The historic southern seaport of New Orleans, Louisiana, is far from healed from the cataclysm of Hurricane Katrina, whose winds and floods wiped out whole sections of town four years ago. More than 1,800 people died there and in neighboring Mississippi, and tens of thousands of others left the region and never returned.
But there's one good sign that things are creeping back to normal in the old Crescent City, which gets its name from a big bend in the Mississippi River that runs right through town: Most of the legendary restaurants are back and packed, and the smells of New Orleans' famous Creole cooking are wafting out the doors and windows of the old French Quarter, fancy Uptown neighborhoods on the riverbend - indeed, every part of town.
There's an old New Orleans saying: When you go to breakfast, you talk about lunch and think about dinner! Food - especially the abundant seafood, fresh vegetables and myriad spices that make New Orleans creations memorable - is a preoccupation in poor and wealthy homes alike.
Cooking is an art form, and eating is the city's favorite hobby. As one of New Orleans' best-known chefs, Joe Cahn, puts it, "We eat because it is joyous. It is part, not only of our history, but of our being." He jokes that, surprisingly, there are not that many obese people in south Louisiana because folks get plenty of exercise walking from restaurant to restaurant!
There is one development, however, that's troubling New Orleans purists. Franchise fast-food restaurants and their greasy, bland fare are getting a foothold now that so many old-time New Orleanians have left and been replaced by newcomers from elsewhere.
Still, there are plenty of places to splurge on spicy food splashed with even spicier pepper sauce. And Creole and Louisiana-Cajun cookbooks and spices - and coffee laced with tart, ground-up chicory root - are still sold around the world. But no one has yet figured a way to package the mélange of piquant smells that fill the air once again in Old New Orleans.
Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.