Cajun and Créole cuisine are mistakenly considered one in the same. They are similar because both came out of the same fusion of cultural influences. Cajun food can be thought of as ‘country cooking’ and Créole as ‘city food’.
Another misconception associated with South Louisiana’s cuisine is that it is without exception, spicy. I’ve seen recipes that are in no way ‘Cajun’ but are named as such because they are spicy hot. Cajun and Créole food both are unique in the seasonings used, but the level of spiciness is up to the cook.
The settlements of the Cajun people are south of the Atchafalaya area and north of the Gulf of Mexico. This location puts us in the middle of what we call “Sportsman’s Paradise”. The wild game and seafood, inland and offshore, are bounteous, to say the least. The Cajuns have always taken full advantage of these abundant resources and “live off the land”.
Historically, the “Cajun” was not rich monetarily. To feed their large families, they utilized what was available to them. Often, this resulted in incorporating wild game and seafood into one-pot meals. Jambalaya, originally a Spanish dish called ‘paella’, and Gumbo, from the African word for okra, became staples in the Cajun kitchen.
The word ‘Créole’ comes from the Spanish word ‘Criollo’ and means ‘child born in the colonies’. Originally, this referred to those born to Europeans from France and Spain. Eventually, the term came to include those of mixed, African heritage as well.
Créole cooking came mainly from people of means that could afford the ingredients to make creamy soups and sauces. For example, they use butter in place of oil for a roux. The Italian influence would result in a red gravy made with a roux and tomatoes, which is more characteristic of Créole cuisine.
My Grandma incorporated both Cajun and Créole methods in her cooking. I think growing up in a Cajun community, then cooking in the convent in New Orleans, really influenced the meals she made for her family. From Shrimp and Hot Dog Jambalaya to Smothered Rabbit and White Beans, we all looked forward to Saturday nights at “Grandma’s house”!