New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, New Orleans, New Orleans. I still can't believe I actually went. This city has long been on my list, and I mean, for a very, very long time. It's not a secret that both my grandmothers are part French (and many Vietnamese dishes have been very much influenced by French colonization). Although I don't speak the language and was never raised in the culture, I wanted to experience the food. The French Quarter in New Orleans was sort of the closest I could get, for now.
The New Orleans trip actually had been planned way before I even knew about it. It started out as a birthday trip for a close friend of mine and as time went on, quite a bit of people decided to go. I was crazy excited! I love traveling in big groups. For me, it's a lot more fun: there's more energy, little pockets of conversation here and there, the combined laughter is an experience in and of itself. I'm sure you've experienced what I'm referring to. The last time I had been on a trip like that was in college, my sophomore year, and I was itching to do it again. I was only able to visit for about 3 days, but I left with beautiful memories and promises that I would return in the future.
Our very first stop off the plane had to be FOOD. If you know me, you already know that I love seafood (and coffee and beignets.) New Orleans is my kind of city! I sadly don't remember the name of the first restaurant I went too, I think I was just too excited, but the po' boy I had was outta this world. The oysters were also equally amazing, and timing was perfect because my first time having them was in New Orleans. I've totally been missing out! Our next stop was the original French Market coffee stand, Café du Monde, which has been open since 1862. A little did-you-know: Vietnamese folks across the US use the very same coffee brand that Café du Monde uses to make our cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee with condensed milk) and other coffee drinks. I was basically at home. The coffee alongside beignets, with mountains of gravity defying powdered sugar that could literally choke you if breathed in too fast, like a life and death situation, it was the perfect combination. I tried to steady myself as I ate, and since my friends had been there multiple times before, they were able to give me some pro tips. I was in pretty good hands. After coffee, we headed back to our Airbnb and rested and waited on the rest of the crew to join us.
Our next stop was St. Roch Market. This place was easily the thing I missed most about New Orleans. Did I mention I was there every single day...? It was literally THAT great. The Market works as a location where many vendors can set up shop to sell their delicious fares, like coffee, oysters, sandwiches, Vietnamese food...there were plenty of options. My first time there I had a delicious raspberry and brie grilled cheese, with brioche bread. It was amazing! Noelle and I have tried recreating the very same sandwich and have yet to perfect it 100%. At St. Roch, our group got even bigger, I would say about 11 people deep. We spent the night exploring the Frenchmen Art Market, a second trip to Café du Monde, and walking through the ever so notorious Bourbon Street. Bourbon Street isn't my style at all, but it was a sight to see nonetheless.
The next two days were a blur of more delicious restaurants, beautiful architecture, music, and kind faces. The last food place I will gush about is District Donuts Sliders Brew. The cold brew there was just indescribable. It was smooth, no hint of bitterness, it was perfect. I've been searching for it's replacement here in Chicago, but I have yet to be successful. Their donuts are also very much on point, my favorite being the French Toast donut. It's an absolute must try if you ever find yourself in The Big Easy.
I wish I could have explored even more of New Orleans. The group I went with were amazing. That energy I was referring to up top? Impossible to experience solo, in my opinion anyways. The best part about traveling and creating memories is the amazing ability to recall them later on. Being able to share them with other people makes it even better. I couldn't have asked for a better group to experience New Orleans with for the first time! The very last thing I will mention is that this city reminded me of another city I've visited before: Detroit. The reason being not the food, not the music, not the nightlight. It was the people. Two flourishing cities that are heavily populated by black and brown people and have faced so much sadness and devastation and lack of support from the government and yet, I only saw kindness in the faces of locals. They beamed without bitterness, a look that reminds all that heroes don't come from privilege, hard workers do. You've gotta see this city for yourself.