CASSANDRA JENKINS — Share families, cultures around a good meal

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Food is a universal necessity and one of the best ways to get to know a culture.

Many families have sacred, secret recipes in their cookbooks handed down from generation to generation, prepared by parents who were taught by their parents, so on and so forth.

All these people from our past and present have created a melting pot of culture that tells us exactly where they’ve been and who they are, because local cuisine gives people an identity, tells a story, provides a background and even creates dialogue.

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Jean Athleme Brillat-Savarin once said, “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

In my own experience, I’ve found this to be true.

This past year, I traveled to England, Spain and Mexico, and besides the breathtaking views and historical landmarks, food was a favorite on my list of reasons to return.

In England, I sat on the beach eating fish and chips, watching the sunset as my native-born Brighton instructor talked about the origin of the meal and how different it was from American-style fish and fries. The next morning, I woke up to a fresh cup of tea, biscuits and clotted cream.

Spain offered traditional paella with mussels and shrimp below the glare of the La Sagrada Familia as a tour guide spoke about Spain’s luxuries. On a cruise ship to Mexico, I tried escargot for the first time on the instruction from my fellow dinner mates.

All of my best memories of each individual trip were spent alongside a meal I had never tried before, around a family and a destination that were new to me. I learned from each host where the food came from, how they were taught to cook, where their family grew up and more — all because of a meal set around a table.

But, while those experiences were great, I didn’t have to leave the country to get the same experience.

Kenny Mings, owner of Touch of Cajun Café in Nederland, his wife and co-owner Deanna, are third and fourth generational Cajuns doing the same thing, bringing families together through food.

“I grew up poor,” Mings said. “My mom was a single woman who worked two jobs, and back then in the typical ’80s, crawfish was cheap. When I was young, crawfish was 30-40 cents a pound. I learned how to pull the strainer out of the pot by the time I was 12.”

Mings now sells his crawfish to Southeast Texas as one of the few restaurants to use a unique method of soaking the critters to bring the flavor through the meat and not sprinkling the spice on the outside.

Deanna learned to cook from her grandma, Ethel Folks, who started Doguet’s Roux, an authentic Cajun roux used in gumbo.

“The Cajun culture is dying,” she said. “We are trying to bring it back through something that was important to the culture like food and atmosphere. We make dishes that are often forgot about by Cajun culture and we strive to make this restaurant feel like home to the authentic Cajuns in Southeast Texas. We often hear that when they come in, it’s like being in their grandparents’ house in Louisiana.”

Southeast Texas is a diverse community offering true Cajun-style sausage and potatoes, Vietnamese pho, Italian chicken venito, Nicaraguan beefsteak and more.

Try it out and see what you can learn about a person and his or her culture through a freshly served entrée.

Cassandra Jenkins is a news reporter at The Port Arthur News. She can be reached at