Cajun and Creole food are the products of southern Louisianans: Native Indians and the descendants of many peoples who settled there, including French, Spanish, English, German, Acadians, West Indians, and Africans. The area is covered by water — made up of rivers, lakes, and slow-moving bayous along costal areas — which accounts for the popularity of fish and seafood in both cuisines.

So, what’s the difference between Creole and Cajun cooking? Many contest Creole cooking is city food, a refined cuisine originated by the European aristocracy who settled there. Cajun cuisine typifies simple country cooking and consists of traditional one-pot meals made from whatever is available in the area.

Creole Roots
In the late 17th century, French aristocrats migrated to New Orleans hoping to grow their fortunes in the New World. They brought with them European traditions, including their homeland cuisine. The French dish Bouillabaisse is said to be Gumbo’s predecessor.

It wasn’t long after the French settled in New Orleans that the German, Spanish, Native Indians, and Africans infused their influences into the Creole cuisine we appreciate today. The Natives introduced them to locally grown produce such as corn, file powder, bay leaves, and tomatoes. African slaves blended their traditional cooking techniques and ingredients with dishes like Gumbo (African for Okra). When the Louisiana government transitioned from Spanish to French rule, cooks learned both cuisines.

Cajun Roots?
In contrast, the Cajuns were mostly from French peasant lineage, called Acadians. Although many originally landed in New Orleans, the Spanish government did not welcome them to the city and promptly re-settled them to more rural parts of Louisiana. Many Cajuns settled in unclaimed swamp areas, where life was mere survival. They subsisted by hunting and trapping a variety of wild foods including wild turkey, alligator, frogs, fish, and shellfish because they could not grow their own food like corn, sweet potatoes, beans, and rice. The one-pot meal — consisting of the daily catch and abundant local seasonings like cayenne and garlic — became cuisine by simply using a cast iron pot suspended over a fire. Like Creole fare, the spicier Cajun food evolved from culinary influences of the Native Americans, Africans, Spanish, and Germans.

Today’s Cajun and Creole
There was a time when Cajun and Creole cooking were very distinct from each other. However, today flavors of both cuisines have melded together with only a few differences. Cajuns tend to eat a lot more pork like Andouille sausage and lots of crawfish when they’re in season. Creoles are much more likely to use oysters, shrimp, and crabmeat. Cajun food also tends to be spicier and easily made in one pot, whereas Creole cooking is more complex and reminiscent of the Grand European style. Both cuisines share recipes that incorporate onions, green peppers, celery (a.k.a. “the holy trinity”), and garlic. However, they’re prepared slightly differently.

In short, it’s almost impossible for non-Louisianans to decide whether certain dishes have origins in Creole “city” cuisine or Cajun “country” cooking. One thing’s for sure, the two cuisines have fused over the years, and many traditional dishes and ingredients, like Filé Gumbo and Jambalaya, are now shared between the two.