Greetings from the bayou. Venerable Crawfish here. Some may call me a protectionist but I hate for tourists visiting Louisiana to not get their money’s worth. I mean to say, the bottom has dropped out of the oil barrel and we’re relying on tourism to pay the bill. Why feed tourists foreign crawfish?
Visitors to the world famous New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival looking to try Louisiana’s most famous crustacean, the crawfish, may be getting crawfish that speak Chinese or Spanish.
WBRZ, the ABC affiliate in Baton Rouge, just a few miles upriver from NOLA, reported in a news story filed April 24, 2016, “From cochon de lait po-boys to pecan catfish meuniere, food is almost as important at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival as the music. Thousands of people flocked to stands selling food and drinks distinctive to southern Louisiana on Sunday. Katrina Kiernan was eating a soft-shelled crab po-boy – the local name for sandwiches. During the weekend she’d already tried the crawfish Monica, the cochon de lait po-boy and the crawfish streudel. She said she’d heard that the crawfish Monica – a crawfish and pasta dish made with plenty of cream and butter – was rumored to be a thousand calories. But shrugged her shoulders and said. “Who cares?” The food is generally from restaurants or catering companies around the New Orleans area and southern Louisiana.”
Hmmm. Why is Ms. Kiernan worrying about calories? She ought to be concerned about where the crawfish is sourced. Just because one is in Louisiana, that doesn’t mean the crawfish tailmeat in that streudel or Monica is from Louisiana? Maybe, maybe not. If you want to know if it’s Louisiana crawfish, ask. The “Ask Before You Eat” law requires restaurants to inform the customer if the crawfish is from Louisiana. (If you’re eating boiled crawfish, it’s most assuredly Louisiana crawfish. I’m talking about the tail meat.A lot of crawfish tail meat is sourced from China or Spain).
Louisiana Revised Statute regarding imported crawfish or shrimp allows “no owner or manager of a restaurant that sells imported crawfish or shrimp shall misrepresent to the public, either verbally, on a menu, or on signs displayed on the premises, that the crawfish or shrimp is domestic.”
So, “is you is or is you ain’t my Cajun crawfish?” The answer is simple. Ask chef if the crawfish he/she is serving you is bona fide Louisiana crawfish.
You: Mais, cher. Is that crawfish from the Louisiana bayou or crawfish pond?”
Restaurant server: (puzzled look) I don’t know. I’ll ask the boss.
You: I’ve flown hundreds of miles to come here to eat Louisiana crawfish. Can you find out?
You would think that any Louisiana restaurateur would proudly proclaim the crawfish they serve is from Acadiana. Go figure. Take a minute to think about it. Would you rather have etouffee that was cooked with fresh crawfish sourced from Louisiana or frozen crawfish sourced from thousands of miles away? Aren’t you worth the best, the freshest and the safest?
So how did Chinese crawfish make such a big splash in Louisiana, the land that invented crawfish?
The answer is found in Sam Irwin’s Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean.
Radio broadcaster, educator and early proponent of Cajunism Revon Reed said the crawfish is the only animal that will not leave its post when faced with the onslaught of a coming train. The Cajun crustacean, however, had never seen anything like the Reds from the East.
For several years Chinese crawfish lurked around the edges of the market. Restaurants and other retail outlets were using them but kept it relatively hush-hush. A 1996 Advocate article revealed that many of the food vendors at the esteemed New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival were using Chinese crawfish. It was an embarrassing debut, kind of like a drunk uncle at Christmas.
“The Chinese have taken over the crawfish pies, etouffée, file gumbo and most other crawfish dishes at the huge outdoor festival,” wrote Advocate reporter Mary Foster. “The crawfish from overseas are too cheap to pass up.”]
How did Chinese crawfish get to Louisiana? First a bullfrog brought them to Japan from New Orleans and later Louisiana merchants invited them back.”
So as I, Venerable Crawfish, leave you with this fascinating bit of culinary history, I’ll let you in on a secret… I could be boiled for this startling revelation. The unwitting tourist is playing right into the hands of the Jurassic Crawfish High Council For World Domination. We’re going to take over the world, one epicurean at a time.