Traveling is all about discoveries, whether it involves learning something new about a culture, eating a unique food item you’ve never tasted before, meeting new people, or discovering something new about yourself through the journey.

Members of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association recently participated in a group press grip to Lafayette, Louisiana, approximately 2.5 hours drive west of New Orleans. It is a city famous for its Creole and Cajun culture with deep ties to Acadia. Here’s what the writers discovered during their visit to Lafayette.

Lafayette — Joie de vivre!

Favorite Discoveries in Travel from Lafayette Lousiana - Lafayette Festival

By Liz Mays of Eat Move Make

Lafayette is exploding with joie de vivre, and not unlike champagne under pressure, it builds up and bursts out, spilling bubbles of spirit on everyone in the vicinity. That infectious exuberance is what I loved and will remember the most about my trip to the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country.

I felt it in the squeeze of an accordion, the stroke of a frottoir and the driving beat of a drum. I saw it in the lively movements of the Cajun two-step, and I tasted its spice and its soul in boudin, cracklins, stuffed turkey wings and grits.

The zest for life is contagious, and with a nearly constant stream of street parties, concerts and festivals in the city, there are endless reasons and ways to celebrate. It’s no wonder everyone is happy in Lafayette. Et, ça c’est bon.

A Culinary Aha in Lafayette!

Favorite Discoveries in Travel from Lafayette Lousiana - Tabasco Ice Cream

By Linda Kissam of Food Wine Travel Chix

I had one of those culinary a”Aha!” moments about day three into my Lafayette press trip. I found I really really like Cajun food. Not a little, not sort of…but a great big “yum” lot. Some call it a rustic cuisine, but when locally available ingredients predominate, preparation is simple, and a hint (or kick) of regional spice is included, it spells winner to me.

Try this cool recipe from the Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory. It sums up how combining local, everyday ingredients with a light dash of pepper sauce, delights the palate, exceeds expectations, and showcases the easy art of Louisiana cooking.

Tabasco Ice Cream
4 large eggs
1.25 cups of Sugar
1 tsp. of Pure Vanilla
1 quart of Heavy Cream
1 oz. of Tabasco

– Crack open 4 eggs, add sugar, vanilla and whisk.
– Add Tabasco and heavy cream and whisk further.
– Pour mixture into ice cream container and freeze following manufacturer’s instructions.

Lafayette – A Blending of Cultures

Favorite Discoveries in Travel from Lafayette Lousiana - Spinning Wool
By Kathleen Walls of American Roads and Global Highways

In the Lafayette Acadian Cultural Center, we got a touch of the history that created the unique culture of southern Louisiana. In the 1760s, thousands of Acadians who were driven out of Canada because of their religion were welcomed by fellow Catholics in Spanish-owned Louisiana. Many of the Acadians who tried to land elsewhere were not so welcomed. Other exhibits traced how these refugees assimilated into southern Louisiana.

At the Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park, the people we met are more than re-enactors; they are descendants of the people they portray and this is their culture. Here we see a blending of cultures. Chief John Mayeux, an Avogel tribal chief, one of Louisiana’s oldest tribes, told me of his native people who were here for almost 5,000 years when the Cajuns arrived and helped the newcomers survive a strange land. Lynn was quilting, a skill learned from her grandmother at age six; Creole fiddler, D’Jalma Garnier, grandson of famous New Orleans Jazz bandleader and fiddler, Papa Garnier, played for us. He explained the difference between Cajun and Zydeco music. Brenda Lalonde showed us the art of spinning cotton thread.

We experienced some of early Louisiana life ourselves when we pulled a small raft across Petit Bayou using a large rope.

Laura’s II and Chef Madonna

Favorite Discoveries in Travel from Lafayette Lousiana - Chef Madonna of Lauras II

By Linda Milks of Toasting Food Wine Travel

Every once in a while you meet someone who makes you believe in the good in people. Chef Madonna Broussard at Laura’s II in Lafayette is one of these people. She is a third-generation restaurateur preceded by her grandmother who opened the original Laura’s in her home in Northside Lafayette in 1968. Lafayette has a thing about plate lunches (a lunch you can take back to work), and Laura’s may have been the original of the plate lunch.

When you walk into Madonna’s restaurant, you stand in line to choose what you want from the hot containers of food displayed through the glass windows where the cooks are busily preparing the daily menu items. You see a variety of items—including stuffed turkey wings (a specialty), fried pork chops and catfish. These items are served alongside deep brown, peppery gravy over rice.

What I loved about Madonna was the thought given to what her customers’ needs are. She told us this town was a working town, and people needed to be able to grab something delicious and return to work. That’s why you see everything served “to go” in Styrofoam boxes.

What also grabbed my heart is that she serves gigantic portions and hates to see waste so by serving in these boxes hardly anyone throws out what they can’t finish.

Anthony Bourdain filmed one of his last episodes for Parts Unknown at Laura’s II. His words to her as he left her place were, “Food was awesome. Don’t change a thing.” I wholeheartedly agree.

Zydeco Breakfast Blast

Favorite Discoveries in Travel from Lafayette Lousiana - Zydeco breakfast at Buck and Johnny's

By Cat Lin of For Two, Please

I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into when I walked into Buck & Johnny’s. Zydeco Breakfast was what we were expecting on Saturday morning, but to meet Chubby Carrier, a Grammy award-winning zydeco musician, and his Bayou Swamp Band, was not on our agenda at all.

At 8 a.m., the restaurant was already overflowing with hungry diners. Unlike other breakfast joints, a spacious dance floor was reserved for eager dancers to show off their dance moves. How many people are actually going to dance? I wondered. To my surprise, the floor quickly filled up as soon as the band hit the beat.

To capture a close-up shot of this remarkable scene, I proceeded to the stage with my camera. All of a sudden, a gentleman tapped my shoulder and asked if I’d like to dance. As much as I’d love to, I had no idea how – and to prevent my idiotic dance moves from hurting anyone’s eyes, I politely declined.

But that gentleman did not give up! He invited me to the dance floor again even after seeing my awful, silly dance at a corner with fellow IFWTWA member, Chrissy. I hesitantly agreed, put my shyness behind and followed his lead. My footwork was a mess at first, but I eventually picked up the rhythm. One dance isn’t going to turn me into a great dancer, but it was a blast!

An Atchalafaya Wilderness Airboat Ride with Heart

Favorite Discoveries in Travel from Lafayette Lousiana - Hercules the Alligator

By Elaine Masters of Trip Well Gal

Basin Landing in Henderson, Louisiana, is a quiet place — most of the time. That silence breaks as soon as Captain Tucker throws his airboat switch and shuttles visitors out between cypress trees. How he navigates is anyone’s guess! For years he’s been working the Atchalafaya Wilderness, the largest swamp in the country. It’s also a Heritage site with thousands of acres off-limits for wildlife management, the Captain says. Still, the waters hold wonders. Alligators are plentiful, and the Captain knows several by name. If you’re lucky, he’ll pull into a closed channel and slap the water with an oar. The alpha alligator, Hercules, knows the call. Years ago, Captain Tucker pulled fish hooks out of his belly — how we’ll never know — but the two have bonded peacefully since. I watched incredulously as he rubbed the giant reptile’s chin, pulled one of his small legs up and patted his head! Hanging out with a knowledgeable local for a few hours was a highlight in the Lafayette region. The few hours filled with historical insights, environmental notes and the Captain’s wry humor flew by.

Boudin, Cracklins, Etoufée and Southern Soul

Favorite Discoveries in Travel from Lafayette Lousiana - Boudin, Cracklins and Etoufee

By Mary Chong of CalculatedTraveller.com

One thing I love about eating traditional local cuisine is that it connects you to the place you are exploring. Travel is about “firsts,” and in Lafayette I had many food firsts creating a multitude of great food memories that my taste buds will never forget.

At Johnson’s Boucaniere, I learned about boudin — Cajun fast food sausage made of pork, rice, spice and seasonings. It’s a quick, filling bite when eaten by itself but “slap yo’ mama” good when partnered with a slice of American Cheese and stuffed inside a homemade buttery grilled biscuit for breakfast.

Joining the very long queue at Billy’s Boudin & Cracklins to get my greedy fingers on more boudin and try some pork rind cracklins, I learned that cracklins are delicious and addictive, especially when on the meaty side dusted with secret spicy seasonings. I also learned that no two boudin recipes are alike, which probably explains why the Boudin Trail exists — so that you can taste test each unique recipe!

At the Tabasco® cooking school, I learned from Chef Lionel Robin that you get a recipe for crawfish etoufée, and it will be tasty, but there are secrets to making a tasty crawfish etoufée delicious…and I’m not sharing.

Last but not least, at Laura’s II, I learned that Southern soul food is just okra, rice and gravy unless you truly put your blood, sweat and tears into everything you are cooking, and that turkey wings in Lafayette come from pterodactyls!

Have you traveled to Lafayette, Louisiana? What were your favorite discoveries in travel?

Travel assistance was provided by Lafayette Travel; all opinions are those of the contributors.