Some folks — first-time festers, for certain — might not realize that the cuisine available at the Fair Grounds doesn’t begin and end with Cajun and Creole classics. The offerings for festival revelers looking for a taste of the exotic do not disappoint, as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is home to an impressive number of international flavors. There might be too many to name here, but we’ve picked out a few favorites to consider when you’re planning your day’s feasting menu at the festival.
Canseco’s Markets ($7)
Those who are particularly enamored by Jazz Fest food often have their favorites staked out as soon as their feet hit Fair Grounds grass. My brother Eric nearly sprints to Canseco’s booth for their famous Cuban, the meaty, cheesy pressed sandwich filled with roasted pork, ham, mustard and pickles known so well to represent a taste of Havana.
I, too, have it year after year, and it never fails to please.
Tagine of lamb and merguez sausage
Jamila’s Cafe ($6 each)
If you’re looking for a taste of Morocco, Jamila’s has it in spades.
North African flavors explode in the tagine of lamb (a lamb stew served over rice), so good that, between my friends and me, it was literally gone in seconds. I’ve always been particularly fond also of the spicy lamb merguez sausage with harissa sauce, which on a sunny day at the fair, makes me feel as though I might just be in Casablanca and not south Louisiana.
Poulet fricassee, jama-jama
and fried plantains
Bennachin Restaurant ($10)
For another taste of Africa — this time from Gambia and Cameroon — don’t pass up Bennachin’s stall. For years, they’ve been serving up their signature combination plate of poulet fricassee (grilled chicken on a skewer), jama-jama (sauteed spinach) and sweet, savory fried plantains to the delight of Jazz Festers. The jama-jama is particularly noteworthy; at a fair loaded with meats and sweets, often deep fried or smothered in gravy, I can’t think of a better way to pack in some delicious vegetables.
Ninja Japanese restaurant ($7)
Seasoned Jazz Fest vets might be skeptical of new food offerings, looking to fill their bellies with long-standing favorites rather than take a chance on the new kid on the block. When it comes to the outstanding yakiniku (Japanese barbecue beef) po-boy from Ninja, that would be a clear mistake. The marinated beef has that distinctly Japanese tang to it, and it goes marvelously well with the pickled carrots and cucumbers. The sandwich is then topped with shredded mozzarella cheese because, well, why not? This is Jazz Fest!
Bun (Vietnamese rice noodles)
with shrimp or beef
Ba Mien Vietnamese Cuisine ($7)
In a city nearly bursting at the seams with Vietnamese restaurants (and one could hardly ask for a better fate), we’d be remiss not to mention the cool, comforting bun from Ba Mien. If you’ve been chowing down on fried foods and barbecue for most of the day and are looking for a lighter change of pace, nothing could be more satisfying than this fresh, flavorful bowl of rice noodles with shrimp (or beef) herbs and vegetables.