Starring right along side the music, family, shopping, gospel and empowerment sessions that make the Essence Festival experience so darn special is — you guessed it — the food.

If you’re not from the New Orleans — one of the premier culinary capitals of the country — choosing between some of the city’s trademark rice dishes might cause you anxiety. (We’d be remiss if we didn’t offer you this simple solution for that problem: eat everything.)

But, navigating this vast promise land of carby deliciousness will depend mostly on your rice-dish competency. Gumbo? Jumbalaya? Etouffee? What on earth is the difference? Fear not. This quick guide explains it all.


In short, gumbo is comprised of vegetables and the meat and/or shellfish of your choosing, seasoned to spicy perfection, and it has a more soupy consistency than its Cajun rice cousins. Important: The rice is served on the side. If it has rice in it, it ain’t gumbo.


But it might be jambalaya, and if you’ve ever had paella, you can use that as a reference point for this dish. Think of it as a hearty bowl of flavorful rice with a whole bunch of good stuff added, like shellfish, veggies and andouille sausage. Pro tip: The Creole version has tomatoes, but the Cajun version does not.


Now, this entre is special because it employs a cooking technique called smothering, from which the dish derives its name. (Étouffée is French for smothered or suffocated.)  This thick, spicy stew is most commonly made with crawfish and served over rice.

Got it? Good. This guide comes with an important warning for all festival goers: Leave your diets at home.

Be sure to follow #EssenceEats on Instagram and Twitter for all things food and festival!

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