Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is quickly approaching! This year, the big day is February 28, 2017 and we are just getting started with our celebrations. If you're planning on visiting during Mardi Gras or if this is your first experience, there are a few food specific terms you should definitely know. Have any questions? Let us know in the comments or come visit the Southern Food & Beverage Museum to learn more!
King Cake: The harbinger and omnipresent food of Mardi Gras, the King Cake is a simple treat that traditionally appears in stores on Epiphany (January 6) and disappears just as suddenly on Ash Wednesday. A simple cinnamon flavored brioche dough is the usual base, which is then covered in purple, green, and gold sugar. It used to be hard to find anything else, but flavors and styles of king cake have exploded in recent years. Cream cheese, coconut, boudin, and pralines are common fillings now, with hundreds of other flavors available at different shops.
Galette de Rois: King Cake didn’t appear in New Orleans from the sky—it came from France! Galette de Rois means King Cake, but in New Orleans these days it also refers to a different style of cake. Instead of a brioche dough, the base of this cake is puff pastry, filled with an almond cream inside. This style is often found at the traditional French bakeries around town.
Fèves and King Cake Babies: Traditionally, a bean or trinket (the fève) was baked into the cake, and whoever found the trinket would be crowned king for the day. In the 1950’s McKenzie’s Bakery in New Orleans made an adorable ceramic baby trinket that quickly became a popular addition to the king cake scene. Since ceramic was expensive and hard to produce, plastic babies soon became the favorite material of nearly every king cake producer. They no longer bake the baby into the cake (legal concerns), but every cake now has a tiny baby. Now, the person who finds the baby buys the next cake, so you should always A) bring a King Cake to a party and B) be prepared to bring the next one as well! Come see the collection of crafty fèves from Haydel’s Bakery and the giant King Cake baby that SoFAB has on display!
King Cake Flavored Things: Another recent trend in New Orleans is to hop on the King Cake flavor profile and make everything (and we really do mean everything) taste like King Cake. A stroll through Rouses these days will present you with King Cake Vodka, King Cake Beer, King Cake ice cream, King Cake coffee, King Cake smoothies, and much more.
Red Beans and Rice: Not only a classic New Orleans dish that will keep you full and satisfied throughout your long Mardi Gras days, this meal also has its own Mardi Gras Krewe! Watch the walking parade on Lundi Gras (the Monday before Mardi Gras) and see all of the crazy costumes that are carefully decorated with dried red beans and rice. Follow them to the Backstreet Cultural Museum and enjoy the dance block party that follows.
Box of Wine: Preceding Bacchus’s parade on the Sunday before Mardi Gras, this walking krewe celebrates the versatility of boxed wine. The costumes are fantastic, the spirit infectious, and the wine flows freely.
Jambalaya, Crawfish Boils, Popeyes, Chicken on a Stick, and Lucky Dogs: All are examples of foods you might run into at a Mardi Gras party or on the parade route. Don’t forget to eat while you’re out there!
Coconuts and other Throws: If you’re up early on Fat Tuesday (which you should be) and you’re Uptown, be sure to catch the Zulu parade. The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club was the first and remains the only predominately African American super krewe, and they are known for handing out beautifully decorated coconuts. Throws are what krewe members toss off their floats to the waiting crowds below, and range from beads to shoes to (soft) spears. Always keep a weather eye out for throws—they can cause some damage if you’re not paying attention!
Go Cups: Yes, you can take your drink with you. Just make sure it’s in a go cup—a plastic cup often found in stack by the door. Cans are OK, but don’t take your glass or bottle out with you! Bars and restaurants sometimes offer a special branded go cup for you to take, and krewes often throw their own branded plastic cups off of floats as well. Locals often keep a stash of Mardi Gras cups at home for emergency go-cup situations.
Queen’s Supper: After the biggest Mardi Gras Krewes celebrate the season with their exclusive balls, many extend the party with a Queen’s Supper. Sometime around 2 AM there’s another full dinner for you to end (or continue) the evening, featuring grits and grillades.
Ojen: A Spanish liquor that is flavored very much like Absinthe, Ojen was a popular beverage for New Orleans during Mardi Gras. New Orleans has always embraced anise flavored liquors like absinthe and Herbsaint, so this was a natural fit in the mid-20th century. The Spanish producers announced that they were shutting down in the 1980’s, and Martin Wine Cellar offered to buy a batch of 6000 bottles to keep a supply stocked! Last year the Sazerac Company introduced their Legendre Ojen, recreated from a few of those old bottles, and so the Krewe of Rex can still drink Ojen cocktails every Mardi Gras.
Moon Pies: New Orleans gets the most attention for American Mardi Gras celebrations, but did you know that Mobile, Alabama actually has the oldest Mardi Gras parade in the country? They started in 1703 and by all accounts had a wonderful party. In 1974 the Maids of Mirth Krewe starting throwing Moon Pies to their crowds, and everyone quickly followed suit. This Mardi Gras-goer wishes that New Orleans krewes would be inspired by this edible throw tradition and ramp up the food treats!