Interactions over New Orleans food are normally friendly and good natured. Our food makes people happy, and that’s a cause for celebration all on its own.
That dynamic usually holds up at Jazz Fest, but we can always polish the pragmatics and etiquette of enjoying it as both crowds and heat rise at the Fair Grounds. Here are a few considerations I’d like to add to the pot.
Walk first, eat second: Jazz Fest vendors do an amazing job of getting food into your hands at a true grab-and-go pace. Keep that “go” part in mind after you grab, and resist the temptation to start eating right there in front of the booth. This indulgence in immediate gratification turns the apron around the booths into an asteroid belt of distracted diners, lolling slowly and erratically, lost in a world of crawfish, shrimp, sausage and cheese.
Step away from the booths before eating. Not only will everyone get an easier path to their own booth of bliss, but you’ll likely enjoy your food more when you can stop and give it your full attention, without brushing against the other guy’s elbows, backpack or stroller. If you’re trekking back to a stage, remember that many booths will provide a sheet of foodservice foil to cover your prized possession until you get to your roost, keeping heat in and dust out.
Show your money, honey: Prices are clearly marked and tax is included and so you can have the right bills in hand. And remember that you can’t pay by card or by waving your phone here. For Jazz Fest food, cash remains king.
Shade is sacred: The quest for scarce shade, for seats or perhaps a stable surface to rest your plate drives people into close quarters, and the small tented seating areas provided near some food booths can resemble school cafeterias. No bell will ring to dismiss you here, and there’s certainly no time limit. But once you’ve eaten and rested a bit keep in mind the others who are circling for a spot, holding a cup of gumbo, a quart of iced tea and the hope that a seat will open before their mango freeze melts.
Be a food ambassador: If you’ve done Jazz Fest a few times, you probably have your own approach to the food down pat. That familiarity can mask just how intriguing and novel the Jazz Fest food experience can be for newcomers.
Last weekend I heard people quizzing erstwhile strangers about certain dishes as new arrivals appeared at the table. Sometimes this intel is vital, as with the guy who confirmed for a puzzled visitor that yes, the stuffed crawfish heads in the crawfish bisque (served by Lil’ Dizzy’s Café at Heritage Square) are not only there on purpose but are labor-of-love essentials to the traditional Creole dish.
Other times, aid is rendered simply by clueing people in to the specific Jazz Fest culinary lexicon we might take for granted. It turns out that oyster patties and crawfish sacks are not always household terms in households outside Louisiana, not to mention huckabucks, maque choux, yakamein, sauce piquante, etc.
Listen up wherever people are digging in at Jazz Fest and you’ll likely hear questions. Fielding some of them can be a good reminder of how lucky we are to live here and consider all of this normal.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.