Crawfish were not a staple in my house growing up. In fact, my only introduction to the tiny, red spiny creatures was trying to lure them out of the park stream with my brothers. For us, it was a lesson in catch and release. It never would have occurred to me to eat the little guys. And while I must state I am vegetarian, I am interested in cultural cuisine and am willing to try anything once. So when my better half recommended we attend a Crawfish Festival, I was intrigued. Music, dancing, and 10,000 pounds of crawfish, why not?
We headed to Columbia, South Carolina, for the Rosewood Crawfish Festival. It was hot. Almost too hot to eat, but that didn't stop us. The crawfish was specially flown in from Louisiana and we were not going to miss it. Upon arrival we were instantly overwhelmed by the options of food. Booths advertising creole cuisine and cooling treats lined the road. I am sure it was all good, but we were there for one thing: crawfish.
Stomachs grumbling, we found ourselves standing in a long line smack dab in the middle of the festival. Normally a line that long would call for alternative plans, but for some reason, it didn't matter. The attitude of the crowd was infectious. Waiting was not an issue. Groups of all different backgrounds were smiling and laughing, enjoying one another's company. Lively brass band music playing off in the distance set the tone as strangers talked like old friends.
The smell of spices and sight of thousands of pounds of red crawfish, or mudbugs, graced our senses as we exchanged tickets for food. Scanning for a seat, we hunkered down under a giant, white tent. Rows upon rows of festivalgoers sat elbow to elbow as they dug in.
As I began to partake in the bounty, a bit of lemon shot my way. Then a bit of food. As I looked around, I noticed the diverse crowd that was all gathered under this one tent. Everyone smiling, working hard to get a tiny amount of meat from one crawfish.
An enormous respect and appreciation of culture came over me. See, crawfish boils are a Southern tradition. Warm weather, a giant pot boiling, and a community table awaiting the crustaceans bring together family, friends, and friends-to-be. A welcoming atmosphere celebrating life and good eating is what it's all about.
At the festival, all these individuals from various walks of life had been brought together by one factor: food. It was in that moment that I truly understood the powers of the plate. The people that surrounded me did not care about what ethnicity you were or your social status in life. It was about good company and good food. By coming together to experience the traditions of one culture, many came together to celebrate life.