the rather limited menu when Boudreau and Thibodaux (assumed names!), who were the only other customers in the place, started a heated “discussion.”
“Mais non!”, Boudreau was saying, bits of breakfast muffuletta spiraling from his mouth. “You do NOT put butter in your gumbo!! Maman always use lard and she was always right! She was right or you took a beating, I tell you what!”
“Loud and wrong as always, cher,” replied Thibodaux. “the butter goes better with the tomatoes that my Maw-Maw grew in her garden….”
“Tomatoes!!!! Why don’t you just add filé and ruin the whole thing!” barked Boudreau, his face beginning to resemble his despised tomato. And on it went.
At one point, both men stopped arguing and looked over at me as if I was a piece of hard shell in a soft-shell po-boy. I buried my face in the tiny plastic menu and pretended that I was blind as well as deaf. Satisfied that I was both, they returned their attention to each other.
It was then that I realized that many people may be confused as to the difference in the cuisines that Boudreau and Thibodaux were debating – What's the difference between Cajun and Creole? In my last blog about Paul Prudhomme , I lumped them together when I wrote “Cajun and creole cooking went from a largely local thing to a worldwide phenomenon!” Tsk, tsk.
So, let’s look at the difference in Cajun VS Creole.
First, who were the peoples that these two words refer to? In very over-simplified terms (and I mean VERY!), Cajuns are descendants from the French-speaking Acadians that were kicked out of what is now New Brunswick-ish and Nova Scotia-ish, Canada-ish by the British. The story goes that each family walked the distance to the swamps of Louisiana with their pet lobsters. By the time they reached half a continent away, their lobsters had lost so much weight, they had become the size of crawfish! What? I for one believe that, since they also lost the “A” and the hard “d” and “Acadian” became “Cajun.”
The Creoles, on the other hand, are descendants of mixed colonial French (and sometimes Spanish} and African and/or Native American people. Back in the day, one’s status in society was often dictated by the amount of Creole-ness one possessed. Imagine a time when people were judged by where they were born and who their parents were! Er, oh right. Well, some things are harder to change than others. But I digress….
Anyway, Creoles tended to live in the city, while Cajuns were largely country-folk. And that is where the difference between their cuisines can be best summarized.
Cajun food is “of the land.” As I said, Cajuns live largely in the country, amongst the bayous centering around towns such as Breaux Bridge and Lafayette. This “food of the land” includes pork, redfish, and crawfish (and yes, even alligator!)
Adding wonderfully tasty spices and rice, they are often served in one-pot dishes such as dirty rice and jambalaya. Smoking the local meats created such delicacies as boudin and andouille sausage. And while pork cracklings may not be good for your heart, they’re great for your soul!
Creole food, on the other hand, is more cosmopolitan, as the people who developed it lived largely in the city (specifically THE city – New Orleans, the Big Easy, the Crescent City, the City that care forgot, the…well, you get it). The roots come from Europe, Africa, and pre-colonial America. Seafood, as opposed to swamp-food are the stars here – think delicious Gulf Shrimp and Snapper. Creole food is characterized by rich sauces, local herbs, and fresh tomatoes.
It is Gumbo, however, which is a staple of both cuisines. Tomato-based Creole Gumbo is more a soup, while roux-based Cajun Gumbo is more a stew. It was often said that a Creole feeds one family with three chickens and a Cajun feeds three families with one chicken.
If you’re interested in simple but hugely important preparation and cooking tips, make sure to check out Chef Karen’s blog on different roux and gumbos on this website. While you’re at it, order some fine Louisiana-made products from Cajun@Home so that you can replicate her recipes. Serve them to your friends and remember to tell them that Drew Carré sent ya!