Covering almost 10 million square kilometres and 500 years of immigration history, it’s no wonder the United States delivers such a rich, intriguing mix of landscapes, cultures and cuisines. Those distinctions are exaggerated in the country’s south where the renowned music scene and famous soul food are hallmarks of a vibrant and inviting region. Trafalgar’s 10-day Tastes and Sounds of the South holiday delves into the literal and figurative flavours of five of America’s most exciting Southern cities: Nashville, Jackson, Natchez, New Orleans and Memphis – home of Elvis’ Gracelands. Eye-opening and belly-pleasing, it’s a trip that will have y’all hungry for more.
A TRUE MELTING POT
Spice-drenched crawfish, fiery jambalaya, rich gumbo and other Cajun/Creole treats offer gastronomic enlightenment and an almost religious experience.
The start of our Trafalgar trip couldn’t have been more fitting. Spicy fried chicken, smoky pulled pork and sweetcorn, plus generous offerings of local beer, awaited us at the welcome reception buffet. “You’ll notice how the cuisine changes the further south we go,” our Travel Director Drew explained in his Mississippian drawl, as he shared the highlights of our trip, which would take in five cities across three states. Hearty home-style cooking is the theme on menus in America’s south, known for its fried chicken, pit-barbecued meats and its dishes classifed as “soul food”. Sides, or xings, such as mashed potatoes are also a deliciously common sight.
In Natchez, on the banks of the Mississippi, comfort food and fine dining combine at the 200-year-old Elms guest house. We were treated to a fabulous four-course dinner with wine by Esther Carpenter, once named one of America’s top 20 female chefs. To start, Esther served us fried river catfish (caught that day from the Mississippi), which came with homemade jalapeño tartar sauce. We then tucked into grilled beef tenderloin, which was served with pecan rice pilaf, winter squash and buttered brussels sprouts. And that was before the dessert – a heavenly lemon chess pie with berry coulis – arrived. It was, we agreed, the best meal we’d ever had, and hearing all about Esther’s life and piano player Joe Stone’s amazing story enriched the experience – one we could never have had on our own.
In New Orleans, our role switched from taste testers to food students and back again under the tutelage of chef Toyah Boudy at the city’s School of Cookery. A demonstration of gumbo (a stew including the “holy trinity” of onions, celery and green pepper, and made on this occasion with chicken) was followed by a session on how to cook jambalaya (a rice dish with meat or seafood). We loved being able to take part in the making of the dishes as it enhanced the whole experience. Then it was time for a history lesson, as we learnt of the praline’s journey from an almond-based French sweet to a pecan-based Louisiana specialty.
The trip’s farewell dinner at the 19th-century Court of Two Sisters in New Orleans’ French Quarter, proved local specialties go well beyond fried chicken. The fare included blackened alligator, panko-fried Creole mustard crab cake, escargot au champignons, and corn-fried catfish with Creole mustard napa slaw. Well, when in Rome.
Our Tastes and Sounds of the South guests will enjoy a Be My Guest experience with pianist Joe Stone and top American chef Esther Carpenter as they explore two Southern homes in Natchez, Mississippi. Joe will share the history of his antebellum home over a cocktail or two, before performing a private concert on his Steinway piano.