It’s a food revelation. I just put two and two together. Pralines are essentially the same thing as dulce de leche! This is a monumental connection to me, because I spent a big chunk of July scarfing down oodles of dulce de leche in Argentina, thinking I would O.D. on the stuff. Then, I spent a big chunk of time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in August and had a few encounters with my old friend, Mister Praline. As I was nom-nom-noming on that little sugar-round tonight, I had an epiphany. Aren’t pralines made with sugar and condensed milk? Wait, isn’t that what dulce de leche, which I spent so much time consuming and writing about a month ago, is also made of? Sure, the texture and consistency (and taste, for that matter) are different, but the components are the same.
This sparked my curiosity and spurred some quick web research. You see, I spent a good portion of my day catching up on one of my favorite travel and food bloggers’ summer activities. I received my email update from Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads and couldn’t turn away. I clicked on link after link of interviews, podcasts and articles with Jodi talking about her new food tours and site Jodi Eats, the first tour launching this winter in Vietnam (her site is not quite ready, so check back in a couple of months!). For any who don’t know her, Jodi is a lovely person (I met her in Toronto last May), a former attorney, and a beautiful writer and storyteller. And she LOVES food (particularly soup). She has celiacs disease, so she particularly likes the “Jodi-friendly” food of Southeast Asia.
This is not meant to be about Jodi, though. I just want to back it on up to the origin of this train of thought that I’m currently on. You see, Jodi said something in one of her interviews that I watched today, and it’s slowly resonating up to the surface of my brain. She mentioned that she loves to travel, and while her first couple of years were very mobile and more about covering territory (travel for the sake of travel: see, explore, learn, etc.), her travel style has evolved. She is now more inclined to dig in and really explore one place through a food lens. She said something so simple yet so profound. I’m paraphrasing here, but it went something like this: food is a lens to explore and understand the connections between all aspects of culture and history. Every people’s history affects the way they move and they eat.
I write about food a lot. It is such an integral part of my travels and experiences, almost more than any other aspect. I often don’t dig very deep into the history and evolution of specific food from different countries because, well, this is not a food blog per se. I’m struggling with this currently, maybe because I come from a food-centric culture in Baton Rouge and tend to place an unusually heavy emphasis on the importance it.
Food tells a story. It’s not just fun to eat or to cook. It tells a tale of where we are, where we’ve come from, and of our divergent origins coming together to form our roots. Like many Americans, I’m fascinated by my mixed-bag of hodgepodge ancestry. I’m largely of northern European descent, but I have some Native American somewhere down the line as well.
I love that I’m from Southern Louisiana and can trace many of my favorite food traditions back to the French Acadians who came down from Canada and to creole food, heavily influenced by Caribbean islanders and African slaves (mixed with French and Spanish). I realized that, since I’ve lived away from home for ten years now, I’ve largely identified myself juxtaposed to others (not from Southern Louisianan) based on my home’s indigenous food.
When Visit Baton Rouge invited me down to my hometown for a culinary weekend tour, I was excited. Yes. This is the most important aspect of our culture. We celebrate over food, take pride in our roots and history through food, and we connect with each other, through our mutual love of good, good, good southern Louisiana food.
The weekend was even better than I could have anticipated. I was given a backstage pass to places I grew up loving but took for granted, such as Tony’s Seafood Market. We learned about the culinary history, ancestry, and evolution of important businesses and communities. I can honestly say that it was the most fun weekend I’ve had in Baton Rouge in a while, and I felt I got to see my city through fresh, eager eyes.
So back to that praline. French settlers brought the recipe to Louisiana, where sugar cane was plentiful, and substituted pecans (also abundant) for almonds. I guess I never really looked at a praline and wondered about its origins. My curiosity and appreciation for Louisiana food heritage is currently at an all-time high. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be exploring Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s food culture through a renewed lens of wonder, understanding and gratitude.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Visit Baton Rouge, but as always all opinions are my own. I also couldn’t be happier to brag on such an amazing city!