I won’t dare name the establishment I went to when I sought, in vain, to treat my homesick yearning for boiled crawfish on a muggy day in July two years ago, but let’s just say I knew it was going to be some bulls--- when the server asked if we wanted to wear gloves. (Bless their hearts and lift them and their seasoning up in prayer.)
You do not need to wear gloves to consume what is referred by many as a “mudbug” — and don’t let that disparaging descriptor dissuade you. Crawfish is delicious, beloveds, and I, like every natural born Southerner, grew up eating it without the pretense of fanciness that comes with wearing gloves. My friend and I were visibly shocked and horrified at the suggestion that we wear gloves to eat something that’s referred to as a “mudbug” around select country circles. You Yankees have too many rats the size of Donald Trump’s ego to behave so delicately.
The situation promptly worsened when the server then asked what kind of seasoning would we like. Uh, should I have to tell y’all that?
Don’t put pineapple near my crawfish; don’t ask me how to season my crawfish; don’t give me gloves; don't charge me like it's lobster instead of mudbug.
But, you know, we were there and we went for the experience that is trying to eat food that’s truly only best ordered along the Gulf Coast.
A friend recently grew upset with me because, when he told me that they put pineapple in some Yankee crawfish boil he went to, I told him that it sounded like an abomination. He thought I was being picky, but he just didn’t understand. I am tired of being overcharged for paltry and unseasoned portions of crawfish; I'm tired of Northerners trying to "fix" what wasn't ever broken. Don’t put pineapple near my crawfish; don’t ask me how to season my crawfish; don’t give me gloves; don't charge me like it's lobster instead of mudbug. Actually, just don’t. I am tired of my heart being broken.
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There are many reasons to both love and loathe living so far away from home, but in those moments, I remember why it’s vital for me to go home a wee bit more often than once or twice a year — even if that means having to be around people I don’t see often on purpose.
I should have known I wasn’t going to find good crawfish in New York City. With all due respect, I can barely find soul food comparable to what I find back in the South around here. (And what does this city have against biscuits?) I guess if I wanted some pizza or street meat, sure, New York City can’t be beat.
(I can already hear the boos and hisses from the food critic mafia. Yes, New York has some of the world’s finest dining, but I have never come across any Creole or Cajun food offerings on the Northeast that were up to par. And if you do find something edible, it’s probably overpriced and not satisfying.)
Even so, I was at my weakest moment trying to eat crawfish, missing home and needing a fix of the familiar. It didn’t help that the night before, I had been talking to my best friend back home about her weekend plans, which included a crawfish boil at her mom’s house. She'd said everyone wished I could be there; I wished I had been there, too, because nothing makes me happier than crawfish, loud Black people and alcoholic beverages (please drive responsibly).
Now, crawfish season is technically not a specifically summer thing: The start of the season varies depending on the amount of rain and the water levels in the swamps and bayous, but usually crawfish season runs from mid-January through early-July with the peak months being March, April, and May. When you’re from the South, though, it always feels like summer around that time because it’s so hot — but, even so, there is a nuance to the oppressive heat down there.
In May and June and — depending on how vengeful Mother Nature feels that year — tippy-top of July, sure, at that point the heat index is steadily rising, but it’s not so hot that you think you’re going to suffer a heat stroke if you attempt to do something like Beyoncé’s “'Before I Let Go' Challenge” outside. The same cannot be said of mid- to late July or any parts of August. By then, you may try to step on 'em, step on 'em, step on 'em, step and trip right into dehydration and a moment on the ground — especially if the bopping was preceded by the sipping of alcoholic beverages. By August in Houston, it’s too hot to do anything besides seek refuge in the blessing that is centralized air conditioning.
May, June and select portions of July are just right in my eyes. It’s when I can still go outside and play the card game pitty pat after I relish in consuming at least three pounds of crawfish. That is the time of year that I really, really miss crawfish — like, fried crawfish tails, and crawfish po’boys and crawfish étouffée and, most certainly, a good crawfish boil.
If you don’t know how to eat crawfish, there was a very informative scene on a recent episode of "The Real Housewives of Potomac." Gizelle Bryant, one of the stars of the show, is Creole (like Beyoncé and I) and led her friends to a kitchen in New Orleans (you can find amazing crab in the Baltimore and D.C. area, but that’s not crawfish, beloveds) where she gave instructions on how to eat crawfish like the rest of us. As country as it this may sound, I was very proud to hear “suck the head” on national television. It’s not nasty, but a nod to sucking the juice out of the teensy head of that teensy red creature that was just boiled to perfection.
That episode made me more homesick than I already was. Those late-spring-into-early-summer boils are my fondest memories of eating crawfish on newspaper on the ground or on somebody’s table along with some red potatoes, corn and sausage. (Yes, there were some years in that period that I said I wouldn’t touch “the swine,” but this little piggy went back to market because bacon and sausage are just too good.)
However, in spite of being inspired by the Housewives, I have not tried again to duplicate their meal this far up yonder, as the episode also reminded me that we love Northern people (please hear this in Mariah Carey’s voice), but y’all don’t know nothing about how I grew up eating.
There are certain things I do until I can get back home during a crawfish season. I can go online and order myself some boudin alligator sausage and have it delivered; I can order all of the seasonings I can’t find in any of these Yankee supermarkets online; I can gleefully accept my mom mailing me the praline she baked for the grandkids but saved a little for me, her hungry son.
But when it comes to good crawfish, I know where I need to go; I knew it after I saw a bag of frozen cooked crawfish in the gentrified grocery store near my apartment. Call it what you want — God, the universe, Tina Knowles-Lawson’s guiding Creole light — but whatever it was, it was telling me to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, and know when it's time to head on home for the meal I deserve.