Louisiana has more festivals than you can shake a stick at, but having grown up in the neighboring town of Cecilia, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. Since being crowned in 1959 la capitale Mondiale de l’ecrevisse, or the Crawfish Capital of the World, by the Louisiana State Legislature, Breaux Bridge has hosted the king of all Cajun festivals, the Crawfish Festival.
Held on the first full weekend in May, the Crawfish Festival hosts over 25,000 visitors annually, serving up thousands of pounds of crawfish over the festival weekend. There is perhaps no better time and place to satisfy your crawfish envie (that’s craving for you non-Cajuns) than at the Crawfish Festival, where you can try every crawfish-centric dish your heart desires, from the conventional boiled (bawled) crawfish, stuffed crawfish, crawfish etoufée, fried crawfish, and crawfish bisque to less conventional entrees such as crawfish boudin and crawfish enchiladas. If it exists and it’s made of crawfish, you’ll probably find it at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival. There are no individual meals at the Crawfish Festival as breakfast, lunch, and dinner meld together into a hazy crawfish nirvana. Over the three days of the Crawfish Festival, Breaux Bridge is perhaps the happiest place on earth. You can see it on the smiling faces of festival-goers as crawfish juices run down their arms.
The Crawfish Festival kicks off with a celebrity crawfish eating contest, where local media celebrities and big shots compete for the title of the biggest crawfish gourmand (as if Coonasses ever needed a reason to gorge themselves). A highlight of the second day is the crawfish race, where festival-goers compete to find out who’s got the fastest crawfish (before eating it). On the final day, both the crawfish etoufée cook off (no Chinese crawfish allowed!), and the Crawfish Festival Parade are real crowd pleasers.
Now there’s more to the Crawfish Festival than just eating. Arts and crafts booths sell souvenirs and show off the best that Cajun culture has to offer. The festival also hosts over 30 Cajun and Zydeco bands over the span of three days. If you can’t dance, there are Cajun and Zydeco dance clinics to teach you how. If you still can’t dance after that, then keep throwing back beers until you just don’t care anymore. The festival is open to Cajuns and non-Cajuns alike, with the local attitude being one of inclusiveness. We Cajuns are proud to share our culture with outsiders, but don’t worry, we’re pretty humble about it (we’re not Texas proud, after all).
Other towns may claim that they are more deserving of the Crawfish Capital honor, but it’s a title that Breaux Bridge has more than earned. Breaux Bridge was the first town to openly serve crawfish in its local restaurants, and if that wasn’t enough, Breaux Bridge eateries gave birth to the crawfish etoufée was born, a dish which is now synonymous with Cajun cuisine around the world.
The modern Crawfish Festival is a family-friendly festival, held in the relatively small Parc Hardy, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1980s and 90s, the festival was closer to a New Orleans style Mardis Gras than to a local fair. Motorcycle gangs showed up in droves, and the entire city of Breaux Bridge practically shut down for three days of uncontrollable drunken crowds, crime, underage drinking, and an anything goes atmosphere. Finally, there came a breaking point in the mid 90s when the citizens of Breaux Bridge decided to scale thing back, and get the Crawfish Festival back under control. The festival’s been held in Parc Hardy ever since.
You can always tell a person who’s been to the Crawfish Festival. They’re the one who’s hung over the following Monday morning with a stupid grin on their face that they can’t wipe off, because they’re already counting down the days to next year’s Crawfish Festival.