"Mardi Gras" often conjures up images of revelers in New Orleans. However, the observance of Mardi Gras is not restricted to New Orleans. Mardi Gras translates into "Fat Tuesday" and it is observed in most Christian countries. Part of the observation is the food that is traditionally eaten in celebration. The traditional food varies by region.
Ash Wednesday marks the start of the 40-day period of fasting for Christians known as Lent. Mardi Gras falls on the Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday. The traditional rules of the Church dictate that meat and dairy consumption is forbidden during the period of Lent, meaning anyone who had stores of meat and dairy products, before the advent of safe storage for perishable items, needed to use them up by the end of Mardi Gras.
The need to consume the dairy and meat products, along with the knowledge of the coming Lent, resulted in celebrations around the Christian world. Most of the traditional food for Mardi Gras developed to meet the need to consume the remaining meat and dairy.
Pancakes are one of the most popular foods that have traditionally been consumed during Mardi Gras. It's customary to start the day with a breakfast of pancakes in England, and in New Orleans the pancakes are used to roll meat in. Polish Catholics consume Paczki, or deep-fried fruit-filled doughnut-like cakes. Fastnachts are traditional German pastries. The Pennsylvania Dutch housewives continued the tradition in the United States by baking them for Mardi Gras. Swedes enjoy Fastlagsbulle, made from flour and almond paste.
New Orleans Mardi Gras
One of the most well-known celebrations for Mardi Gras is the New Orleans Mardi Gras. The traditional food for the festival is the King's Cake. It is a way to honor the arrival of three wise men. After the dough is braided and baked, a plastic baby is inserted into the cake and then the cake is decorated. The decorations used to be simple but are now more ornate. They are usually sugar toppings in purple, green, and gold in the tradition of the official Mardi Gras colors of New Orleans. When the cake is sliced for eating, whoever receives the slice that contains the baby is generally the person who will be hosting the next King cake party.
Mardi Gras is not celebrated in the Jewish or Muslim religions. This is a Christian observance with the most boisterous of celebrations staged by Roman Catholics. Protestants observe the occasion, however, they do not tend to throw carnivals.