A fast food restaurant common in United States shopping malls.
Given the chain's name, one might think that these eateries serve Cajun or creole food. An unsuspecting or non-jaded shopper might spy the blazing red neon “Cajun Gourmet” sign and expect to find low-price low country cooking. Perhaps some quick and dirty jambalayas, filé-laced gumbos, red beans and rice, or maybe even beignets and latte. If not, maybe the eatery will at least make an attempt as Popeye's Fried Chicken does with its Cajun rice.
We should be so lucky.
True, there is a token 'gumbo' offered, but that's the only concession made to Louisiana in sight. And while rice is a staple throughout the South and plays a role in Cajun cuisine, I doubt that fried rice qualifies as Cajun. Ultimately, these great pretenders are little more than fronts for Americanized Chinese food. The offerings are nearly identical to the generic deep-fried abortions served up at the Chinese kitchens that invariably stand across the food court from a Cajun Gourmet. Sodium, MSG, corn syrup, and shoyu-laced noodle dishes with a perfunctory slice or two of cabbage.
"Hello, sir, want to try some bourbon chicken?"
Ah, bourbon chicken: the signature dish that put Cajun Gourmet on the map. And oddly enough, it is a dish often copied by food court Chinese eateries. Bourbon chicken is a dish with more food coloring per ounce than Cap'n Crunch Crunchberry or Smurfberry crunch cereals. Dyed to an unnatural shade of red, it resembles char-siu on overdrive. Like all good Cajun food, this dish is served with pseudo-Chinese noodles or fried rice. Its flavor is indistinguishable from the "sukiyaki" chicken I used to order from Japanese fast food joints as a child. The color sort of suggests grilling and the flavor betrays a marinade of equal parts soy sauce and sugar, with a smidgen of MSG. So, what about the bourbon in this dish? Well, bourbon is one of the South's great gifts to mankind so bourbon is not out of place at a Cajun restaurant. But I am a bourbon drinking man and I have even committed the sin of cooking with aqua vitae and if there's any bourbon in this dish, I'll be a monkey's uncle.
If this is Cajun, then I’m Doc Guidry.
After a quick run through Google, I discovered a Louisiana gourmand who sounds madder than hell about that bourbon chicken.
This dish is not representative of New Orleans, of Creole cuisine, or of Cajun Cuisine. This is a dish that appears at shopping mall food courts everywhere in the United States except, significantly, in Louisiana. . .
I know our cuisine extremely well, and I'd never heard of it until the emails start coming in. No one in my family had heard of it. None of my friends in New Orleans had heard of it. No one on the New Orleans Mailing List had heard of it unless they saw it in some shopping mall food court in Nebraska, Minnesota or New Jersey.
– Chuck Taggart 1
I have yet to determine why a chain of Chinese fast food joints is masquerading as a chain of Cajun restaurants. A ChiCom plot? A rather stupid inside joke? Circumvention of mall restrictions on the number of Chinese restaurants that can exist in a food court? I’m dumbfounded, flabbergasted, puzzled, perplexed, and so overwhelmed that I’m out of synonyms.
I'll spare the reader my thoughts on mass culture and the construction of authenticity. And I'll shelve my musings on the sociological implications of smearing cultural lines and misappropriating traditional culture. Hell, what kind of toolbox goes to the mall for cultural clarification anyway? So, what’s the point of this write-up on Cajun Gourmet? I don’t know. All I know is that these deceitful little restaurants bother me to my very core.
1. Chuck Taggart, http://www.gumbopages.com/food/poultry/bourbon-chix.html (last verified 23 May 2002).