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Like a Postcard: New Orleans is Very ‘French’ & Doughnut-Filled

With New Orleans, you’ve got magic on every street – sugary doughnuts and the history of jazz: what’s not to love?

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“Alcohol. Because no great story ever started with someone eating a salad”.

This was the first sign I spotted in the one American city I’ve always romanticised. While New Orleans’ location in America’s Deep South has always made it slightly inaccessible, a long overdue school reunion in the US provided the perfect excuse. (Thankfully, New Orleans edged out Las Vegas in a close vote.)

At 2 am most cities would be in shutdown mode but New Orleans (or NOLA) put on quite a show for me as I reached my hotel on Bourbon street. Las Vegas’ strip might be America’s unofficial party hub but Bourbon Street has been a magnet for revellers even before the Strip was conceived.

With New Orleans, you’ve got magic on every street – sugary doughnuts and the history of jazz: what’s not to love?
There’s magic on every street. (Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)

Live music, bars that don’t close in a hurry and pedestrians with foot-long drinks. Seemed like the perfect venue for a mini school reunion.

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Of South Indian Filter Coffee & Sugary Doughnuts

It didn’t take more than 15 minutes for Bourbon Street’s charms to wear off; thankfully New Orleans has a lot more to offer and it all began in the city’s charming French Quarter.

With New Orleans, you’ve got magic on every street – sugary doughnuts and the history of jazz: what’s not to love?

Quintessential NOLA architecture in the French Quarter.

(Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)

For years New Orleans was a French bastion in America before the Spanish took over and eventually the state of Louisiana joined the American Union in 1803 after the historic ‘Louisiana purchase’.

It’s been over two centuries since the French left but the grid-like streets in the French quarter have remained almost unaltered. Almost every building features the trademark cast iron or wrought iron work that lends New Orleans its unique charm and also has a special story to tell.
With New Orleans, you’ve got magic on every street – sugary doughnuts and the history of jazz: what’s not to love?

Antoine’s, a family owned restaurant, has been managed by the same family since 1840.

(Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)

Like Antoine’s, a family owned restaurant that has been managed by the same family since 1840. The restaurant has hosted US presidents and Hollywood stars with a menu that has stuck to its traditional French roots.

New Orleans’ dining scene is one of its biggest draws – it is here that Creole cuisine took shape. Creole literally translates to ‘made here’ and represents an eclectic blend of French cuisine with local Cajun spices. Like the hearty prawn gumbo where rice and shrimps are cooked together with local spices. This is one place where you don’t count calories and where portion control is an alien concept. The cuisine on offer is a welcome respite from the cookie cutter style ‘chain’ dining experiences you are likely to encounter in most American cities.

With New Orleans, you’ve got magic on every street – sugary doughnuts and the history of jazz: what’s not to love?

Don’t leave NOLA without eating the beignets.

(Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)

There are no chain restaurants or coffee shops within the French Quarter; the only coffee chain you will spot here is PJ’s, a local chain that blends chicory with coffee in quite the same way South Indian filter coffee does. Locals and tourists queue up at Café du Monde for coffee and beignets – the New Orleans version of a doughnut. Deep fried dough with a hint of banana flavour dusted with generous quantities of powdered sugar. What’s not to like!

The Birthplace of Jazz

It’s also impossible to walk a few feet in NOLA without the sound of music in the air. This is the birthplace of Jazz where legends like Louis Armstrong (The New Orleans airport is named after him) overcame deep racial divides to become one of the world’s best known Jazz musicians.

With New Orleans, you’ve got magic on every street – sugary doughnuts and the history of jazz: what’s not to love?

Jazz all day at the Jazz Legends Park.

(Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)

I began my Jazz discovery at Legends Park, a tiny outdoor venue on Bourbon Street where statues of the city’s Jazz legends rub shoulders with live bands that play almost round the clock.

With New Orleans, you’ve got magic on every street – sugary doughnuts and the history of jazz: what’s not to love?

The legends live on at Jazz Legends Park.

(Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)

Today, the city’s vibrant scene includes everything from classical Jazz to new age twerking – something that began here as a version of Southern hip hop and has been made popular by artistes like Miley Cyrus. It’s not unusual for a Grammy winner or two to make a guest appearance at popular bars either.
New Orleans is an American city like no other. The architecture transports you to Europe, the carnival-like music takes you straight to Rio – while the food blends the best of the Old World and the New World.

You can sit all day and gaze at the architecture – or let your hair down. We did a bit of both and swore at the historic Sazerac bar (where New Orleans’ best known rye whiskey-based cocktail was invented) that we’d be back. I don’t know about my school buddies, but I will.

New Orleans has me.

With New Orleans, you’ve got magic on every street – sugary doughnuts and the history of jazz: what’s not to love?

Shadow play at the St Louis Cathedral.

(Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Rajagopalan)

Getting there and around: New Orleans is a three-hour flight from New York. You could also fly directly into Houston from London, Abu Dhabi or Dubai and drive to the city in less than six hours. Most of NOLA’s hotspots are within walking distance.

Accommodation: For a true NOLA experience check into one of the old French style residences that you can book through Airbnb (www.airbnb.com). If you’d rather stay at a hotel, the Royal Sonesta (www.sonesta.com ) and Hotel Monteleone  (www.hotelmonetelone.com) are both options with old world New Orleans charm.

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(Ashwin Rajagopalan enjoys communicating across boundaries in his three distinct roles as a widely published lifestyle writer, one of India’s only cross cultural trainers and a consultant for a global brand services firm. Ashwin writes extensively on food, travel, technology and trends.)

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