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I wrote this piece, about spontaneously spending el Día de los Muertos with a family in Oaxaca, several years ago; it’s based on an experience...
What: Crawfish boils (or shrimp boils, if it’s not quite crawfish season) are culinary events in which hundreds of crawfish are boiled in a spicy liquid along with meats and vegetables for seasoning. Communal and often chaotic, crawfish boils are most popular in people’s homes—if you’re invited, by all means, go!—or at informal, often roadside seafood restaurants out in the country. Availability, even during their season (generally March-end of May), depends on what the fishermen are catching. Sometimes shrimp will be substituted—still delicious, and still an incredible cultural experience for a visitor.
Where: In New Orleans proper, we found a crawfish boil (shrimp, actually, because of a crawfish shortage at the time) at the Maple Leaf Bar (8316 Oak St., map), a great music club Uptown that does boils every Sunday night around 9pm, during the season (which varies, but more or less winter/spring/early summer). It costs $10 for music (Joe Krown Trio) and the boil, a deal you cannot beat.
Order: Ain’t nothing to order; just show up and watch for the buckets of food to arrive from outside, because once everything is dumped on the plastic white table, it’s every man for himself! Don’t overlook the mushrooms, corn, potatoes, quail meat, and andouille and boudin sausages—it’s all lip-smacking, mouth-burning, finger-dripping delicious. And, uh, don’t forget to wash your hands before you use the restroom.
Alternatively: Yo Mama’s (727 Saint Peter St., map) in the French Quarter usually does crawfish boils on weekends (in season), offering a more civilized sit-down serving, if that’s your thing; call before you go to check the critters’ availability. Or, if you have a place to eat them, you can pick up a sack of boiled (or live) crawfish at Big Fisherman Seafood (3301 Magazine St., map).
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