Mardi Gras, literally, means Fat Tuesday in French. It’s the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and, traditionally, in the days leading up to Lent, merrymakers would binge on all the rich, fatty foods—meat, eggs, milk, lard, cheese—that remained in their homes, in anticipation of several weeks of eating only fish and other permissible foods.
The first American Mardi Gras took place in, you guessed it, New Orleans. This first Mardi Gras was modest by today’s standards and took place as a small celebration when two French explorers landed near present-day New Orleans and dubbed it Point du Mardi Gras. Around the world, this holiday is celebrated in Brazil as a weeklong celebration called Carnival. In Italy, it’s the Venice’s Carnevale, in Canada, it’s Quebec Winter Carnival, and, in Germany, the celebrations include a tradition that empowers women to play pranks on men, like cutting of their ties.
The favorite foods of Mardi Gras are as different as the countries in which it is celebrated. For the United States, pancakes or some type of doughy treat are popular. In New Orleans, beignets are traditional fare as are pancakes rolled with meat. In regions with German roots, like Pennsylvania, fried dough similar to donuts called Fastnachts are a traditional Fat Tuesday treat.
Cajun or Creole dishes like gumbo, étouffée, jambalaya, and red beans and rice are typical Mardi Gras dishes and not only in New Orleans. You can be creative and change up the protein and use shrimp, crab, chicken, or sausage like andouille. No matter what foods you chose to celebrate with, laissez les bons temps rouler! (Let the good times roll!)
Let’s celebrate! Try one of these recipe ideas to get in the Mardi Gras spirit!