The annual Long Beach Crawfish Festival is a celebration of New Orleans on the Left Coast. With a good 15 food stands serving up a variety of po’ boys, fried catfish, gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice, this is as authentically Cajun as one food festival gets East of Lake Pontchartrain.
The festival runs this weekend only (July 30-31) and is a claw’s throw away from the Queen Mary in downtown Long Beach. With a large stage billowing with Big Easy blues and Zydeco music beside two beer and wine tents serving quality hops from the likes of Harp and Red Strip, this is not your boring Budweiser-fueled fest.
But the stars are the little mud bug from the Gulf. Bristol Farms traditionally sponsors the crawfish booth. A giant, round vat the size of a small apartment balcony is filled with live critters, and then hoisted by crane and baptized in a deathly scalding hot pot of boiling water. Minutes later the crane resurrects the suffering beasts and dumps the load onto another pot to be transferred to the serving area.
A three-pound bucket for $17 comes complete with two ears of awfully overcooked corn and a half dozen little red potatoes. In all, the festival will bust through 26,000 pounds of the lobster’s bastard cousin over the course of the weekend.
If you love crawfish, you know the drill. Roll up your sleeves, free your fingers of jewelry and start the earthy process of sucking and shucking. The meat of the crawfish is precisely the junk in the trunk. Twist off the tail, pinch the little mallet and suck the life out of the one-hitter nestled inside. It’s a labor of eating love and one that burns the lips with sharp edges and salty meat. A cold beer isn’t only a nice wingman, but a necessary one.
I’ve been to this festival five years running and have noticed that post-Katrina, the crawfish seem to be smaller in size and slightly muddled. The flavor is still rich, but the sucking takes more patience. Bristol Farms would also be well served to ease up on the.
For those not willing to spend the time, the Ragin’ Cajun food truck serves perfectly spicy gumbo and a nice bowl of red beans and rice with quarter-sized andouille sausage. Down the road, a chicken sausage sandwich at the Brother’s Bar-B-Que booth is ruined by a slathering of sweet sauce. Better are the crispy, Cajun-salted fries next door.
If you’re in the Los Angeles vicinity and are craving pretty authentic Cajun craft, head to the cool breezes of this outdoor festive in Long Beach. The prices are a little rough ($13 just for entry) but the vibe is both hot and chill at the same time.