Aloha Spirit: New Orleans

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As I mentioned before, I believe karma introduced me to Tiki, and it continues to swim in my bloodstream. I’ve seen many signs in my travels that have confirmed this for me. Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

New Orleans LA, September 2003. My second trip to The Big Easy, but the first time I spent any real time there, I was there for a couple of days on business, then my wife Jess flew out and met me for the weekend. She had a bad head cold when she arrived, but we still saw and did a lot that weekend in NOLA. It’s an amazing town!

But what made me think to write about New Orleans with respect to the Aloha Spirit? I guess the trigger was the new book I’m reading, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean, which claims that all Tiki drinks have their origin in the rum-based drinks of the West Indies. The Bum lives in New Orleans and plans to open his own Tiki bar there some day. His book is a wonderful read, but I think my personal connection of NOLA and Tiki is much deeper than this.

I fell in love with the culture of New Orleans many years ago. I loved all of it: the music, the food, the history, the atmosphere, the pageantry – I still have attending Mardi Gras in NOLA on my bucket list! I enjoy many albums in a wide range of music, from the Cajun French singing of Beausoleil to the jazz piano greats Dr. John and Professor Longhair and the big brass wailing of the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth Brass Bands. In fact, my second-ever CD compilation was a tribute to this wonderful music: Panda’s Tasty Jambalaya.

Panda's Tasty Jambalaya CD

Inside this CD case I have squirreled away my very own recipe for Jambalaya. It’s a recipe I’ve perfected over 20 years of making it, and I continue to tweak it as time goes on. Cajun and Creole food are some of my favorites! Jess and I had one of our best meals ever at K-Paul’s, chef Paul Prudhomme’s restaurant in the French Quarter. We were lucky enough to see the man himself the night we dined there, directing traffic in the kitchen behind glass in the center of the restaurant, working his culinary magic for all to see. The next morning we ventured out to the famous Café du Monde for beignets and café au lait, a NOLA tradition. After a Saturday night partying on Bourbon Street, we spent our final morning in town at one of the countless sidewalk cafés having brunch, soaking in every last ounce of New Orleans atmosphere we could taste.

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So finally, how do I bring this all back to my love of Tiki? I guess the easy answer might lie with the spirit of the Acadians who settled New Orleans. It reminds me a little of Jamaican Irie – NOLA people are pretty happy, love to party, and have a strong, spiritual connection with their roots, which are a jumbled mix of many cultures. It’s evident in the passion they put into all aspects of their life, from music to food and drink. And that’s when it hits me: my total immersion into the culture of New Orleans was the precursor for my current obsession with all things Tiki! I’m now so into Polynesian culture, but I forget that I’ve been down this road before. Karma? I think so! Mahalo, New Orleans. Laissez les bon temps roullez!

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