Yes, there is such a thing as Mardi Gras cuisine. Well…sort of. One certified, almost sanctified, Carnival comestible is the King Cake, which is undeniably ubiquitous—200,000 of them this season.
These elliptical cakes encrusted with purple, green and gold confectioneries, are most closely associated with the Epiphany—Twelfth Night—the official beginning of the Carnival season, and with it the King Cake season. Tradition has it that after the cake is cut into slices, whoever gets the slice with the prize (usually a tiny plastic baby) is afforded the esteemed honor of hosting the next King Cake party.
This all stems from a very ancient tradition having to do with how the King of Carnival was chosen—often by some form of drawing lots. The modern New Orleans tradition is more civilized, since the winner in those wild old days was usually killed on Mardi Gras night (Nothing personal, he was well treated right up till the end).
Another New Orleans tradition is Bock beer, almost extinct, but recently revived by Abita Beer, Louisiana’s gourmet brew. Introduced here by the city’s large population of German ancestry, Bock harks back to that country’s winter beer tradition. It became locally associated with Mardi Gras as it is somewhat stronger than ordinary beer, so the reveler may restrain his intake while remaining fortified for the rigors of the day.
Beyond Abita Bock Beer and King Cakes, most other Carnival cuisine is situational. For instance, convenience is important, but so is custom—Carnival parades are better with traditional New Orleans fare. Such favorites include fried chicken, red beans and rice, or a smoked ham and potato salad.
Fried oyster sandwiches from the Acme Oyster House at 724 Iberville, are delicious and convenient. The Palm Court Jazz Cafe at 1204 Decatur Street has excellent red beans and rice, chicken and gumbo, among other delicacies. Or try some New Orleans Italian specialties at Mamie’s at 3240 South Carrollton Avenue, or Louisiana Pizza Kitchen on 95 French Market Place in the French Quarter.
Mardi Gras magic is a special feeling, and the food, as well as the music and Visuals, is an important part of it all