Current Day French Culture in Lafayette, LA

While growing up, my dad and uncle shared their household with my great grandmother from Belgium, giving our family a very strong link to the French culture. My dad’s generation had never attempted a serious study of French that I know about, and French conversation in the household consisted of a few phrases.

These stories, though, prompted an interest on my part to become at least a little familiar with this part of my family tradition. An obvious place of interest to me is Lafayette, the unofficial capital of French Acadiana where French families settled after they had been “kicked out” (I believe that is the technical term) of Nova Scotia and surrounding provinces by the British settlers during the “Great Expulsion” from 1755 to 1764. Some of these refugees found homes in the Thirteen Colonies, but a large number arrived as a group in 1765 in what was then the Spanish ruled colony of Louisiana. Because of their numbers, though, they and other French colonists preserved French as the predominant language of the area, and Louisiana fell back under French control shortly before the time it became the American “Louisiana Purchase” in 1803.

Remarkably, French remained the primary spoken language in Acadiana through at least the 1930’s and early 1940’s (the boundaries of Acadiana being based on the areas where French was spoken). When I visited in 2017 I can say that I really never heard any French spoken by the residents there. I was searching for it (such as listening to French radio stations, etc.), and I know it exists, but today this is not a French speaking area.

Through sources such as YouTube you can find videos of Cajun French, and it is obvious that the expert speakers are primarily of the older generation. In the short term the language has not died out because there is a diligent effort by much of the younger generation to keep it going. In the long term, though, it is hard to know what is going to happen.

This narrative is meant to give a background for some things you can see when you are in this beautiful and totally enchanting area.

Hotels along Pinhook Rd.

Hotels along Pinhook Rd.

An area that may at first look like downtown is the “commercial district” along Pinhook Rd. located just south of the historic city center. This area has a wide choice of hotels and is away from the Interstate traffic (Interstate 10 is about four miles to the north).

Rosa Parks Transportation Center

Rosa Parks Transportation Center

A good place to start an exploration of downtown Lafayette is at the Rosa Parks Transportation Center at Jefferson St. and Cypress St. To get here from Pinhook Rd. go east to the Evangeline Thruway where you turn north, turn left when you get to Jefferson Boulevard and go about four blocks until you see the large public parking area (parking is free). This is also the parking lot for Amtrak, Greyhound Bus, and several city and parish offices.

Entranceway to downtown

Entranceway to downtown

While headed west on Jefferson you will also notice this entrance sign to downtown Lafayette (this is the historic downtown area). This view is looking west from the parking lot shown in the last photo. The building at the left edge of the photo is Dat Dog, a casual restaurant that I went in to investigate, and found that it could be of interest to foodies (although I was not able to try it at that time).

Along Jefferson St.

Along Jefferson St.

Along Jefferson Street are some shops, restaurants, bars, etc. that could be of interest to visitors. Mainly I thought it was very visually appealing, and not typical of what you would see in a city’s downtown (just south of this area is the main part of downtown with more traffic, parking lots, etc.).

Dwyer's Cafe

Dwyer’s Cafe

I wasn’t there at the right time, but Dwyer’s Cafe (323 Jefferson St.) is known as the home of the “French Table” where people gather at 7:00 am to enjoy breakfast and speak French. Of course I think Dwyer’s also has good food (which I also was not able to try on this visit).

There is a YouTube video in French showing the group who meet at Dwyer’s as well as other efforts to promote the French Language: Louisiane 2010 – Parler français. The video caption says some of the people who come learned the language from their grandparents but did not know where or when they would have a chance to practice it today (and the meeting at Dwyer’s gives them the opportunity).

In fact, if you wish you can find a multitude of videos about Cajun French on YouTube. My big takeaway from visiting Lafayette, though, is that they speak English. If you want to practice your French you may have to seek out someone who can converse with you.

For those not interested in the language the Cajun food is reason enough to visit Lafayette (but I think there are opportunities to experience the language as well). Most of all, though, this is a very livable mid-sized city with plenty of food choices of all types, and it is a good base from which to explore the surrounding area.

This area of Louisiana certainly seems to rank with northern New Mexico as being one of the most unique cultural areas of the United States. One commonality of these two areas was the homogeneous language and cultural group each had that allowed their native language to survive, and which to some extent is present today.

My Restaurant Guide lists some restaurants I tried as well as ones that look good and would be on my list for future visits: Louisiana Restaurant Guide.

I want to be sure to mention Poche’s, in Breaux Bridge a few miles east of Lafayette, for excellent home style Cajun food.

“Lagniappe” (Additional Information Available on the Internet)
While Lafayette and the surrounding area may not always exude an obvious French culture in its day-to-day life, there is much to discover just below the surface, or simply by knowing where to look. An excellent source seems to be the Lafayette Travel web site, with links to events, attractions, food, and any other information that might be of interest to residents and visitors (I compliment them on the amount of information that is available on the site).

Outdoor concert series are often scheduled multiple times per week (with the most taking place during the best weather seasons of spring and fall or at the appropriate time of day for the musicians’ and audience comfort). Indoor concerts and dances are also available on a frequent basis.

Much of the local music is performed in Cajun French or has French roots, and this music has continued through the generations at dances and just about anywhere people got together for a social occasion or to have a good time. The Lafayette Travel web site seems to provide information about the easiest ways to find whatever musical event is going on.

Lafayette and all the surrounding cities celebrate their French roots through the local cuisine, and the Lafayette Travel site offers a multitude of suggestions. My experience is that a little bit of searching on web sites can result in very positive results in finding Cajun food or other types of local cuisine. In fact, even many people in New Orleans say the best Cajun food is not there, but in Acadiana.

The web site even has a list of places with a “French Table” where people can get together to practice French (and usually enjoy food at the same time). I was unable to find this list through the web site’s menu, but located it through a Google search which I will share:

French Tables (for Practicing French)

According to the list Dwyer’s Cafe has their meeting every Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. This is only one of nine places currently listed in Lafayette which have a French Table, with others available in surrounding cities.

My Overview of All of This
I really have a couple of takeaways from visiting the area: (1) If you are interested in exploring any aspect of French culture in Louisiana it is easy to find with a little bit of searching, although it will definitely not be a situation where you will feel like you are in a foreign country and do not know the language, and (2) If you are coming primarily for Cajun food I think it will definitely be worth the trip–any cuisine is its best at the source, and I definitely found that to be true here.

Fortune–Oklahoma City, OK

Fortune Chinese Restaurant
12315 N. Rockwell Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK
(405) 722-3032
Fortune Chinese Restaurant

Fortune Chinese Restaurant


Fortune is a small family run restaurant in far northwest Oklahoma City that from the outside looks like most of its competitors. All the standard dishes are served, and the menu is pretty typical for Chinese restaurants. A good portion of the restaurant’s business is take-out, and if you dine in it will be easy on the budget. While Fortune may be everything that is expected in a suburban Chinese restaurant, close examination reveals quite a few features that are not normally found.

Upon entering the building one may notice the ample space that makes it possible to hold large family gatherings, and there are even large round Chinese style banquet tables. The new chairs, green plants, and clean environment invite a leisurely meal, or food can be served quickly enough for those who have a time constraint.

Fortune's comfortable interior

Fortune’s interior is comfortable and inviting

There is not a special Chinese menu such as would be found in the Asian District (Fung’s Kitchen, Grand House, etc.) although the chefs here certainly know how to prepare authentic Cantonese dishes. It is a matter of the customer base in the suburbs versus the central city, and the fact that the Americanized Chinese food and the traditional food take different ingredients, a different kitchen setup, and of course the expectation that if they prepared the authentic food there would be a certain number of customers who would order it.

I am sure that Fortune will not change the menu they have had since the restaurant opened in 1987 (under previous owners) and there is really no reason for it to do so. When I started going to Fortune around 2006 I got to know the manager Suni and her brother Wei Min who is one of the chefs and who was largely responsible for preparing the “Seasonal Specials”  they had listed on a special menu board at the time. These were the same type of traditional dishes I had found in Seattle, and the ones at Fortune had a similar flavor. The Seasonal Specials lasted several years, but never caught on with customers enough that the restaurant wanted to continue it.

A few of the special dishes made their way to the menu and others can still be prepared by special request. The trick of looking at the menu is that you have to look at both menus (for some reason some of these dishes are on the take home menu but not the regular one). For any special requests you can always ask whether they are available or not.

I have included items in this review that I believe the restaurant can likely prepare for people, and for those who are interested it is worth exploring “beyond the menu.”

Soup
Several soups are listed on the menu, and lunch specials come with either a bowl of egg drop or hot and sour soup (the one I prefer is egg drop).

Egg drop soup

Egg drop soup

I like the fact that the Egg Drop Soup has a lot of flavor, and it seems to be better than at a lot of other restaurants.

Corn soup

Corn soup

Corn Soup is one of the ones you can order from the menu, and I think the one here is excellent.

Chicken soup with dumplings and bok choy

Chicken soup with dumplings by special order

They can also make special soups that would serve as a complete meal, such as the Chicken Soup with Rice Noodles, Shrimp, Dumplings, and Bok Choy shown in the photo. I think the bok choy is seasonal so this soup may vary in its ingredients. I was informed that this is one of the dishes customers can request as a special order because of the fact that it does not take a long time to prepare.

Dinners Ordered from the Menu

Lettuce wrap

Lettuce wrap

Although the Lettuce Wrap Chicken is listed as an appetizer, it is really a full meal. I think this is one of the better ones in OKC (I have tried some in other restaurants that did not live up to the ones here).

Crispy tofu

Crispy tofu Guangzhou style

Crispy Tofu was originally served as a Seasonal Special and then was added to the menu under the “House Specialties” section (I think it is only on the take-out menu, though). This is a delicious dish in which the sauce is really the key that makes it so flavorful. I am not sure if the sauce is vegetarian, though (it has been some time since I have tried it).

I have asked the restaurant which menu items they consider to be authentic and they have given me this list:

  • Crispy Tofu
  • House Special Noodle Soup (in the “Noodle Special” section of the menu)
  • Shredded Pork with Garlic Sauce
  • Tofu Clay Pot (this is vegetarian)
  • Lettuce Wrap Chicken

One menu item I have tried several times has been General Tso’s Chicken (mostly it has been from sampling it rather than getting a full order). I think this has a very good flavor and is not overly sweet, but fried and battered chicken in a sweet sauce is not traditional Chinese food.

Another item I have particularly enjoyed has been the Tomato Beef.

Not on the Menu but Available to Order

Tomato and egg

Eggs with tomato are simple yet delicious, and can be served any time

Tomato beef is one of the “House Specialties,” but they can make what I think is an even better dish and which is totally traditional in China, the Tomato and Egg (scrambled egg). Both the traditional version and the menu version have the same delicious sauce, which I think is probably the key to either of these dishes.

Hong Kong tofu

Hong Kong tofu

If the Hong Kong Tofu is on the menu I cannot find it, and I do not know if this is its correct name (but I think this was the name used on the Seasonal Specials menu). It is called stuffed tofu in many restaurants, and the one pictured is stuffed with shrimp (Suni told me it is traditionally stuffed with pork, so possibly you could order it that way). This one came with oyster sauce (you can also order it with white sauce, or just leave it up to the chef to decide). The tofu is steamed for ten minutes, so this dish ends up taking a little bit longer to prepare than most of the menu items. This is one of my favorite dishes that I have tried here.

Chicken and potatoes with curry

Chicken and potatoes with curry

Curry Chicken with Potatoes is a dish that is not on the menu, but I got it when I asked Wei Min to make a take-out dish that was traditional Chinese that he thought would be good. Since then it has been one of my top choices for take-out orders (this curry is less spicy than Thai or Indian curry, or it can be ordered with brown sauce which is not spicy).

Chicken and tofu

Chicken and tofu

Chicken and Tofu is another non-menu take-out dinner I had when I asked for something that was authentic. This has soft tofu and a white sauce. This version did not have any vegetables other than green onions because it was meant to be kept in the refrigerator for a couple of days so I could wait out one of Oklahoma’s famous ice storms.

Chicken and tofu with vegetables

Chicken and tofu with vegetables

The Chicken and Tofu with Vegetables is the same dish with vegetables added. The peas and carrots also keep pretty well in this version, and I thought the flavor of this dish was quite good.

I have collected this list of other items customers can special order with no advanced notice, and there are probably others. Of course customers would have to check with the restaurant about any of these:

  • Chicken and Potatoes (like the chicken and curry but with brown sauce instead)
  • Napa Beef (No. 211 on the menu) with bok choy instead of napa (when the bok choy is in season)
  • Combination Tofu with Beef, Shrimp, and Chicken
  • Chicken Soup with Dumplings (see the heading for “soups” in this article)
  • Ginger Beef (although the ginger they can get here is not the “young ginger” that is available in China)
  • Mi Fun, or Hong Kong style rice noodles. These are soft noodles lightly soaked in sauce so that they are more like the “dry” style served at Grand House and other restaurants. The typical version includes shrimp and chicken, although the meat can be prepared to order.
  • Bean Curd and Vegetable Hot Pot is a dish I requested. This was much like the seafood hot pot on the menu but with the ingredients modified (and I found it to be very good).
  • Citrus Chicken was offered as a Seasonal Special during summer 2006. This dish had a sauce made with orange juice and lemon, and while flavorful, was breaded and heavy on the meat with virtually no vegetables included. This was not quite what I would classify as traditional Chinese cooking, but it neverthess reflected Fortune’s effort to introduce the public to more “gourmet” Chinese cooking. It was also one of the dishes that convinced me to return to the restaurant to try other dishes (they have not specifically said that they can still prepare this dish but I thought I would put it on the list just in case).

Some Additional Details
I did not want to give this restaurant a rating because I normally do not order the regular menu items, and the ones I order are usually modified somewhat to suit my taste. One focus of my blog is on authentic Asian food, and I have been able to find it here.

For those who do order the regular menu items, though, they will find that the food is fresh and prepared when they are ordered. It is made with vegetable oil (which is not only healthy, but a lot of people find that it tastes better than the oils that many Chinese restaurants use).

This restaurant opened in 1987, and the current owners wanted to keep the menu items the restaurant had been serving since the beginning. Customers are happy about this, and there are a large number of people who have continued to come over the years. I am not a fan of American style Chinese food, but I at least know that the food available on the menu at Fortune is fresh and healthier than might be assumed. I do think some of the dishes contain MSG, though, unless you ask them to omit it (the special request items I have tried have also been made with no added MSG).

Fortune offers free delivery with an order of $12 or more for customers within a five mile radius. The restaurant is open every day of the year except Christmas, New Year, and July 4th. They serve beer, and the hot jasmine tea is very good. The service is very friendly, and I think they go out of their way (more than at most restaurants) to serve your meal the way you want it.

Prices change very infrequently, and when they do it has always stayed in the least expensive price category I have (which has been adjusted for inflation a couple of times since I did my first reviews in about 2005).


RATING: N/R

Cuisine: Chinese
Cost: $
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking

Most Recent Visit: Jan. 6, 2019
Number of Visits: 10+
Best Items: Crispy Tofu, Tomato and Egg, Chicken and Potatoes with Curry, Hong Kong Tofu, House Special Noodle Soup, Noodle Soup with Dumplings and Shrimp (can be special ordered), Other Non-Menu Authentic Chinese Dishes

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Jasmine (bags)
MSG: Yes
Buffet: No

 

Special Ratings
star 5 Crispy Tofu
star 5 Chicken Soup with Dumplings
star 5 Tomato Beef
star 5 Ma Po Tofu
star 5 Lettuce Wrap
star 5 Tomato and Egg
star 4 Egg Drop Soup
star 3 Hot and Sour Soup

 

Menu (Nov. 2017):