Spain and Louisiana: Similarities in Food and Tradition

Sometimes you look for things that are similar to home to feel more comfortable in a strange place. Sometimes there is no denying that resemblance is too close to be a coincidence. This happens a lot for me here in Spain. Some of it is probably purely a girl looking for something close to home to hold onto, but most of it is not a coincidence at all!

Did you know Louisiana has about as much Spanish roots as it does French? Did you know our “French Quarter” in New Orleans was actually designed by a Spanish architect? Or that the Spanish ruled New Orleans from 1762 to 1803? Maybe you did or maybe you didn’t, but there are some things that I definitely did NOT know that Spain has in common with and possibly brought to Louisiana. Today I will discuss some of the similarities between Spain and Louisiana, most of which are culinary!

You can find these on plazas and streets around the quarter

You can find these on plazas and streets around the quarter

PAELLA and JAMBALAYA

Ah, jambalaya!

Ah, jambalaya!

Paella!

Paella!

By looking at these two, you can already tell these rice-based dishes are from the same family. The main differences between the two are the seasonings and spices used. At least in my household, Jambalaya tends to be quite spicy and lots of tony’s and hot sauce are involved. Paella on the other hand is usually made with saffron (which gives it in some recipes a radiant yellow color), and it is a little less toned down in the spice department. Then again, Louisiananian’s pride themselves on making people cry at the dinner table from excessive spice, a tradition of which the roots are still unknown.

Growing up, we always had jambalaya towards the end of the week when it was time to make use out of any meat and vegetables still left in the fridge that would go bad if not consumed. Chicken and sausage jambalaya is still one of my favorite foods from home. Paella also has the “anything but the kitchen sink” element to it, as apparently its arabic word is the equivalent to “left-overs”. Coincidentally, Paella is one of my favorite dishes served here in Spain. It is pretty easy to figure out why!

CHURROS AND BEIGNETS

Churros and Chocolate at San Gines

Churros con Chocolate

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Beignets and Coffee

Ahh.. what could be better than fried, sugary bread with a side of caffeine? Maybe it’s just me, but this struck me immediately as a similarity that can’t be denied. No, they are not the same shape, but the concept is definitely the same. When I went to sit down to have my churros for the first time, the first thing I did was check around for the powdered sugar. Although no powdered sugar was in sight (Is that stuff even approved by the “FDA” of Europe?), I did find that some people choose to sprinkle cinnamon on their 5,000 calorie snack. Secondly, to my relief it seems that New Orleans chose coffee as their drink of poison versus Spain and their cup of rich, thick chocolate to dip their churros. Although I have seen people nix their churros and go straight in for the kill on the chocolate, I assume this is not the norm.

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If Cafe du Monde is “Home of the Beignet”, then San Gines in Madrid is “Home of the Churro”. Sitting in this place held so much resemblance to sitting inside Cafe du Monde that I had to remind myself what continent I was on!

KING CAKE AND ROSCÓN DE REYES

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King Cake!

ROSCON DE REYES

Roscón de Reyes

This one I know is no coincidence. As many of you know, King Cake is eaten as a tradition every year from King’s day, the last official day of Christmas, until Mardi Gras day. (Of course, there’s always left over King Cakes available, so making those Lenten promises to give up sweets proves difficult for Catholics the first few days following Mardi Gras!) In every cake there is a plastic baby hidden inside, and whoever get’s the baby has to pony up and buy the next cake.

The tradition here in Spain with the Roscón de Reyes is the exact same thing! There is a baby (or trinket) hidden inside the cake, and whoever gets it has to go get the next cake. Of course, the toppings on the cake are different. Us health folk down in New Orleans love our sugar, so naturally our cakes are covered in it and dyed in our favorite seasonal colors of purple, green, and gold. The Spanish on the other hand top theirs with candied fruit and dried fruit. Also the Spanish eat their “king cakes” during the Christmas season, with their traditional last day to eat their cake on King’s day.

King’s Day Parade and Mardi Gras Parades

Madrid's King's day parade

Madrid’s King’s day parade

The 3 Kings!

The 3 Kings!

Extravagance

Extravagance

New Orleans' King of Rex, Mardi Gras day

New Orleans’ King of Rex, Mardi Gras day

Mardi Gras floats

Mardi Gras floats

Marching bands: St Aug's Marching 100 pictured

Marching bands: St Aug’s Marching 100 pictured

Finally, you can see the similarities between our Mardi Gras parades and the Spanish King’s day parades. On January 5th every year, there are parades all over Spain to celebrate the journey of the three wise men to see baby Jesus. The three kings throw their “gifts” of candies and sweets off the floats to the children watching down below. Obviously, this concept is very similar to that of Mardi Gras. During Mardi Gras anything and everything is thrown off of floats including plastic beads, stuffed animals, cups, and yes, even a stray clothing article or two. Although Spain has preserved much more religious influence in their parades than the ones during Carnival, you can definitely see how the two are so traditionally similar.

These days, Mardi Gras is for adults and children alike (with the suburb day parades more centralized around children), while Spain’s parades are still centered around the children. Also, there’s the obvious factor that Mardi Gras has developed into an entire season instead of just one day. But hey, you never know what’s in store with the slow secularization of Spain and the rest of Europe!

So these are just a couple of the similarities I’ve noticed between Spain and Louisiana!

Are there any similarities you have noticed between the places you have visited and your hometown?

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