Being a vegetarian in the south comes with its fair share of disadvantages. As many New Orleanians are aware, Southern meals are traditionally laden with meat, so eating vegetarian can sometimes limit your food options. When I decided to stop eating meat last year, I found myself in a culinary Diaspora as I searched restaurant menus high and low only to oftentimes find a pithy garden salad or a plate of steamed vegetable as suitable.
While some may abstain from consuming meat for religious reasons, others may do it as a dietary measure or matter of personal preference. As many non-meat eaters can attest, eating vegetarian at Jazz Fest can be an adventure in itself. For those who like seafood, beef, pork, or chicken, there are tons of foods at the festival to tantalize your taste buds, but if you’re vegetarian or vegan, this isn’t always the case. Whenever I’m asked what it’s like to be vegetarian in the Big Easy, my response is usually “Not easy.”
Luckily, there are an increasing amount of vegetarian and vegan options popping up at local eateries, such as Seed in the Lower Garden District- which opened in March of 2014 and offers a 100% vegetarian menu- in addition to local veggie-friendly mainstays such as Mona’s Café, 13, Byblos, Juan’s Flying Burrito, Louisiana Bistro, Angeli On Decatur, Slim Goodies Diner, and Bennachin Restaurant.
As another Jazz Fest approaches, I couldn’t help but wonder what yummy vegetarian delicacies lie ahead. Last year, I enjoyed a number of tasty fried green tomato po-boys drenched with creamy remoulade sauce with hearty spinach and artichoke bread bowls. When I was unable to find anything meatless, I usually settled for a Mango Freeze; however man, (nor woman) can’t subsist on this alone in this sweltering May heat.
Fortunately, there will be many regional dishes available at Jazz Fest this year that can be traditionally prepared without meat, such as collard greens Crowder peas, okra, and red beans and rice.
For those with a hankering for something more exotic at this year’s fest, they can gorge themselves on falafel, Tabouli, hummus, grilled veggie pita sandwiches, or vegetable sushi rolls.
“I think [vegetarian options are] a wonderful variety,” said Betty Douglass of Cajun Nights Catering. “I like to see more options on menus. I think any time you have new options, or anytime you have new experimentation, it’s a wonderful across the board.”
Since the 90s, Douglass catering business has provided mouthwatering fried green tomatoes for Jazz Fest.
“I was raised on fried green tomatoes,” she said. “I was inspired by the film [Fried Green Tomatoes] and I started doing them at the festival. Everybody loves them.”
“I’ve gotten responses from vegetarians, and across the board, a lot of feedback. People like them.”
Douglass also said her menu will include alligator pies and stuffed shrimp.
This year will also see the return of vegetarian Jazz Fest staples like Jama-Jama (sautéed spinach) and fried plantains from Bennachin. Located at 1212 Royal Street, the African and Creole-inspired restaurant has provided a wide array of vegetarian and vegan-optional dishes for the past 25 years. At the festival, Bennachin will also be selling chicken-on-stick.
“Jazz Fest has so many people and cultures, and we wanted to participate and blend in with the New Orleans cuisine,” said owner Fanta Jambatang. “Everyone loves our vegetarian dishes.”
While it's perfectly sensible that most of the food at the Fest is best suited for those with an omnivorous palate after days of heavy French and Creole food, a meat-free dish can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered. And remember at Jazz Fest there’s always something for everyone!
Other Vegetarian Options Include:
- Crowder Peas, Okra and Collard Greens from Praline Connection
- Spinach Artichoke Casserole, Seafood Au Gratin and Sweet Potato Pone from ten Talents
- Fried Green Tomatoes from Cajun Nights Catering
- Peanut Butter and Jelly, Grilled Cheese (Kids Area), and Fruit Salad from Joyce’s Lemonade
- Vegetarian Muffuletta from DiMartino’s Corn on the Cob from Lil’s BBQ
- Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice and Blackberry Cobbler from Burks & Douglass
- Potato Salad from Stuf Hapn Event Catering
- Stuffed Artichoke from Vuchinovich’s Restaurant
- Vegetarian Ya Ka Mein from Miss Linda’s Catering
- Broccoli and Cheese Pie from Mrs. Wheat’s Foods
- Fry Bread and Indian Tacos from United Houma Nation
- Falafel Sandwich, Hummus w/pita, Tabouli w/ pita, and Greek Garden Salad from Mona’s Cafe
- Tunisian Salad from Jamila’s Café
- Seaweed and Cucumber Salad from Ajun Cajun
- Steamed Vegetables from Palmer’s Jamaican Cuisine
- Couscous with Yogurt Sauce and Spicy Grilled Tofu and Veggies w/ Peanut Sauce from Gambian Foods
- Cole Slaw and Peach Cobbler from Down Home Creole Cookin’
- Cole Slaw from Down Home Creole Cookin’
- Macaroni and Cheese (Kids Area) from Miss Linda’s Catering