A Brief History of Red Beans
It's a Monday in New Orleans, are you eating red beans for dinner?
New Orleans has too many distinct culinary traditions to count. Ranking high among them is our love for — some would say obsession with — red beans. Few other foods are so relevant to the city’s identity.
If you’re not from New Orleans, you may not be aware of the city’s deep love for red beans. You’re not alone, either. When one of Louisiana’s most celebrated chefs, Paul Prudhomme, moved to New Orleans from Opelousas in the 1970s, he had no idea that red beans were viewed differently from any other beans; they had no more relevance than pintos or black-eyed peas. A bean is a bean, right?
Wrong. What Prudhomme discovered was a culture obsessed with certain traditions that go back so far in time that no one’s even sure anymore how they began. Red beans & rice is one such tradition.
The most popular legend goes like this: Ham was traditionally served at Sunday dinners in New Orleans. The leftover ham bone was still useful and could be used the following day for flavoring.
Monday was traditionally laundry day. Cooking and doing laundry at the same time isn’t really feasible, so…. how about cooking that ham bone with some red beans?
There are numerous other origin stories, too. Did New Orleanians’ love for red beans come from enslaved people working in Louisiana’s sugar plantations 300 years ago? Or did the stew come from Canada, whose Acadian people emigrated south in the 1750s and became today’s Cajun people?
Regardless of where the tradition came from, red beans today aren’t exclusive to any particular race, class, age or political group. “Food unites with complete sincerity,” writes Sara Roahen, author of Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table. “It harbors no ulterior motives; its power is irreversible. Red beans and rice is my best example.”
Next time you’re in Louisiana — on a Monday or any other day of the week — take your pick of one of the many restaurants and order up a bowl of red beans and rice, either as a side or as a main dish. While this tradition blossomed in New Orleans, this dish can be found in menu items throughout the entire state. It's truly a staple. See just some of the best places to scoop up a plate of red beans & rice, in the city it originated, below.
Red Beans & Rice in New Orleans
Napoleon House – Napoleon House serves up red beans & rice, made fresh every day. Theirs is served with locally-made smoked sausage, and Leidenheimer French bread – arguably the best French bread in the game. Try more Louisiana favorites like shrimp remoulade stuffed avocado, alligator sausage, muffuletta, and chocolate doberge cake for dessert.
Joey K's – Ask anyone and they’ll tell you Joey K’s red beans & smoked sausage are among the favorites in the city. Other unique eats include their Trout Tchoupitoulas, fried green tomatoes and corn and crawfish fritters.
Felix's Restaurant & Oyster Bar – This spot isn’t just known for their oysters (albeit delicious). Felix’s red beans & rice with andouille sausage is a hit. Bring a big group and get a spread of their crab fingers, BBQ shrimp, turtle soup, shrimp & grits, and more for a full Louisiana experience.
Café Reconcile – Head here to get a great meal for a great cause. Café Reconcile by provides workforce development to supports New Orleans’ youth ages 16-24. Order up a plate of red beans & rice with your choice of half a fried chicken, grilled smoked sausage or Louisiana Catfish (fried or blackened). Then come back again for menu items like their delicious daily special, catfish with crawfish sauce or a fried shrimp po’boy on that beloved Leidenheimer bread.
Dooky Chase's – Head to Dooky Chase’s for lunch and grab their perfected red beans & rice, served with fried chicken and your choice of a side. Between French-style string beans, stewed okra, mustard greens, baked macaroni, potato salad and more – you’ll be tempted to come back and try every mashup! They recommend pairing this hearty lunch with a nice glass of La Crema Pinot Noir. It’s five o’clock somewhere.
Lil Dizzy's – Clear off your Monday schedule! This local fave sticks to tradition, only offering red beans as their Monday special. With a choice of smoked sausage or fried chicken, plus a slice of cornbread, this is the best way to spend that day of the week that most tend to dread.
Coop's Place – This casual joint has been turning our local delicacies since 1983. The Redfish Meuniere and Shrimp Creole are surely a representation of New Orleans. But, we are here for the beans, which Coop’s simmers all day with local seasonings. Choose between smoked sausage, Cajun fried chicken or a pork chop to pile on top.
Buffa's – Buffa’s claims three house specialties, with red beans & rice being one of them. Theirs is made from an old family recipe, so you know it’s cooked with years of love. Others include their beer-soaked Bratwurst Jambalaya and blackened Redfish del Buffa. Once you get your fix of beans, come back for their Sunday Jazz Brunch.
Evangeline – Red beans & rice is a must-try at Evangeline, where they use local Camellia beans this true New Orleans staple. Evangeline only uses the freshest ingredients purchased directly from local markets and fisherman – including local Gulf shrimp, Louisiana blue crab and Acadian sausage. Pair your meal with a selection of Louisiana microbrews.
Mambo’s – At popular spot on Bourbon Street, order red beans & rice on its own, or as their “Taste of New Orleans” sampler place, complete with jambalaya and étouffée. Perfect for us indecisive eaters. And did we mention they have Cajun Crawfish Poutine? Yum!
Once you’ve sampled all the beans you can eat, make an attempt to master the dish at home with this Louisiana Red Beans and Rice recipe.