In my past life if I got up at 5:30am on a Saturday, it was to torture high school juniors by administering the ACT test to them. Otherwise, Saturdays meant a feeble attempt to catch up on sleep missed the previous week and household chores. Today we got up at 5:30am to drive to Breau Bridge to stand in line at the Cafe des Amis for a zydeco breakfast. Although the restaurant did not open until 7:30, people get in line early to insure a seat in this special spot for an entertaining morning. Zydeco was begun here by African American farmers and often has a touch of R&B, blues, and Afro Caribbean music. It generally includes an accordion, someone playing a washboard, drums, a guitar and a singer. Often a violin is part of the act. The tempo is fast and peppy. After we had a delicious breakfast of beignets (square doughnuts without the hole covered with powdered sugar) and Étouffée and eggs on a biscuit with grits, the band began to play. People leapt up and begin to dance. As the dance floor filled, the dancers spilled into the aisles between the tables. The place was packed and hopping! It was easy to spot the locals and regulars, but the basic dance is a simple two step and it was easy to catch on. To hold onto our table a bit longer we ordered mimosas. This was not an original idea; the bar was doing a brisk business at 9:30 in the morning. Eventually, the waitress politely encouraged us to move on to make room for the folks still waiting on the sidewalk to come in. What a unique way to begin the weekend! The town of Breaux Bridge was having a small gardening oriented festival and we wandered around, admiring what was for sale and the historic buildings. By then we were in need of a nap.
But that still left time for a visit to the Conrad rice mill, the oldest rice mill in Louisiana. Rice grows readily in this soggy part of the world and the local farmers didn't want to keep sending their rice to New Orleans to be milled, so they built their own in New Iberia in 1912, which has been milling away ever since. The mill building was dark and dank and showed its age. The milling knocks off the outside shell, which is saved to feed to animals. The attached shop sold many types of rice we had never heard of including pecan and pop corn, whose taste reflects their names without any added seasoning. The guide told us more about the relationship between growing rice and raising crawfish. The rice is planted by airplane in the water while the crawfish are buried deep in the mud beneath. Once the rice is harvested, the crawfish come to the surface and blunder into the traps. In this way the farmer gets two crops from the same piece of land.
We are fortunate to be here during the limited crawfish season. We went to the restaurant recommended by Betty, the campground owner, and shared five pounds of crawfish. They are cooked in spicey water and made us think of small lobsters and/or jumbo shrimp. Each critter had to be opened up by hand to reveal the tasty meat in the tail and claws. After the crawfish season is over in the next month or so, this restaurant will close. It's hard to imagine making a go of a restaurant that can only stay open half the year. The crawfish were delicious and well worth the effort it took to get them out of the shells. Hot, steaming cloths got the dripping juice off our fingers and faces, but we still felt the need for a shower after this meal.
We are staying here for a week and it will take us at least that long to sample all the unique things to eat in Acadiana.