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15 things you didn't know about New Orleans

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Guitar legend B.B. King performs at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on May 2, 2010, in New Orleans.

Between voodoo, Mardi Gras, the music, and the food — oh, the food — New Orleans has a heritage few American cities can match. But how does your knowledge of the city measure up? Take our quiz and find out. Get 11-15 correct and you’re ready to laissez les bons temps rouler — let the good times roll! Six to 10 right is respectable; you can probably tell the difference between boudin and a beignet. If you score 5 or less, hop on the next riverboat down to Louisiana. You’ll be speaking Yat — the local dialect, as in “Where y’at?” — in no time.

1.  New Orleans is considered the birthplace of which musical genre?

a.      Funk
b.      Blues
c.       Jazz
d.      Country

Answer: Jazz. With more than 300 music venues inside the city limits — that's one for about every 1,000 residents, you could hit a different joint each night, hearing everything from soul ensembles to honky tonk bands to dueling DJs. But it's jazz — born in the early 1900s of elements of blues, ragtime and African drumming — that defines New Orleans as a music town and serves as the soundtrack to the city.

Heck, they even named the airport after local jazz hero Louis Armstrong. Preservation Hall, a tiny time capsule of a tavern in the French Quarter, stages nightly jazz performances in homage to the city’s homespun rhythms (admission $15), while Tipitina’s — a favorite among locals since 1977 — offers new takes on the old classics and hosts contemporary acts like the Mountain Goats and They Might Be Giants (tickets from $8). And don't forget the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which is held at the Fair Grounds Race Course and draws some 400,000 attendees annually; many say the springtime event (April 27-May 6) is the best time to visit the city (tickets from $45).

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2.  Which of the following foods is NOT associated with New Orleans?

a.      Gumbo
b.      Crawfish
c.       Alligator
d.      Pork barbecue

Answer: Pork barbecue. Plenty of American cities and states claim their own signature riffs on pork barbecue — Memphis, Kansas City, Texas, the Carolinas — but New Orleans is not one of them. And that's fine by New Orleanians. The city's wholly unique culinary melting pot incorporates French, Spanish, Creole and Cajun influences (to name a few), and its most beloved dishes are inextricably linked with the local landscape.

The bayous and the Gulf surrounding the city provide the crab and shrimp for the popular (and fiery) seafood gumbo at Mandina's in midtown (from $5.25), as well as the crawfish for étouffee (eh-too-fay), a thick stew that makes use of the “holy trinity” of Cajun and Creole cuisine (bell peppers, onions, and celery). Try it at Bon Ton Cafe in the Central Business District ($24.50). Adventurous eaters should head upriver (that’s “uptown” in local parlance) to Carrollton, where Jacques-Imo's Cafe cooks up savory shrimp-and-alligator-sausage cheesecake ($7.50). And finally, for a fresh spin on a quintessential New Orleans meal, try Yang's Po-Boys, an upstart sandwich joint that serves its specialty roast beef on crispy, local Leidenheimer French bread ($8.50).

3.  Which of the following is not a nickname for New Orleans?

a.      The Crescent City
b.      The Big Easy
c.       NOLA
d.      The River City

Answer: The River City. Like any historic city, New Orleans has earned its share of nicknames over the years. To many on the inside it is simply NOLA: New Orleans, Louisiana. For visitors drawn to the city’s laid-back culture, New Orleans is “The Big Easy.” And it’s the “Crescent City” for its shape, carved out by the curves of the Mississippi River, which has guided the city’s development since its founding near the turn of the 18th century.

In fact, the Mississippi's influence on the city's history is so deep, it's surprising New Orleans hasn't added the River City to its list of monikers. Even today, one of the top attractions in town is an old-fashioned sunset jazz cruise aboard the Steamboat Natchez — a pitch-perfect replica powered exclusively by 1920s steam engines and topped with an antique steel whistle — just like the riverboats Mark Twain himself used to pilot down the "Big Muddy" in the late 1850s ($41 for a two-hour cruise, children 6-12 half-price).

4.  Public transit in New Orleans includes buses, ferries, and what other type of transportation?

a.      Streetcars
b.      Railway
c.      Cable cars
d.      Subway

Answer: Streetcars. New Orleans’s streetcars are not only a cheap, convenient way to travel; they’re also genuine artifacts — by law, the cars on the St. Charles Avenue route are preserved in their early-1900s state, down to the mahogany seats. Taking a ride on one is easy — the streetcars operate like a bus system, with predetermined stops; a one-way fare is only $1.25, and a three-day, unlimited-ride Jazzy Pass costs $9 and can be bought from any conductor. (See the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority website for schedules and maps.)

The St. Charles cars run through the heart of the Garden District, a historical neighborhood noted for its oak-lined boulevards and stately homes — some of which have recently been converted into chic boutiques and B&Bs. The adults-only Green House Inn, a Greek Revival townhouse on Magazine Street, has nine understated-but-cozy rooms, a well-stocked lending library and a tropical garden surrounding a clothing-optional saltwater pool (doubles from $119). For more family-friendly lodging options, see Budget Travel's citywide listings.

5.  Which of the following local words refers to a type of fried doughnut?

a.      Beignet
b.      Lagniappe
c.      Roux
d.      Muffuletta

Answer: beignet. Thanks to its gumbo of ethnic influences, New Orleans has a culinary dialect all its own. To keep things straight, here’s an abridged regional dictionary:

BEIGNET (ben-yay) — a fried doughnut, usually piled high with powdered sugar. If you try only one, make sure it's from the original open-air Café du Monde in the French Quarter, which opened in 1862 and serves the doughnuts around the clock ($2.65). But arrive early to avoid the breakfast rush: The café fills up quickly, and competition for tables is fierce.

LAGNIAPPE (lan-yap) — A little something extra; a freebie or gift added to a purchase at many New Orleans shops, restaurants and hotels. Be nice to the staff at the Buttermilk Drop Bakery in the Tremé, for example, and they just might toss in an extra one of their signature deep-fried pastries (504/252-4538, $6 for a dozen).

ROUX (roo) — The base for gumbos, étouffee and various other Cajun and Creole foods, it's made from flour and fat.

MUFFULETTA — A popular (and traditionally gigantic) New Orleans sandwich made with a variety of Italian meats and a thick layer of olive salad. The Central Grocery in the French Quarter claims to have invented the sandwich in 1906, but it can be found all over the city — including in the Central Business District at Cochon Butcher ($12).

Place names can also be tricky — many are derived from French but have long since evolved into something uniquely New Orleanian. Sound like a local when you mention Chartres St. (char-ters), Lake Pontchartrain (pahn-chuh-train) and the Tremé (truh-may).

6.  New Orleans sports teams compete in all of the following professional leagues except one. Which is it?

a.      National Football League
b.      National Basketball League
c.       Arena Football League
d.      Major League Soccer

Answer: Major League Soccer. Sports run deep in the south, and the New Orleans Hornets NBA club and the VooDoo arena football team have no shortage of ardent supporters. But for sheer sports-induced agony and ecstasy, no other local team tops the Saints football franchise. Once a source of acute shame for New Orleanians — during the team’s darkest days, dismayed fans nicknamed them the “Aints” — the Saints rose to superstar status with their 2010 Super Bowl win, an event that served as a sorely needed morale booster during the city's long post-Katrina recovery. The stadium's been sold out in perpetuity since 2006, but you can still get into the gameday spirit at Cooter Brown's, an Uptown sports bar with its own devoted fan base.

7.  A year after Hurricane Katrina hit, New Orleans was reduced to around 200,000 residents. Pre-storm, what was the population of the city?

a.       1 million
b.      755,000
c.       455,000
d.      255,000

Answer: 455,000. The Category 3 hurricane turned hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians into refugees, scattering them all across the country — but the city's population has risen steadily since the storm, and rebuilding continues in the areas hit worst by the disaster. For a firsthand look at how historic neighborhoods are bouncing back, visitors can join a Ninth Ward Rebirth Bike Tour, a four-hour cruise through the battered-but-not-beaten Lower Ninth Ward — with plenty of stops for resting (outside Fats Domino's longtime home), refueling with Po' Boys (at a local sandwich shop) and meeting area residents and community figures ($55). Ten percent of the tour fees goes to the Lower Ninth Ward Village community center and other charities. Or for an even more hands-on experience, sign up online (at least a week in advance) to volunteer with a local organization such as Rebuilding Together New Orleans, a nonprofit dedicated to rehabilitating structures in Katrina-damaged neighborhoods.

8.  Which infamous New Orleans-based pirate has a National Historical Park named after him?  

a.      Edward Teach (Blackbeard)
b.      Jean Lafitte
c.       Henry Morgan
d.      John Rackam (Calico Jack)

Answer: Jean Lafitte. Honoring a buccaneer with his own national park might seem like a puzzling decision, but Jean Lafitte was no run-of-the-mill marauder. The early 19th-century Lafitte repeatedly clashed with the United States government — what he termed privateering, they called smuggling — but he earned his reprieve by contributing to the American effort in the War of 1812. Today, his legacy survives in the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, a multi-site park that includes several cultural centers, the 23,000-acre Barataria nature preserve and the Chalmette Battlefield, where he helped young America triumph over the British. You'll also see Lafitte's name pop up on less staid attractions around the city, including the venerable Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, a bar and music venue whose building predates the pirate himself, and Cafe Lafitte in Exile, purportedly the country’s oldest gay club.

9.  Which New Orleans neighborhood is the subject of a current HBO television series?

a.      The French Quarter
b.      The Garden District
c.       The Tremé
d.      The Ninth Ward

Answer: The Tremé. Set and filmed in the historic Tremé neighborhood just northwest of the French Quarter, HBO’s "Treme" (now taping its third season) follows the lives of a diverse cast of both locals and out-of-towners — buskers, cops, businessmen and chefs — in the months following Hurricane Katrina. Naturally, the show has been subject to intense scrutiny from residents. (The local Times-Picayune newspaper runs a regular feature explaining the show's insider references — and pointing out its rare missteps.) Still, the show has won fans for its depiction of post-storm New Orleans and for featuring some of the city’s most treasured spots, such as Angelo Brocato's, an ice cream shop opened in 1905 that still sells gelato and lemon ice alongside Italian torrone candy ($9.25). At Bullet’s Sports Bar in the Seventh Ward, visitors can get a double dose of "Treme": The bar was used as a filming site and features weekly performances by Kermit Ruffins, a local trumpeter who plays himself on the show.

10.  Pat O’Brien’s bar in the French Quarter is famous for inventing which of the following local cocktails? (Hint: It was very topical in 2005.)

a.      The Sazerac
b.      The Hurricane
c.       The Creole Bloody Mary
d.      The Absinthe Frappe

Answer: The Hurricane. Drive-through daiquiri shops and the anything-goes attitude of Bourbon Street may have given the city a certain reputation, but the cocktail culture in New Orleans is anything but cheap. From Pat O'Brien's fruity, rum-based Hurricane ($8), invented here in the 1940s, to the Absinthe Frappe, minted in the 1860s and still drawing customers at the Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street (from $16), the creative spirits run deep in New Orleans, and the specialty-drinks scene continues to evolve with every passing year. At upscale newcomer Oak, libations like the bourbon-and-bitters Satchmo — named for the city’s favorite son, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong — and the Lagniappe, made with locally-produced rum, lemon and lime juices, and brandied cherries, pay tribute to tradition without being stuck in the past (cocktails from $8).

11.  What is Marie Laveau’s place in New Orleans history?

a.      She was an early governor of the state
b.      She helped spread jazz music across the country
c.       She became known as the city’s voodoo queen
d.      She popularized Creole cuisine

Answer: She became known as the city's voodoo queen. As the story goes, the French Quarter-born Laveau, daughter of a white planter father and a Creole mother, gained access to the city’s elite through her work as a hairdresser in the early 1800s, becoming known for her spiritual advice and, eventually, her talents in the black arts. (Voodoo rites began to spread in the 1700s, with the influx of enslaved Africans brought to the state by wealthy French and Spanish landowners from the Caribbean.) Today, Laveau is the mascot for many of the city’s tourist-oriented ventures, such as Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo on Bourbon Street, where gris-gris (gree-gree) charms promise protection against life’s ills, and her burial site in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 has become an attraction in its own right.

12.  Which renowned New Orleans landmark was originally built in the 18th century?

a.      The Mercedes-Benz Superdome
b.      St. Louis Cathedral
c.       The New Orleans Cotton Exchange Building
d.      The Louisiana Supreme Court Building

Answer:  The St. Louis Cathedral. The city’s preeminent religious symbol, St. Louis Cathedral has stood watch over the French Quarter’s Jackson Square — a popular gathering place for artists, tarot readers and live music performers — for more than 200 years. In fact, it's one of the oldest continuously functioning cathedrals in the nation, and visitors are welcome to explore inside when services are not being held (donations are accepted). The adjacent Louisiana State Museum, headquartered in the former Spanish municipal government building (completed in 1799), focuses on the city’s early history, displaying such artifacts as Native American artworks and the death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte (adult admission $6, children 12 and under free).

13.  What is the Zulu Mardi Gras parade famous for tossing into the crowds?  Hint: There's a city law that waives the group from liability for throw-related injuries.

a.      Flowers
b.      Coconuts
c.       Masks
d.      Dollar bills

Answer: Coconuts. The Zulu tradition of lobbing decorated coconuts dates to at least 100 years ago. The various “krewes” (parade groups) are distinguished by their throws — some create custom-minted doubloon coins with a new design each year — but nothing can compete with the Zulu coconuts, which are traditionally hand-embellished with gold paint and glitter. Other parades have their own twists: Each year Rex crowns the “King of Carnival” — often a locally-sourced celebrity — and many parades feature performances by marchers waving flambeaux, torches that light the way for the parade floats.

Can’t decide which parades to watch? If you’re looking for spectacle, grab a spot at Endymion, Orpheus or Bacchus, whose elaborate floats and superstar guests showcase New Orleans at its most decadent. If you’re just seeking swag, try one of the “truck parades,” which roll with simpler floats but darken the skies with flurries of beads, toys, candy and other Fat Tuesday paraphernalia. As the holiday approaches, check local newspapers such as the Times-Picayune for parade routes and schedules.

14.  At 1,300 acres, which New Orleans attraction is larger than the combined area of the National Mall in D.C. and New York’s Central Park?

a.      Audubon Zoo
b.      New Orleans City Park
c.       The French Quarter
d.      Riverwalk Marketplace

Answer: New Orleans City Park. Packed with walking trails, lagoons, playgrounds, and sports fields, New Orleans City Park is one of the country’s largest urban parks. It's also home to the New Orleans Museum of Art, a five-acre sculpture garden with works by Henry Moore and Louise Bourgeois (entry to museum and sculpture garden $10 for adults, $6 for kids ages 5-12), and the 12-acre New Orleans Botanical Garden ($6 entry fee, $3 for kids 5-12). There, you'll find themed orchards (the Yakumo Nihon Teien Japanese Garden, which displays examples of bonsai and ikebana), a butterfly walk and the largest stand of Spanish moss-draped live oaks in the world.

15.  Which of the following films used New Orleans as a filming location and setting?

a.      "Easy Rider"
b.      "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
c.       "Live and Let Die"
d.       All of the above

Answer: All of the above. Enticed by the city’s evocative scenery and historic architecture, film directors have given New Orleans frequent billing on the silver screen. The elaborate, above-ground tombs of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the city's oldest burial ground, made an appearance in the 1969 film "Easy Rider," starring Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. The 1973 Bond flick "Live and Let Die" opened with a stealth assassination — disguised as a Dixie funeral procession — on Chartres Street in the French Quarter. And more recently, the city had a starring role in 2008’s "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," part of which was filmed at the Lanaux Mansion B&B, a Victorian vision of ornate, cast-iron balconies and delicate floral wallpaper (from $169).

Lucas Jackson/Reuters/Corbis

New Orleans has reclaimed its vibrancy after Hurricane Katrina and will delight and woo you with its mojo.