The Beignets of Cafe du Monde New Orleans

By Abi King | Tempt Me

Jun 25

Beignets at Cafe du Monde New Orleans

Above green and white stripes, the fans spin around.

And around.

Faster and faster, round and around. Frantic, fizzing, furious above the speckled sugar, they spin and spin, the hot air hugging them with a stubbornness that’s almost chic.

Crowds at Cafe du Monde New Orleans

Cafe du Monde New Orleans

This is Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, an icon for visitors to this port city on the Mississippi, the place where the river forms a crescent before it wriggles on through the swampy wetlands to the Gulf of Mexico at the southern edge of Louisiana.

It’s not my first time here, and I hope that it won’t be my last.

Today I’m here to record a live broadcast for Lonely Planet, the replay of which you can watch over here.

But before that, I arrived hungry and jetlagged, husband and baby in tow, for a last supper before we collected our trusty steed.

Or in other words, to munch some food in the name of research before picking up our hire car for a road trip around Louisiana.

Abi King from @insidetravellab at Oak Alley Plantation

Travelling on a road trip around Louisiana

For although a polished wooden ceiling waits above photos from a quieter age, people don’t come to Cafe du Monde for the decor.

They come here for a slice of history, and in more ways that one at that.

Cafe du Monde translates to mean cafe of the world – and a quick glance at the clientele reveals that to be true. An off the beaten track destination this is not.

It’s more a rite of passage: more civilised than boozy Bourbon Street, less time-bound than Breakfast at Brennan’s.

Its draw? The fact that it opened in 1862, for sure.

And that there’s only one dish on the menu: those sugary, legendary New Orleans beignets.

Beignets in Cafe du Monde New Orleans

A Beignet in Cafe du Monde

A beignet in Cafe du Monde comes as one of three, all hot and fresh and smothered in sugar so soft it’s as though someone has raided a small child’s snow globe and sieved out all the larger snowflakes. They’re crispy on the outside, slightly soft within, and come stacked one atop the other like a dented set of cards.

During my time in Louisiana, I’ve lost count of the different stories I’ve heard about this calorie-defying snack.

One that it’s related to Spanish churros: hot, sweet and crunchy, just perfect for revellers recharging as they slowly stagger home.

Another that they’re lifted straight from the patisseries of France, then another that 16th century English bennets predate the dish, and even some unlikely sounding claims linking beignets to the German treat spritz keuken.

Cafe du Monde in New Orleans historic eatery

Medieval Cookbooks

Probably my favourite quote to date is the one from Gael Stirler on her essay on beignets:

“Terrance Scully, author and translator of many medieval and Renaissance cookbooks writes in The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, “Every major recipe collection of Medieval Europe is absolutely bound to contain, somewhere between its first and last pages, directions for at least a dish or two called either a crisp (or crépe or crispello) or a doughnut. The procedure involved in making either of theses is quite simple. All that is needed is, on the one hand, hot grease in a pan or a pot and, on the other, a dough or batter to drop into it.” And what better way is there to break Lent than with a beautiful, puffy, fried treat known as a beignet. ”

So, before our beignet grows cold, let’s simply agree to beignets having a European origin, most likely French, and move right on to coffee.

Cafe du Monde New Orleans - with chicory coffee

Chicory Coffee in Cafe du Monde

Coffee in Cafe Du Monde not only comes wiht beginets, it also comes with chicory, an ingredient with a glamorous name but a rather less salubrious background.

At some point here on the Mississippi, the coffee supplies dwindled. So merchants filled out the stocks they had with the roots of the endive plant, our mate chicory.

After a while, vendors realised they could get away with it people grew to prefer the taste and a New Orleans custom was born.

But why all this food history? And why am I spending so much time talking about New Orleans Cafe du Monde?

Why talk about Cafe du Monde New Orleans?

A seat at sugary Cafe du Monde gives a snapshot of the area’s history.

France did found the city in 1718 and from here you can see the architectural footprints of the French Quarter, oozing with ornate iron balconies and some olde world charm. The Spanish, too, owned these streets for a while, their legacy visible as cornflower blue tiles that spell out the street names.

The British and Germans have had their footsteps here and the role of sugar is inextricably linked to Louisiana, providing her with both unprecedented wealth and the unenviable title of having been the largest slave trade port within the United States. (A drive along Louisiana’s Great Mississippi River Road that runs between New Orleans and state capital Baton Rouge shows plenty of evidence of that.)

Voodoo and the French Quarter in New Orleans - a short walk from Cafe du Monde

New Orleans: City of the World

But today, I’d say that New Orleans is one of the cities that does seem to belong to the world.

It’s the birthplace of jazz, the flamboyant protector of Mardi Gras, home to the oldest Catholic parish created by and for African Americans, and it’s part of the global kitchen that helped create the distinctive Cajun and Creole cuisine.

It stood firm when Katrina moved her eye across the storm.

And it seems to go wobbly at the knees when a cute baby is in town.

Abi and Rosa with streetcar in New Orleans

Cafe du Monde: Launchpad for Driving Around the State of Louisiana

New Orleans has blended cultures from West Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, northern America, and more.

On a map, it’s pretty much half way between Texas and Florida. Yet when I speak to people back home, Louisiana has nowhere near as much fame.

Which, excusing the rhyme, seems a shame.

So for all these reasons, I decided that the Cafe du Monde was as good a place as any to start my tales of our Fly-Drive trip around Louisiana.

Cultural.

Historic.

And, let’s face it, sweet.

Well, a girl’s gotta make the most of these things, eh?!

Gas light at Cafe du Monde New Orleans

#DriveLsa Road Trip around Louisiana

They said once you have kids you’ll never travel again.

Then they said we’d be condemned to standard “family friendly” fare.

Well, if you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m on a mission to find out (read, desperately hope that) that’s just not the case.

That the world can still be explored, savoured and enjoyed, whether or not you have a little person travelling with you. And that it can be good for them too.

So, we started with a weekend in Shrewsbury then moved on to flying to stay with friends in New York.

This road trip through Louisiana marks the first fully fledged trip as a small family of three. And, spoiler alert, it was amazing.

So follow along on social media on #DriveLsa or else subscribe to our newsletter to find out more (there’ll be other travel news, too, but this way you’ll get everything about Louisiana.)

There will also be a full post on the practicalities of the itinerary  – applicable to those with or without kids. See you there!

New Orleans art on Royal Street

Where to Stay in New Orleans

The Old No 77 Hotel

Oh, how I loved this bare brick, overflowing art hotel set in the artsy Warehouse District. Great service, cool design and a built in art exhibition – check out the broadcast over here.

Maison Dupuy, the French Quarter

This has the perfect location for travelling with a young baby in New Orleans: right within the French Quarter but a safe distance away from the party scene on Bourbon Street. From here, you can easily walk to Louis Armstrong Park, Jackson Square, the art galleries on Royal Street and Breakfast at Brennan’s.

4th July celebrations in NEw Orleans

Arranging a Road Trip in Louisiana

A great American road trip has been on our radar for a LONG time – and we hope to hit the road again in the future!

Having surveyed lots of different tools, I have to say that the Hertz Road Trip Planner is a great resource to help you start to plot out your itinerary and key things you want to see. We picked up the tail end of the Great River Road, Eat the East Coast (more beignets) and Sounds of the South. 

For more on New Orleans, check out the New Orleans CVB and for more on state-wide Louisiana, visit the Louisiana Travel portal.

Watch out for a dedicated itinerary for #DriveLsa and tips on setting up a road trip that works for everyone, including baby.

Disclosure –  I travelled through Louisiana with support from a number of local CVBs and local companies, in particular Visit New Orleans, Louisiana Travel and TTM World. My trusty steed was sponsored by Hertz UK. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, there’s just no point.

 

Beignet at Cafe du Monde serve as an excellent introduction to New Orleans and Louisiana. See the French Quarter and find out what to do next - via @insidetravellab

 

So tell me: have you had a beignet at Cafe du Monde?

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