As a city rich with nearly three hundred years of culinary traditions, it's difficult to top New Orleans when it comes to celebrating local cuisine and all of its trimmings. Visitors and NOLA locals are likely familiar with red beans on Mondays, king cake on Mardi Gras, Friday fish frys, and crawfish boils in the spring. But there is one wonderful tradition in the Crescent City that might escape the attention of those who enjoy the city's wonderful assortment of culinary riches: Reveillon.
From the French word meaning "awakening" Reveillon (pronounced reh-vee-ohn) was brought to New Orleans by Catholics from Spain and France — two countries that at points occupied the city before it became officially American — in the early part of the 19th century. The tradition continued through the centuries thanks largely to the city's Creole Catholics. To put it simply, Reveillon is a dinner. But, this is New Orleans, where dinner is never a small feat.
The dishes enjoyed at a Reveillon dinner would invariably be rich to the point of decadence...
After fasting all day on December 24th in anticipation of Christmas communion, Catholics would historically return from midnight mass in the early morning of Christmas day to a bountiful feast meant to "reawaken the senses," filled with celebratory delights often only indulged upon at this time of year.
The dishes enjoyed at a Reveillon dinner would invariably be rich to the point of decadence, and generally filled with the ingredients many know to have become synonymous with New Orleans cuisine. Oyster stews and dark roux soups fill the table alongside a bounty of dishes featuring roasted local game (duck and venison are particularly abundant in this region), pork or veal smothered in gravy, and, of course, pastries both savory and sweet. One traditional Reveillon dish is Mirliton (a pear-shaped squash) stuffed with shrimp and blue crab then finished with a rich Creole sauce that's often seen on holiday menus in New Orleans to this day.
A time-honored tradition is reborn
Reveillon dinners typically occurred only twice a year, once on Christmas and again on New Year's Eve, although the tradition sadly lost its way during the twentieth century. That is until the 1990's, when the concept of these celebratory dinners became renewed and reinvented. In today's New Orleans, Reveillon dinners occur throughout the month of December with some restaurants offering Reveillon or special menus on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well as New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. The meal, now offered by dozens of local restaurants both old and new is a prix fixe affair, and hungry revelers can find wonderful, multi-course Reveillon specials ranging from about $45 to $100 (for more storied, "Grand Dame" French Creole restaurants like Commander's Palace in the Garden District).
Today, the Reveillon tradition has become a way for chefs and restaurants to not just offer a festive holiday meal, but also a way to experiment with ingredients, techniques and recipes. While an old-school Reveillon dinner might have featured more traditional fare like chicken and oyster gumbo, meat pies, and souffles, a current-day Reveillon might incorporate modern versions using those same storied ingredients, like the "red wine pickled pork shoulder with mustard green purée" offered at a recent Reveillon at Cafe Adelaide," or the "oyster crab gratin with Tasso cream" at Lüke.
Reveillon on the Rocks
The Reveillon dinner has been celebrated in homes and restaurants all over New Orleans since the 1850s. This year, local bartenders created both classic and original cocktails to celebrate the Reveillon one-sip-at-a-time. Beginning December 1st and continuing until the last toast on New Year's Eve, and at some spots lasting through Twelfth Night (January 6th), over 30 bars and restaurants will say "Cheers to the Holiday Season" with a variety of spirited libations.
Whether you're looking for a traditional or modern culinary experience in the city, it's difficult to best the Reveillon menus (and their prices) in New Orleans over the holidays. With Reveillon dinners back on the menu across the city; December might just be the tastiest time of year to dine in New Orleans (or anywhere). And for a place nearly bursting with culinary history, traditions, and amazing local ingredients, that's surely saying a lot.
Check out this season's Reveillon offerings around the city here.