If you’re looking for authentic Cajun culture in New Orleans, you’re looking in the wrong place. Lafourche Parish, located just 35 miles south of the city, stretches along the 100-mile bayou of the same name. Everything about this place is unapologetically Cajun.
Here are a few highlights of this off-the-grid stretch of Louisiana, so hop in the car, hop on Route 308 and get ready to loosen your belt.
Cajun Bayou Food Trail
The Cajun Bayou Food Trail features 22 restaurants and events — Photo courtesy of Lydia Schrandt
The Cajun Bayou Food Trail comprises 22 restaurants, festivals and events dotted among the Cajun communities up and down the bayou. Some are homey diners, complete with checkered table cloths and servers who call you 'darlin.' Others are roadside fast food joints, dive bars or '50s-style cafes. The common denominator is a passion for food, flavor and Cajun tradition.
At Bourgeois Meat Market in Thibodaux, local patrons line up for the traditional smoked beef jerky, as well as boudin, hogshead cheese, Andouille sausage and an in-house favorite, the boudin burrito.
Shrimp boulette with white beans from Kajun Twist, a popular diner on the Cajun Bayou Food Trail — Photo courtesy of Lydia Schrandt
Harry’s Po-boys caters to the fast food crowd with its huge, messy and delicious roast beef po'boys drenched in a homemade gravy. Napkins required. At Rose’s Cafe, breakfast packs enough calories to keep you sated the whole day with dishes like cinnamon roll French toast, shrimp omelets and crab cakes with crawfish cream sauce.
Fremin’s is the place to be on a Friday night. Housed in a historic 19th-century building in Downtown Thibodaux, this fine dining establishment celebrates local flavors and ingredients with dishes like chargrilled oysters, softshell crab and a spicy crawfish tortellini carbonara. The menu during Flanagan’s Sunday Jazz Brunch features fresh pulled beignets, fiery voodoo shrimp and eggs Benedict smothered in creamy crawfish sauce.
2 Da Swamp Bayou Tours
An alligator comes for a snack of raw chicken during a tour of the LaBranche Wetlands — Photo courtesy of Lydia Schrandt
For a taste of what life is like along Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, hop aboard a boat for a tour of the LaBranche Wetlands. See what the view is like from a working duck blind, help pull up crab traps to learn about the art of crab fishing, sail past 100-year-old cypress trees and spot some of Louisiana’s local wildlife – alligators, bald eagles, waterfowl and deer.
2 Da Swamp headquarters in Des Allemands doubles as a Cajun museum displaying dugout pirogues and a massive collection of hand-carved duck decoys. Captain Clyde McCulley, owner of 2 Da Swamp Bayou Tours, was born and raised in Lafourche Parish, and he's so intimate with the bayou, he's named the alligators who often make appearances on his tours.
Chine’s Cajun Net Shop
Lawrence Chine Terrebonne at work making shrimp nets — Photo courtesy of Lydia Schrandt
If you’re like most Americans, you probably don’t have to think to much about how your food gets to your plate. Lawrence "Chine" Terrebonne has been making shrimp nets in his father's shop since he was a child. You’ll still find him at the Golden Meadow shop most days from 5 am to 5 pm, sewing nets and chatting in French with his employees, many of them family members.
Visitors to the unassuming shop can learn about the local fishing industry by seeing firsthand the work that goes into making and repairing nets, some as long as 100 feet. The staff even sew up mini nets as visitor souvenirs, perfect for carrying vegetables or boiling potatoes.
Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center
The Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center, part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, tells the story of the Acadians, who immigrated to Louisiana’s bayous, through their clothing, religion, cuisine and music. Rangers offer guided boat tours of the bayou, as well as historic walking tours, French lessons, birdwatching outings and live music.
Cajun music jam at the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center — Photo courtesy of Louisiana's Cajun Bayou
E.D. White Historic Site
One stop on the ranger-led boat tour is a 19th-century sugar plantation on the banks of Bayou Lafourche.
Louisiana’s first Supreme Court Justice lived in Lafourche Paris, and his historic plantation home is now a National Historic Landmark shaded by giant oak trees. Exhibits within the home, now a museum, tell the story of the parish, with features on Acadian settlers, slavery in the area, the sugar cane industry, Chitimacha Indians and the White Family.
E.D. White Historic Site — Photo courtesy of Lydia Schrandt
Visitors to the kitchen in the backyard, recreated to look as it would have in White’s time, can sample chicory coffee and cornbread cooked in a cast iron over the hearth.
La Fete des Vieux Temps
"The Festival of Old Times" celebrates all things Cajun. The weekend, hosted each October, kicks off with a Boucherie, a traditional Cajun pig roast where the whole community comes together to butcher, process and cook a pig. Festival vendors sell chicken sausage gumbo, shrimp boulettes, jambalaya and cracklings, washed down with a frozen cocktail – the festival special – called Bayou Water.
A contestant cooks up sauce piquante during the annual La Fete des Vieux Temps — Photo courtesy of Lydia Schrandt
There’s a sauce piquante cook-off and a working sugar cane syrup mill, as well as demonstrations and workshops in herbal medicine, file making and South Louisiana folklore. Live music and dancing keeps things hopping well into the night.