May the best red beans and rice win.
New Orleans is known for many amazing meals: jambalaya, gumbo, muffuletta, and of course, creamy, comforting red beans and rice. So, it should come as no surprise that the city has found a way to celebrate one of its most beloved dishes in a way only New Orleans could: A March Madness-inspired bracket for the best red beans.
They call it Bean Madness.
As NPR reports, the competition is in full swing throughout the city right now, and it mimics the basketball bracket competition in almost every way. Residents create brackets and predict winners, while restaurants and chefs compete in cook-offs where the best beans—as judged by a public vote—win and move on to the next round.
These pop-up cook-offs are held all around the city, in stores, theaters, bars, and farmers markets, according to NPR. It’s the second year the city has held the competition, which is run by Carnival group the Red Beans Parade.
A local artist, Devin De Wulf, came up with the idea.
“My dream is that over time, this becomes something everyone in the city looks forward to, so that when America is obsessing over college basketball, all of New Orleans is talking about red beans and who's going to win,” De Wulf told NPR. “I hope it just becomes another of these really weird, wonderful New Orleans things.”
At this point in the competition, the red beans contestants are in the third round, dubbed “Sweet Six Beans.” There are more cook-offs through March 31, while the champion will celebrate in an event April 7 at Southern Food and Beverage Museum.
If you’ve never had red beans a rice, you’re missing out: the beans are cooked for hours to give them a creamy, velvety texture, while bacon and ham hock impart a satisfying smoky flavor to what can be—but doesn’t have to be—a spicy dish.
A great recipe to begin your red beans and rice education is one from Emily Shaya, who (you guessed it) is married to Alon Shaya. The couple eats red beans and rice at least once a week, the chef has told Food & Wine. “My wife makes it each week for anywhere from eight to 20 people and it’s really become a tradition,” he explained. Once you try the recipe, you'll be clamoring for a seat at that table, or making plans to head to NOLA for next year's Bean Madness.