The festival of Mardi Gras is synonymous with New Orleans. They go hand in hand, like Scotland and Burns Night, India and Holi or Gloucestershire and the Cheese Rolling Festival. There is not one person who doesn’t think of flying beads, food, parades, cocktails, street jazz and, shall we say, other ‘flashy’ elements of the day.
However, it is not just the sultry humid air of the Deep South that induces this display of hedonism (although it helps not having to wear a woolly hat).
So where does Mardi Gras come from?
Although known officially as Shrove Tuesday or colloquially as ‘Pancake Day’ in the UK, Mardi Gras’ more accurate translation from French is ‘Fat Tuesday’. Although a rather less sexy name than ‘Mardi Gras’, it is very accurate.
Fat Tuesday is the day before Lent, the period in the Catholic calendar where believers undertake a fast to recreate Jesus’ 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. For Lent one will voluntarily give up something relating to food or drink, often with varying degrees of success. Therefore, Fat Tuesday garners the last day mentality – the last day to indulge, the last day to enjoy, the last day to be loud, silly and excessive: it is almost pre-apocalyptic in nature.
Festivals and Food
In the UK we are now, more than ever, celebrating festivals from a myriad other cultures, but especially America. We are able to celebrate Mardi Gras, Thanksgiving or even the Super Bowl with more people in more places as popularity increases. With these holidays comes the growth of classic American food and there are few more delicious dishes than those from New Orleans. Classic Southern dishes such as Jambalaya, a delicious rice, seafood, chicken and sausage dish, is the perfect addition for any Mardi Gras celebration – easy to eat, filling and not expensive so NBD if someone knocks it out your hand. Have it with mustard, mayo or my personal favourite, hot sauce! Nothing tastes quite as yummy as this spicy rice dish and a beer.
However, if you fancy something a bit sweeter with your margarita (rhyme intended!) beignets are the pinnacle of New Orleans culture. These little bits of heaven are the lesser known, and tastier, donuts and will make anyone feel like they’ve been transported to the French Quarter.
As we become more uncertain about the future of our world, we tend to look for stability in traditions and revel in those that lean towards celebration. They may not be our traditions, or even very old, but we like to adopt these hedonistic, pre-apocalyptic blow outs and, sometimes, it’s good to be armed with food in your belly, a drink in your hand and joy in your heart. So whether it’s Mardi Gras, St Patrick’s Day or the World Cup Final, you bring the food, I’ll bring the beads.