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How do you begin to describe New Orleans?

Do you talk about the kindness shown to you by everyone on the street? Do you talk about the jazz musicians who never stop playing? Do you talk about the ambulances that still rep the “2010 World Champion New Orleans Saints”?  Do you talk about the delicious food?

When I started talking to my parents about the city, it was the food that stood out. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit many cities across the US, from Washington D.C. to San Francisco to Seattle to Chicago. New Orleans was a whole different experience. Here, food is truly part of the culture and is intertwined with every part of daily life. You can’t walk down a street without seeing a shop that sells daiquiris, a po boy stand, and a shaved ice cafe. Beignets are aplenty, it’s PJ’s instead of Starbucks, and on Mondays the whole city makes red beans and rice. Each element of New Orleans cooking, from the spices to the proteins to the grains, have a story behind them, one that traces back to Native Americans, French Colonialists, Spaniards, Haitians, and many more cultures. For example, the word “Jambalaya” has roots in the french “jambon”, for ham, which is the base of the rice-and-meat dish. Red beans and rice are served on Mondays because they required a full day to marinate. Thus, families doing laundry on Sundays would start preparing the beans and rice at the same time as they washed clothes, taking care of two tasks at once. Crawfish come from the rice fields, and the “holy trinity” in this religious town isn’t the father, son, and holy spirit — it’s onions, green bell peppers, and celery. Oh, and it’s all delicious.

Of course, one can’t talk about New Orleans without mentioning the spirit of this city. Everyone buys into it. I have never met people who are more proud of where they are from. There is such a rich cultural legacy in this city that is celebrated every day. Jazz notes float up every day from Jackson Square, only a few blocks from Louis Armstrong Park, which celebrates the legendary jazz musician. Around the city, kids play on steel and trash can drums while their parents jam away on saxophones and trumpets. Everywhere you go, there is street art, celebrating the city, its streetcars, and its food. It feels like every other person here is wearing some Saints or Pelicans apparel. Mardi Gras might only be one Tuesday during the year, but that doesn’t stop people from wanting to celebrate it the other 364 days. The New Orleans vibe is real. Through thick and thin, in rich neighborhoods and poor ones, the uniting factor is a love of a city that loves its people right back. New Orleans is truly a special place.