A Louisiana Fish Festival Worth Catching

Published in Gourmet Live 05.23.12
Sara Bonisteel travels to the Catfish Capital of the Universe, Des Allemands, Louisiana, to celebrate the king of the muddy Mississippi

It was folk art, not food, that first drew me to the Louisiana Catfish Festival. Years ago, I was visiting some friends in New Orleans, and they showed me a handpainted fan from the annual celebration in Des Allemands, a 2,500-person town about 40 minutes southwest of the Crescent City. The fan depicted a dusky bayou scene and was about the best darn folk art piece I’d seen on my visit south that summer. One day, I swore, I’d get one, too.

Louisiana may have more fairs and festivals than any other state. There are so many weekend get-togethers celebrating strawberries, crawfish, jambalaya, and oranges—not to mention my personal favorite, one of the state’s oldest festivals and the one with the most delightful name, the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival —that a special calendar is published to detail them all.

When I finally made it to Des Allemands for the festival in 2009, the Catfish Capital of the Universe more than lived up to the moniker bestowed upon it by a 1980 Louisiana Legislative proclamation. The three-day summer festival, held behind St. Gertrude the Great Catholic Church, features not only singular local eats (catfish boulettes; seafood gumbo; and softshell crabs; along with icy, sugary snoballs and ice-cold beer) but county-prisoner craft art and, yes, handpainted fans—all in homage to the king fish of the muddy Mississip’. Now in its 37th year, the festival is a folksy affair, near the bayou that played host to a James Bond powerboat chase in 1973’s Live and Let Die.

This year’s festival opens June 22, so for a glimpse of what to expect, enjoy a visual tour of some of my favorite images from the catfish fest.

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Sara Bonisteel is a senior editor at Epicurious.com. When she’s not working, she likes to explore festivals, museums, and factory floors.

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