6 Signature Foods for Celebrating Mardi Gras

Stack of pancakes

It goes almost without saying that Mardi Gras is a major event if you live in New Orleans. People will pass out beautiful colored beads and soak up the unforgettable atmosphere that will permeate the city on February 28th this year. They’ll also gather to enjoy an overabundance of food and drink one last time before Lent begins the following day.

However, you don’t have to be able to make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras to enjoy a “Fat Tuesday” celebration of your own. Try planning a menu that includes some of these traditional foods and invite your loved ones over to come indulge with you.

1. Pancakes

In many regions and cultures, Mardi Gras is also traditionally known as Pancake Day, thanks to a tradition that dates all the way back to the Middle Ages. The idea was that pancakes were an ideal way to use up animal-based food items like milk, butter, and eggs that wouldn’t be allowed during Lent.
Although the required Catholic dietary restrictions for Lent have loosened a bit since those days, the tradition of eating plenty of pancakes for Mardi Gras persists. People not only make them at home but go out to eat at pancake houses as well.

2. King Cake

Looking for a way to bring a little bit of New Orleans fun to your own table this Mardi Gras? Add a traditional king cake to the menu. King cakes originally began as simple rings of baked dough, but today they are often frosted, decorated with multicolored sugars, and flavored with various fillings.

They are meant to celebrate the three kings that brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Jesus. Each cake comes complete with a hidden figurine of a baby. Tradition dictates that the person who finds the baby in their slice will host the Mardi Gras festivities next year.

Deep fried po-boy sandwich

3. Po’Boys

If you’ve spent much time in New Orleans, then you may already be familiar with this delicious sandwich shop staple. Although it’s eaten all year round, it’s frequently enjoyed during Mardi Gras as part of the local culture associated with the Big Easy.

Po’Boys came to be nearly a century ago as the result of a street car strike when former workers decided to start a sandwich shop. The original po’boys used potatoes and gravy as fillings, but today po’boys usually consist of meats like sloppy roast beef. Fried seafood po’boys that feature crab, oysters, or shrimp are also popular.

4. Jambalaya

Although no one is completely certain of the origins of jambalaya, it is commonly believed that it’s a descendant of the traditional Spanish dish paella. It originally rose to popularity thanks to public gatherings like church fairs. Today, it is a near ubiquitous Louisiana festival food.

Naturally, a festival as important as Mardi Gras would see jambalaya being consumed in massive quantities by New Orleans natives and out-of-towners alike. The traditional Creole version (also sometimes called “red jambalaya”) starts with a trinity of celery, peppers, and onions. Then meat such as chicken or sausage is added, followed by vegetables like tomatoes and seafood such as shrimp or crab.

Pot of jambalaya

5. Gumbo

Gumbo is a traditional southern Louisiana stew that dates back to the 18th century. It consists of an intensely flavorful broth thickened by a traditional roux, meat or shellfish, and the holy trinity – peppers, onions, and celery. Additional vegetables like okra are also popular ingredients.

Gumbo is largely considered to be as large a part of New Orleans culture and history as jazz. It’s also considered to be one of the most important foods to eat on Mardi Gras, especially at parties thrown specifically for the purpose of watching the occasion’s signature parades.

6. Hurricanes

Naturally, a proper Mardi Gras celebration isn’t just about the food. It’s also about the drink, and, when it comes to Fat Tuesday, the drink to have on hand is the hurricane. Traditional hurricanes consist of rum, grenadine, lime, and passion fruit juice. However, you can also buy pre-mixed hurricanes at many liquor and grocery stores.

The hurricane itself was invented by a New Orleans bar owner named Pat O’Brien sometime during the 1940s. He had an overabundance of rum on hand and was looking to sell it to some of the local sailors. He dressed it up with the ingredients listed above, and the rest is mixology history. Add a batch of your own to your table when it comes time to eat, drink, and be merry this Mardi Gras!