If there’s one food item that people associate with New Orleans it would have to be beignets – those soft little pillows of fried dough that have been dusted in powdered sugar. I could rattle off a few more but there is another fried Nola delicacy that doesn’t seem to get as much attention, and to be honest, I much prefer this one.
The cala cake was brought to New Orleans by the rice-growing slaves; a street food that’s still sold in northwest African markets. In the early days of New Orleans the same cakes were made by slaves on their only day off; sold on the street for extra income.
“Calas, calas, belle calas. Tout chaud!” the cala women would shout early in the morning as they wandered about the streets in the French Market; with covered baskets of these rice cakes perched on their heads.
You can read a little more about them in this article.
I first tried cala cakes in New Orleans last year at The Old Coffeepot Restaurant in The French Quarter. Fried little spiced rice cakes served at breakfast with grits, maple syrup and generously dusted with sugar. The recipe I’ve made is based on a recipe from native New Orleanian – Poppy Tooker – and I must say, I prefer this lighter version than the heavy one I had at The Old Coffeepot.
There’s a slight yielding texture when you bite into the cakey fritter, with an unmistakeable aromatic spice that hits the tongue and fills your nose. That would be the cinnamon and nutmeg. A mellow sweetness follows with a slight crunch from the rice in the soft crust. Yep, these babies are way better than beignets.