An Out-Of-State Translation Guide To Cajun Grocery Shopping
Here in South Louisiana, we've developed our own Cajun language, our own style of Cajun cooking, our own Cajun music and even our own unique style of Cajun architecture among hundreds of other things. We've also developed our own products for what we like to eat. For the most part, these are things you can find in just about any grocery store in the country, but down here they're just better, or at least we think so. I mean, that's why we started making them in the first place, right? We're going to walk into a grocery store, say in Arkansas, and ask you where the "White Bread" or the "Guidry's" is. You'll justifiably have no clue what we're saying. To help you out, here's your "Translation Guide To Cajun Grocery Shopping" so you can understand what the heck we're asking for.
1) Syrup - We'll walk up to you in the store and ask "Babs, you could show me where the Steen's is?" What we're really asking for is Steen's Cane Syrup. Mrs. Butterworth's or Log Cabin is respectable, but chances are we're doing much more cooking with it than just putting it on pancakes. Steen's has been a Cajun and South Louisiana staple since 1910 and is made down here in Abbeville, Louisiana. It's made from sugar cane, not maple trees, and I don't know if we'd be OK without it. Sure, we could order it on-line, but we'd rather shop local at your place.
2) Coffee - A Cajun's lifeblood is coffee. The first thing we'll look for in your store may very well be coffee. We'll ask "Where's the Community at like that?" You will probably want to give us some sort of directions, and that's totally understandable. What we're really asking for is Community Coffee. It's the only coffee we want to start our days with. Maxwell House or Sanka just isn't going to cut it. We may also ask you about Mellow Joy, another local coffee we're quite fond of. We may refer to this as "pure joi". Anything other than these will just make for a cranky Cajun, and ain't no body got time for that.
3) Chips - A Cajun loves a good potato chip as much as the next guy, but our go-to chip is a bit different than what you're probably used to. When we ask you "Meh, where you hiding the Zapp's at?", what we're really asking for is Zapp's potato chips. We've developed quite a strong bond with our spicy, peanut oil kettle cooked chips. They come in flavors like "Spicy Cajun Crawtator", "Sour Cream and Creole Onion" and "Cajun Dill Gator-tators" to name a few. Certainly your store will carry other great brands of chips, and if those are our only choices then we'll deal with it...we'll just be in the corner of the room dying a little inside with each bite, weeping "fat fat alligator tears".
4) White Bread - This is something we've become as accustomed to as our local coffee brands. We genuinely find an understanding of our place in the universe with our "white bread". Get ready for us to walk up to a cashier and ask "Looking for some white bread. Some Evangeline?" That's an acceptable way to ask a question for us. What we're really asking for is Evangeline Maid Bread. Evangeline Maid is baked right here in Lafayette on Simcoe. There's just a certain taste and texture to this stuff that we can't get with other brands. Being that it's made 20 minutes away from at least 25 stores that sell it, we get it extremely fresh, and we've grown accustomed to that. As you've noticed, we also call it "white bread". We have a ton of different types of bread down here, so that's how we say it to distinguish it from all the others.
5) Vegetables - Ever heard of the "Holy Cajun Trinity"? It's something we absolutely must have when we cook. It's only a matter of time until we stroll into your produce department and ask "Cher, where you keep the Guidry's?" You see, we're not going to ask if you actually even have Guidry's. We're just going to assume you do, and when we don't see it, we might even ask "Y'all all out of Guidry's, or no?" What we're really asking you for is celery, bell peppers and onions. Some of us ditch the celery for garlic, but that's a whole different story. Do yourself a favor, and ask us what we're going to be cooking with the "trinity".
6) Donuts - We've been blessed here in Cajun country with a man, goes by the name of Rickey Meche. Years ago Mr. Meche developed his very own recipe for some of the best damn donuts you've ever tasted. These donuts are directly responsible for a decline in workplace productivity whenever they show up at the office. We will stop mid-sentence in the middle of a sales presentation to get one of these rather than risk the chance of not having one. We're inevitably going to ask you how to "get to the Meche's". What we're really asking you is where the closest place to get donuts is. To us, donuts are Meche's, and Meche's is donuts.
7) Sausage - OK, this one is an important one. As a Cajun, there are wants and needs in life, and our beloved brand's of local sausages are absolute needs. We're going to approach someone in your meat department and ask "Where I can find some Savoie's and Richard's?" What we're really asking for is sausage. We have a couple of local brands we've become very dependent on; Savoie's and Richard's sausages. Other regional sausages from other areas just won't work with what we need it for. We can't make chicken and bratwurst gumbo, it just won't work.
You know, one thing I've never realized until writing this story, is how much we call things by their brand name. The name of the brand has become synonymous with the item we're referring to, and vice versa. Is this a south Louisiana thing, or do folks in other parts of the country do this as well?
Our need for these things has even spawned a website, cajungrocer.com, to help us get the things we need when we move to other parts of the country.