This is historical and cultural, OK: it’s not just an excuse for me to talk about food! I have to admit that the first thing I did, on arrival in New Orleans in 2014, was go to the Cafe du Monde for a beignet. I did go and look at the historical sights, and have a ride on a Mississippi steamboat, after that; but, when it comes to New Orleans, it’s food first! Nadiya Hussain looked as if she was having a wonderful time, making and eating food from different New Orleans traditions. And what a refreshing change to see a BBC documentary in which everyone was just being nice to each other. No-one was pushing an agenda, making nasty remarks, or making accusations against anyone. Everyone was pleasant, cheerful, enthusiastic and positive. What a lovely, lovely hour’s TV! When we can travel again, could Nadiya be given her own series, please? Let’s all be nice to each other and eat cake.
Sadly, there weren’t any beignets in this programme. I was rather put out about that! But we did start with Mardi Gras … I’m assuming that this was Mardi Gras 2019. And King Cake – this is what we would know better as Twelfth Night cake (always reminds me of the disastrous picnic in Katherine L Oldmeadow’s Princess Prunella!), complete with a small figurine hidden inside, brought to New Orleans by French and Spanish settlers and now associated with Carnival rather than Christmas. In New Orleans, they get through the most enormous amounts of it, and we saw it all being made by hand. And we heard the bakers talking about what an amazing time of year Mardi Gras is, everyone feeling the love and sharing the love. I can’t see it happening in 2021, but fingers crossed for 2022.
Also in the French quarter, we got to see, and Nadiya got to make, the famous po’boy sandwiches. No-one’s 100% sure how they originated! But they’re very nice. And usually very big!
But, as we were reminded, New Orleans isn’t all about the French Quarter, and we then saw Nadiya visiting an African-American neighbourhood which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There, she met a family trying to revive their local community with a restaurant serving soul food, the traditional African-American cuisine of New Orleans … although the actual term “soul food” only dates back as far as the 1960s.
And then it was out of the city and into the bayous, on a boat with a couple and their young daughter. Or should that be “bayoux”? There, she met five generations of a Cajun family, and was treated to gumbo and jambalaya, and a discussion about Cajun history. Now, certain BBC presenters – Simon Reeve’s travel programmes are now virtually unwatchable – would have done the whole “Evangeline” thing, used it as an excuse to make abusive remarks about Britain, then made abusive remarks about America, and then probably said that Nadiya was guilty of “cultural appropriation” for trying on a Vietnamese hat later on in the programme! Not in this. Everyone, Nadiya herself and all the people she met, was friendly and welcoming and genuinely interested in what each other had to say. This is the sort of programme we need! More of this, please!
Next up came a children’s jazz band, and rocky road for the kids! And then, finally, we were treated to members of the New Orleans Vietnamese community combining Creole crawfish dishes with traditional Vietnamese food to create something new – a melting pot, in fact. And, yes, Nadiya tried on a Vietnamese hat. And, no, no-one found that in the slightest bit offensive. They were interested in her, and she was interested in them.
This was just wonderful. Bravo, Nadiya, and bravo, all the people of New Orleans who made her so welcome!