This Is What Cajun Food Really Looks Like

published Feb 28, 2017
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(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

If a Cajun woman makes a pancake, does that mean it’s a Cajun pancake? That’s an ongoing joke in my home. With the commercialization of Cajun, it appears that anything can be Cajun. Truth is, there are so many different versions of Cajun and everyone’s Cajun breakfast table is different. This is mine.

(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

I grew up on Bayou Petite Calliou in Chauvin, Louisiana. I am one of six kids, and my mama, Maxine, cooked us breakfast every morning. For me and my siblings, breakfast was a rotation of breads and sweet treats. Savory options like eggs, grits, and potatoes were for dinner only. And I never once remember having bacon or sausage on our morning table — or our evening table either, for that matter. I suppose it was out of our reach financially.

Mr. Dominique, the bread man, would deliver Cap bread, named because it resembled a man’s cap, off his truck. He also sold bread dough that my mama would turn into beignets. We had lots of mornings with beignets dipped in Steen’s, a thick cane syrup with a slightly bitter edge produced in nearby Abbeville, LA.

Mama also made biscuits at least once a week. We ate them with blackberry or grape or apple jelly. She was always trying new recipes — one time she did a year of biscuits with 7Up in them — but eventually went back to basic biscuit mix and milk.

We had lots of mornings with beignets dipped in Steen’s, a thick cane syrup with a slightly bitter edge.

Monkey bread (or breakfast ring, as we called it) was reserved mostly for weekends. We all helped make the buttery brown sugar sauce that tops the little pieces of dough to fill a Bundt pan. Then, after the breakfast ring was baked, we’d all wait anxiously for mama to turn it over onto a plate.

There was much anticipation, as it had to be done quickly so that it would slide from the pan in one piece and not stick to the sides. When we were brave enough one of us would attempt the flip. There was a lot of doubt from the other siblings, but if you trusted yourself and went quickly you could turn out a perfect breakfast ring.

But out of anything I remember pancakes being the most prominent breakfast of them all. Mama had an old-school griddle and turned out A+ pancakes; our refrigerator always held a Tupperware mixing pitcher of pancake batter. We always had plain pancakes, no bells or whistles, with just a drizzle of cane syrup and butter.

(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

As a Cajun woman making her home in New Orleans, I keep breakfast pretty simple. I’m a big fan of toast and fruit for breakfast. I recently let go of coffee and miss it dearly, but there’s nothing better to me than a toasted piece of country bread slathered with butter or olive oil and local honey, paired with a cup of strong black coffee. That will keep me going way into lunch.

My teenage son prefers pasta, soup, or cheese quesadillas for breakfast and is a serious tea drinker (green and black preferred — none of the herbal stuff).

But when I make it back home to Chauvin on the weekends to spend time with my parents and play Yahtzee, I prefer to keep it traditional and share whatever bready treat my mama is cooking up.

Melissa Martin is a Cajun chef living in New Orleans and working on her first cookbook. She is the founder of Mosquito Supper Club, a tribute to the real food of her childhood.