The kitchen crew at USA Medical Center in Mobile, Ala., is proud of the city’s Mardi Gras history: “Mobile is where Mardi Gras originated,” says Steve Lancaster, food manager.
In 1704, the Masque de la Mobile, predecessor to Mardi Gras, got rolling, complete with masks, partying and clubs called “mystic societies.” Today there’s a friendly rivalry between sister cities Mobile and New Orleans, where traditions—both mystic and culinary—have diverged in many ways.
“As a port city, we have a lot of the same origins and influences as New Orleans,” Lancaster says. “The town on the opposite side of Mobile Bay is called Spanish Fort, and the fort was used by the Spanish, French and then the U.S. for many years.”
Legendary Cajun and Creole dishes are regularly served on the hospital’s retail side, including gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice and dirty rice. Shrimp and lots of other seafood also play a big part on the menu.
“Within a 25-mile radius of Mobile you can fish for tuna, red snapper and grouper in saltwater; red fish and speckled trout in brackish water (between salt and fresh water); and bass, bream and catfish in fresh water,” Lancaster says.
One thing to remember about cooking in the Mobile River Delta?
“If you serve any kind of pea or bean, you better have rice on the menu, because they put all beans over rice here,” Lancaster says.