Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Heart of Cajun Country - Don't Mess With My Tu-Tu...

We took Highway 90 to Abbeville, not far from Lafayette, the heart of Cajun country, where we pulled into Betty’s RV Park. We had heard about Betty’s from a neighbor in New Orleans. They said it was a fun place to stay and it was just as they had reported - only seventeen spots and a gathering place attached to her house called Betty’s Louisiana Room, where she hosts a happy hour everyday at 4:30.

Pictured are a couple of shots that give an idea of the eccentricities of Betty. She sells t-shirts that read: You’ve Been Caught in Betty’s Web.

We explored the quaint and historic town of Abbeville and then attended the happy hour where we met people from: upstate NewYork, Oklahoma, Australia, Washington State and Texas. Everybody brought appetizers and there was a lot of lively conversation.

I learned that the main crops in Louisiana are Cane Sugar, Crawfish and rice. We saw a lot of evidence of both on our drive from New Orleans. What I didn’t know was that the rice fields are flooded three times, each time a little deeper, and then the heads of the rice plants are cropped before chimneys (ABS pipes) are stuck into the mud below. Crawfish traps are then placed over the chimneys and the Crawfish, which live in the mud, kind of like worms, are baited and crawl into the traps. They look like small lobsters.

The next day, while our laundry was going round, we asked some local shop owners where we could experience some local flavour. We decided on lunch at Shuck’s Restaurant where we split a cup of Smoked Duck and Andouille (spicy) Sausage Gumbo and a Shrimp Patty Burger. The shrimp patty had surprisingly large pieces of shrimp in it, and just the right amount of heat. The restaurant was one big, square room, but was full at 11:30 and had a lineup at the door when we left.

Pictured is Shuck’s restaurant.

After lunch we drove to Avery Island, the home of the Tabasco Sauce factory and store, where we bought some east Asian Style Chili/Tabasco sauce. We had actually been to Avery Island in 1995, on a six-week road trip we did right after we sold the newspaper. We were motelling it that time.

Pictured is Janice contemplating a theft at the Tabasco store.

We made a quick appearance at the Happy Hour that afternoon. Quick, because everyone else was going to a restaurant for crawfish. We declined because we’d already had lunch out, and because Janice had Pork Necks in the crock pot. Pork Necks? Yes, they’re very common in the stores here so we decided to give them a whirl. When slow cooked they‘re as delicious as the locals had claimed.

On Friday we drove to Lafayette, the hub of Zydeco music. I had my mind set on picking up one of those stainless steel, vest-style, washboards. They call them Rub-boards here. We had been offered one for $100.00 by the percussionist at The Bayou Club in New Orleans but I didn’t know if that was the going price or I would be paying way too much - after all it was the French Quarter. Maybe I should have jumped on it because it was made by Waylon Thibodeaux’s dad, whom, it turns out, is more famous than I had realized. You can check him out at

As it turned out however it was probably best I didn't buy it from him. After scouting all of the pawn shops in Lafayette by phone, I found that the Acadiana Pawn Shop had a couple of used Rub-boards. We took the twenty minute drive to go and look. It turns out that this pawn shop is the major dealer for musical instruments for the Cajun and Zydeco musicians in the area.

When we were there the guy who had been Buckwheat Zydeco’s guitar player for many years came in, accompanied by a couple of other younger Zydeco musicians. The owner introduced us to all of them but I can’t remember their names. They were all very friendly and accommodating and told us about the hot spots around town, where we could find the kind of music we were looking for. One even gave me a demonstration on the Rub-board that I was looking at. They were headed to a gig in Texas somehwere.

The board had been well used and when I offered the owner $40 he said, “Sure” and then threw in a CD by Buckwheat’s current guitar player, Lil’ Buck Sinegal.

According to one of the Cajun’s who we spoke to at Betty's happy hour, Zydeco is the Africanization of Cajun music. Could be. Whatever - we love it.

On the way back to Abbeville we stopped at Richard's Butchery and bought some Boudain (cooked pork and rice, wrapped like sausage, which Janice deep fried and took to happy hour) and Cracklin,(fried pork fat). These are both local delicacies. Janice loves the Cracklin - I can't handle it - too greasy.

Pictured: Me, back at Betty’s, with my new purchase.

Later in the day we walked around Abbeville.
Pictured are: The graveyard, (in the south they call them Memorial Gardens) at St. Mary’s church - almost all the older graves are above ground - maybe because of flooding? Also, St. Mary’s Church, which is enormous for a town this small.

Just before happy hour, we took a drive to Suire’s Grocery & Restaurant. It’s a tiny place on a very rural crossroads but has been written up by several major publications, including the New York Times and the Houston Chronicle, for having the best and most authentic Cajun food anywhere. We’re going to stop on our way out of town to eat there.

Pictured is Suire's Restaurant.

On Saturday morning we drove to the small town of Breaux Bridge, just outside of Lafayette. Our destination was the Café Des Amis, one of the recommendations of the Zydeco musicians we'd met at the pawn shop. Starting at 8:00am they seve breakfast, accompanied by a live Zydeco band. In this case it was Corey Ledet and his Zydeco band. Amazing. He has a new CD that I bought for $10. They're playing one of the tunes from it on the radio down here. The band literally had the place jumping. If you've ever been to the Commodore Ballroom and experienced the suspended dance floor, that was what this felt like. Upon arrival, patrons are given an electronic coaster-like-thing and, when your table is ready, the thing flashes and buzzes - it was a great idea because there's no way you could hear the hostess's voice over the din - a combination of the music, the shuffling of feet, tapping of toes and the overall excitement of the crowd. Our table never came up until an hour after we got there but the food was excellent. I bought a t-shirt too and the entire bill was $27.96.

Pictured is Café Des Amis. The band had the place rocking, at eight in the morning! Well, that's what they told us anyyway - we never got there until ten. When we got seated we enjoyed Shrimp with Honey Aoli and Pecans as well as Corn Bread Smothered with Crawfish Etouffe.

When we left Cafe Des Amis we looked around Breaux Bridge a little, where I spotted the laughing lady, (which I probably would have bought had it been a lamp that glowed from within) and, some typical rustic looking Breaux Bridge buildings.

We drove back to a small town called Erath to take in the annual Gumbo Cook-off. One of the contestants is pictured below. We paid $2 and got to try a couple of samples. Mmmm...

Later we went to the jam session at Calvin Touchet’s at Maurice, another small town five munties from Abbeville, where they jam strictly Cajun music every second Saturday. The weeks in between the jam goes to Erath. Drinks were ridiculously cheap - a red wine and a beer coast $3 for both, and, there was free beef stew and salad later.
Pictured is Tim jamming with a bunch of regulars at Calvin Touchet's.

We love Louisiana. It's not much to look at but the food and music make it truly memorable. According to Betty, the people from the north observe this about the Cajuns's. "You Cajun's don't sit around counting your money like we do. You're too busy living it to save it." She claims, "Dat's da truth - fo sho."

Anybody wanting to take a unique week-long holiday should try flying to Lafayette, picking up The Times or visiting the Acadiana Pawn Shop to see what's happening, and then visiting with some of these colourful characters in their unique hangouts.

This being Sunday morning we're hitting the road again - destination southern Texas. We'd love to stay here some more but Janice claims it's going to make her fat if we do...

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