Lagniappe is a Cajun term that means “a little something extra,” which aptly describes the hospitality of the colorful town of Lafayette, Louisiana. Cajuns, also known as Acadians, are descendants of the French Canadians who settled the area in the early 1800s. Cajuns, and to a lesser extent, Creoles—who descended from European French and Spanish—contributed the strongest cultural influence to Lafayette. The city preserves its roots in art, music and language, but most notably in its food.
Cajun food is well-seasoned and hearty, such as étouffée, a stew made with crawfish or shrimp that is a signature dish on most Lafayette restaurant menus. Creole cuisine adds Native American, African and Spanish influences to French cooking to produce gumbo, a thick soup made with seafood or chicken and sausage, and jambalaya, a rice dish of similar origins. Of all the Cajun and Creole foods, boudin—a white sausage stuffed with rice, meat and vegetables—is Lafayette restaurants’ most famous delicacy. The annual Lafayette Boudin Cook-Off takes place in the fall in Downtown, during which high-level local chefs and sausage makers battle for top honors.
Lafayette culture can be enjoyed outside the dining room, as well. Along with nighttime planetarium shows, the Lafayette Science Museum on Jefferson Street features revolving exhibits, such as a popular American Civil War artifacts display. The interpretation of that collection traced Lafayette’s activity in the war, from state secession to major battles and finally devastation at the war’s conclusion.
Yet, like most major Louisiana cities, Lafayette has moved beyond its somewhat unsteady past. It displays an appetite for lagniappe by hosting a Mardi Gras celebration in early spring. More than a dozen Mardi Gras parades wind through the streets here, with costumed men and women throwing colorful souvenirs from elaborately decorated floats. Unlike more adult-themed celebrations in other cities, Mardi Gras is known as a Lafayette attraction for kids, who love the dancing, costumes and treats.
In April, hit the Festival International, a French-speaking festival that also celebrates the region’s other heritages, such as Caribbean, Spanish and African. Music is the primary focus, including zydeco, reggae, African dance sous, Haitian rara and other exotic beats. Attractions for kids at the Lafayette community festival include parades and street performers.
The 30-year-old Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival is another well-known Lafayette cultural event. The party takes place in September and features a parade, zydeco jam sessions and a kick-off dance. Typical dress for the event is Western attire.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is partly responsible for the city’s ongoing cultural traditions and preservation. The Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum within the campus is a repository of French heritage pieces as well as drawings, sculptures and photographs from Europe and Asia. Along with highlighting Lafayette’s distinct roots, the university observes a larger American heritage: a love of spectator sports. The UL Ragin’ Cajuns play football, basketball and baseball, with major games scheduled in the 13,500-seat Cajun Dome.