Rice is life in southwest Louisiana
'Nowhere in the world was the preparation of rice taken so seriously and done so magnificently,' wrote one culinary expert.
For a lesson in the role rice plays on the Louisiana table, just try to have a few traditional meals in the state without it. You can’t avoid rice, not that anyone here would want to.
“Nowhere in the world was the preparation of rice taken so seriously and done so magnificently,” writes Leon Soniat Jr. in his classic Louisiana cookbook “La Bouche Creole.”
Rice is as fundamental to Louisiana cooking as sausage and seafood, and it forms the foundation for many recipes that locals know by heart and travelers must try on any visit. It’s the starting point for such staples as red beans and rice and jambalaya, and it supports classics like shrimp Creole, crawfish étouffée and alligator sauce piquant.Most gumbos contain rice, and the grain is the basis for boudin, that distinctive Cajun sausage. There are many traditional rice stuffings, fried rice cakes and endless renditions of rice and gravy.
Louisiana ranks third in the nation for rice production, and the crop grows most prolifically in the southwestern corner of the state. Drive around the Cajun prairie of Acadiana in the summertime and you’ll see endless golden fields of the grain waiting for harvest.
In addition to its impact on Louisiana cuisine, the crop has also shaped the history and character of many local communities. The prairie city of Crowley, for instance, boasts a beautiful collection of Victorian-style homes and impressive commercial buildings in its historic downtown, most of which were built with rice money. Each October, Crowley hosts the International Rice Festival, a big public party that dates back to 1936.
Visitors can get an up-close look at how rice makes it to the table anytime of the year. The family-run Crystal Rice Heritage Farm in Crowley offers guided tours, while New Iberia is home to the nation’s oldest operating rice mill, the Conrad Rice Mill, which is also open for tours. To get a taste of this bounty, however, just order a classic Louisiana dish. Chances are good that it will start will rice.