While the mudbug hails from Louisiana, festivals in its honor span from coast to coast.
Story by Erin Z. Bass
Crawfish season officially gets underway in early spring, and the bright red crustaceans usually remain in supply through June. The majority of crawfish in North America come from Louisiana, where rice fields are flooded in late summer to make way for the Cajun delicacy. Louisiana leads the nation in crawfish production, with crawfish farms producing more than 100 million pounds a year.
You might wonder: Why would anyone eat a creature that lives in a swamp or ditch? Well, most of the crawfish that reaches the table is harvested in fresh water, and boiling techniques involve multiple rinses to “purge” or clean them. Peeling crawfish does take some work, but the reward is a salty, tasty tail.
Crawfish boils really get going in Louisiana around Easter time, especially for Good Friday, but plenty of restaurants, grocery stores and drive-thru stands sell them by the pound throughout the season.
Even if you’re not in Louisiana during crawfish season, numerous festivals celebrate the mudbug around the country.
In Texas, the Fredericksburg Crawfish Festival takes place Memorial Day weekend at the Downtown Marktplatz. Crawfish are served by the pound and bucket with sides of corn and potatoes.
Also held on Memorial Day is Michael Arnone’s Crawfish Fest in Augusta, New Jersey. What started as a small crawfish boil for 70 homesick people in 1989 now features some of the best Louisiana bands on three stages, fresh Louisiana crawfish trucked in still alive, crawfish etouffée, crawfish pie and camping on site. Rumor has it that the party continues at the campground, with camp sites named after different Louisiana cities like New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
Crawdad Days in Harrison, Arkansas, is held the third weekend of May on the banks of Lake Harrison. The 29-year-old festival claims its star attraction is crawfish, which are showcased with an eating contest, demonstrations, and all-you-can-eat food vendors. Live music, a carnival, arts and crafts, and a beer garden are also available for those not so crazy about crawfish.
After crawfish season has ended in Louisiana, Long Beach, California, is still celebrating with what it calls the largest crawfish festival outside of Louisiana. Long Beach Crawfish Festival is scheduled for July 26-28 at Rainbow Lagoon. A 25-year tradition, this celebration has master chefs preparing the crustaceans with corn, potatoes and a remoulade dipping sauce. A second line parade in the New Orleans tradition, zydeco dance lessons and even a signature drink—the Screaming Crawfish—bring even more Louisiana flavor to southern California.
In Oregon, the Tualatin Crawfish Festival August 2-3 celebrates the more recent development of crawfish farming in the Mid-Atlantic region. Crawfish are prepared by bucket, platter, and roll (sandwich stuffed with chilled crawfish salad) for this event, which also has an eating contest, cornhole tournament, and Crawfish Crawl 5K.
Tualatin has an interesting historic rivalry with Louisiana. According to the festival website, in 1961, Tennessee Ernie Ford declared it the only crawfish festival in the world—much to the dismay of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, which holds the title of “Crawfish Capital of the World,” and has hosted the Crawfish Festival since 1960. A letter was sent to the Tualatin Times that informed the community of this designation, but that wasn’t the end of it. In 1976, a self-proclaimed voodoo queen named Shelby Davis placed a curse on the festival for attempting to steal the title to crawfish supremacy.
Despite the progression of crawfish celebrations from state to state, Louisiana’s festival calendar is still packed with plenty of its own. In Shreveport, in the northern part of the state, Mudbug Madness May 24-26 is a steal at only $5 to enter, and opening ceremonies include a Crawfish Eating Contest while a Crawfish Calling Contest is set for the following day. Three other eating contests are also held for men, women and children throughout the weekend, and this event has an impressive lineup of music, from Grammy winner Chubby Carrier to fiddle sensation Amanda Shaw.
No matter how you choose to celebrate crawfish season, just remember to give Breaux Bridge its due as the Crawfish Capital. The Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival has been held for 59 years during the first full weekend in May in this scenic bayou town known for elevating the status of mudbug from something only eaten at home to a coveted delicacy. Having drawn 100,000 people from around the world in past years, this festival serves up only Louisiana crawfish in every imaginable way: fried, etoufféed, stuffed into boudin and pie and, of course, boiled.
It’s important to make sure you buy Louisiana crawfish: Imported crawfish from places like China are a non-native species and labeled “Avoid” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
Plan A Trip
Hawk’s in Rayne, Louisiana, is a destination for some of the cleanest crawfish around. Make the drive to the “middle of nowhere” about 20 minutes outside of Lafayette during the season. The restaurant has a help line for those who lose their way.
Crawfish Town USA in Henderson, just past Breaux Bridge, serves crawfish every which way, from enchiladas to burgers, etouffée and boiled, seven days a week. There’s even a market with fresh seafood right next to the restaurant.
For more information, check out Louisiana Travel.