Beign-yay!

by

I’ve been having a bit of an existential crisis about this blog.

What is the point?

What is the point of food writing in general? Do we really need to know what someone thinks about the same food that thousands, if not millions of other people have also tasted? What value does food writing add to the world? Does my food writing add any value to the world?

No answers yet. In the meantime, Diane insists I keep writing before my despair takes over the cookbook project, so I’m adding my two cents to all the millions of words that have already been written about food in New Orleans.

This past Memorial Day weekend, my college girlfriends and I traveled to New Orleans for our annual reunion. I can’t say that I fell in love with New Orleans. It was too hot to fall in love with anything or anyone. The food that New Orleans is most famous for—fried, buttered, po’boy-ed—is the kind of food that, at least for this Northerner, tastes best in cooler weather, when you want to pack on the insulation.

But beignets are different. By definition, they are fried squares of dough blanketed in copious amounts of powdered sugar. They have no right to taste light, ethereal, and inconsequential on a hot summer night. Yet somehow they do at Cafe du Monde.

With seven women flying in from seven different locations on a major holiday weekend, we were relatively grateful that five of us managed to get in late Friday night. We headed to Café du Monde straight from the airport. Open 24 hours, this famed cafe sits at the edge of the French Quarter near the Mississippi River, far enough away from Bourbon Street to feel like a brightly lit refuge, with its green and white awning glowed in the night.

Not that there’s any real Old World charm. The coffee is served in Styrofoam cups with flimsy plastic lids. The chairs are equally flimsy, clustered around laminate tables looking ever so faintly like marble. The ceiling fans do little to move the hot air. The service is slow and not particularly gracious, and the floor tiles are noticeably sticky.

But as I bit into a beignet and puffs of powdered sugar fell on the floor and on me, I knew why the floor was sticky. I knew others had done the same all day, with probably the same joy and surprise that this tourist trap actually served fresh, hot, delicious donuts with the unmistakable flavor of good, serious dough. If the floor was sticky with the residue of a hundred thousand beignets, so be it. If the night was sweltering, so be it.

I think that’s what I loved most, the feeling that nothing at that moment mattered as much as catching up with some of my closest friends, eating beignets and slurping frozen cafe au laits in the middle of the night. The donut is not the best donut in the world, and the coffee is not the best coffee in the world. But both are honest, real pleasures.

(The forced debauchery of Bourbon Street, not so much.)

So hooray, New Orleans! Beign-yay!

(One of the best T-shirt designs at Storyville on Magazine Street.)

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2 Responses to “Beign-yay!”

  1. Matt Reid Says:

    What’s the point? Well, sure, millions of people have tried CdM beignets. Most have liked them, some have not, very few would I trust–even count on–to describe and explain the experience of eating beignets so reliably, evocatively and jealousy-inspiringly. Keep writing, please!

  2. Grace Says:

    Matt, thank you, that’s really sweet!

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