A bowl of New Orleans chicken and sausage gumbo

Your Guide to New Orleans Food History

New Orleans, Weddings

Modern New Orleans cuisine is a testament to the diverse heritage that shapes New Orleans food history. Dive into the flavorful history of New Orleans cuisine that reflects cultural exchange, innovation, and resilience. Let’s explore the origins of iconic dishes, unravel the cultural influences that shape Creole and Cajun cuisines, and celebrate the enduring popularity of New Orleans food both within the city and beyond! 

New Orleans Food History 

Modern New Orleans food is a blend of French, Native American, African, German, and Spanish cuisine, resulting from the founding of New Orleans in the early 18th century. Each culture contributes unique ingredients and flavors that make New Orleans food distinctive and delicious.

In the late 17th century, French colonists traded locally sourced foods with native tribes. This included beans, corn, shellfish, and other items that are still common ingredients in New Orleans food today. Enslaved people introduced African cooking techniques to the French, and gumbo became a popular dish amongst settlers. Soon after, German settlers introduced sausages and dairy farming to Louisiana.

When Louisiana was acquired by Spain in 1764, locals, who became known as “Creoles,” began using Spanish and Caribbean spices and ingredients, elevating their cuisine. French settlers in Nova Scotia who landed in the Bayou region of New Orleans became known as “Cajuns.” 

Creole vs. Cajun Food

Creole food is characterized by its sophisticated flavors and diverse ingredients influenced by French, Spanish, African, and Native American culinary traditions. Creole dishes often feature rich sauces, complex seasonings, and a wide variety of seafood. Classic Creole dishes include gumbo, étouffée, jambalaya, and shrimp Creole.

Cajun food is known for its robust flavors, spice, and ingredients that were available in the bayous of Louisiana. Cajun dishes often feature smoked meats, game, and seafood, along with staples like rice, corn, and beans. Popular Cajun dishes include gumbo and boudin.

While both Creole and Cajun cuisines share some common ingredients and dishes, such as gumbo and étouffée, critical differences exist in their preparation, flavor profiles, and cultural influences. Creole cuisine tends to utilize more sauces and seafood, while Cajun cuisine is typically heartier, focusing on smoked and stewed meats. Despite these distinctions, both Creole and Cajun cuisines are celebrated for their enduring popularity within New Orleans and beyond.

Traditional Dishes: The Holy Trinity

The trio of onions, bell peppers, and celery, also known as the Holy Trinity, forms the backbone of countless Cajun and Creole dishes. Each component brings its distinct flavor profile to the table: the sweetness of onions, the subtle spice of bell peppers, and the earthy freshness of celery. When combined in equal parts and sautéed together, they create a harmonious base that serves as the foundation for many iconic dishes throughout New Orleans food history. The Holy Trinity is a cornerstone of New Orleans cooking due to its versatility and ability to elevate any dish. Traditional New Orleans Creole and Cajun dishes that use the Holy Trinity include:


A hearty blend of rice and seafood or meat, jambalaya is believed to have evolved from Spanish paella but is unique to New Orleans. The name “jambalaya” is derived from the combination of two words: “jambon,” the French word for ham, and “aya,” a West African word for rice. Over time, this dish included a wide array of ingredients readily available in the region, including local seafood like shrimp, crab, and crawfish, as well as smoked sausages, chicken, and vegetables. Creole jambalaya, often referred to as “red jambalaya,” typically includes tomatoes along with rice and other ingredients, reflecting the influence of Spanish and Italian cuisines in New Orleans. Cajun jambalaya is tomato-free and tends to be spicier, featuring a darker color due to the use of browned meats and Cajun spices. Jambalaya is not only a beloved dish in Louisiana but has also gained popularity throughout the United States for its affordability, flavor profile, and the comforting feeling it provides diners. 


The term “étouffée” comes from the French word meaning “smothered” or “suffocated,” which perfectly describes the cooking method used to prepare this dish. Depending on the season, étouffée is typically made with shellfish, most commonly crawfish or shrimp. The dish is characterized by a thick and flavorful sauce and a variety of herbs and spices. It is often served over a bed of rice, allowing the sauce to soak into the grains, creating a satisfying meal. Creole étouffée uses a French roux made from butter and flour, while the Cajun version is made with oil or animal fat.

Red Beans and Rice

A quintessential comfort food of New Orleans, red beans and rice is a dish that celebrates the simplicity of New Orleans cooking. This dish can be traced back to the practice of cooking beans and rice by West Africans during Louisiana’s colonial period. Because the ingredients were readily available and inexpensive, the dish gained popularity. Over time, red beans and rice became a Monday night tradition since it required minimal preparation while house chores were being completed, plus it used the ham bone left over from Sunday night dinner. Today, red beans and rice remain integral to New Orleans Creole food culture. Try this dish with smoked sausage or more exotic meats for an elevated and unique version!


A thick stew of meat, seafood, and vegetables, gumbo epitomizes New Orleans food history. Gumbo comes from the West African word “ki ngombo” for okra, which was initially used as a thickening agent for the stew. Today, okra can be included or omitted at the preference of the chef! 

While there are several variations of gumbo, each recipe begins with the Holy Trinity. Two distinct styles of gumbo emerged: Creole and Cajun. Creole gumbo, born in New Orleans and influenced by French, Spanish, and African culinary traditions, typically includes tomatoes, which lend the dish a slightly tangy flavor and a reddish hue. Cajun gumbo, originating in rural Acadiana, tends to be darker and richer, omitting tomatoes. Today, gumbo remains an iconic symbol of New Orleans and makes for the perfect meal. 

Elysian Events Catering 

Rooted in tradition yet infused with innovation, Elysian Events Catering pays homage to iconic Creole and Cajun flavors while offering a contemporary twist. Drawing inspiration from the diverse cultural influences that have shaped New Orleans cuisine, Elysian Events crafts exquisite menus that utilize fresh seafood from the Gulf Coast and locally grown produce. 

Let Elysian Events Catering bring the taste of New Orleans to your next event and elevate it to new heights. Whether hosting an elegant wedding or an intimate celebration, our team of skilled chefs is dedicated to creating an unforgettable culinary experience! We offer flexible wedding catering packages that can be tailored to your specific needs. Try some of our favorite New Orleans-inspired dishes like:

  • Gulf seafood ceviche
  • Shrimp remoulade 
  • Louisiana crabmeat ravigote
  • Eggplant creole 
  • Shrimp and grits 
  • Seafood gumbo
  • Oysters 
  • And more! 

If you want to elevate your event, consider one of our bar or station options! Our Creole rice bar is the perfect way to incorporate traditional and modern Creole flair to any occasion. Taste our chicken and andouille gumbo topped with okra or the crawfish étouffée with freshly grilled scallions. In addition, we offer a mini poboy station, carving station, and stone ground grits bar. As experts in New Orleans food with over a decade of experience, we go above and beyond to ensure a seamless and enjoyable event.  

Elysian Events Catering invites you to savor the flavors of the Big Easy and experience the magic of our hospitality! If you’re looking for the best New Orleans food for your next event, trust Elysian Events Catering. Contact us today and discover how our team can create a custom menu that pays homage to the rich history of New Orleans cuisine.

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