On a road trip to southwest Louisiana, I made a cultural faux pas, branding myself as an outsider, as if my lack of accent and in-born Acadiana rhythm didn’t speak for itself.
While dining at The Seafood Palace in Lake Charles, which really is anything but a palace, I mistakenly referred to the featured menu item as a crawdad instead of a crawfish.
As they say in that part of the world, “Poo Yi,” a Cajun expression that means “Oh my, do we have a fool in our midst or what!”
Then I was politely informed that anyone south of the 38th parallel refers to the prehistoric-type water creature as a craw-fish. Only scurrilous Yankees would call it a craw-dad.
Now, I admit, I exaggerate there. The people of Louisiana, particularly the Cajuns and Creoles of southwest LA, are incredibly open-hearted and friendly people. They laughed and teased me good-naturedly at my mistake. Then they set in to teach me about craw-fish and the proper eating thereof.
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Eating Crawfish is a Full-body Sport
To say that eating crawfish in Louisiana is a hands-on experience is an understatement. It is a full-body sport, utilizing all of the senses and appendages. And I have to admit that I didn’t really get the hang of it, despite the tutelage of numerous enthusiastic instructors.
Your waiter will bring you a big tray of crawfish, which is always served with corn on the cob and boiled potatoes. Of course, it’s pronounced “bald” potatoes in this part of the world. Your waiter will also bring you a second tray or tub that is completely empty. That tray quickly becomes the trash heap or landfill of discarded crawfish parts.
A big box of diaper wipes is also on the table. Don’t be confused by this. Eating crawfish is messy business.
You’ll see T-shirts, bumper stickers and other public media in this part of the world that reference the ability to “pinch the butt and suck the head.” Well, I’m sorry to say, that’s the preferred method. You pinch the butt and pull the body away from the head. Then you can either use your finger to scoop out the goodies in the head, or as the signs say, just suck it baby.
It’s a lot of work to get to that part of the crawfish that is worth getting at, but again “Poo Yi” it’s worth the effort.
Get Your Own Crawfish T-shirt
Now, after reading my limited instructions here, you still do not feel fully equipped to enter a place like The Seafood Palace, do not fear. Any waiter or waitress will be glad to give you hands-on assistance. Or simply introduce yourself to a table filled with locals. I’m confident you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about Cajun culture.
Just don’t call ’em crawdads.
While you are in Louisiana, if you come across something called “Boudin” on a menu, read here to learn what that’s all about.