Mardi Gras has roots in Christianity, Roman paganism and French history. The Romans celebrated fertility with the beginning of spring, but early Christians transitioned the festival to mark the prelude of the Lenten season. These celebrations continued through the Middle Ages in France. As the French explored the New World, they settled and named the land “Point du Mardi Gras” to commemorate the celebration. This location is known today as New Orleans. Although a two-week celebration, most festivities take place the day before Lent, otherwise known as “Fat Tuesday”. Hundreds of years have passed and Mardi Gras ranks as one of the most celebrated festivals in the United States. Along with traditions such as masks, beads and parades; Mardi Gras is also famous for its delicious food.
Traditional Mardi Gras Food
Cajun and Creole foods dominate Mardi Gras menus. These cuisines mix traditional French foods with the meats, vegetables and grains available in Louisiana. Dishes like gumbo, crawfish etouffée and po’boys demonstrate how these cuisines come together to create the flavors people love. Often named the child of bouillabaisse, gumbo combines different meats, vegetables and broth to create a stew-like dish, served over rice. Gumbo has become one of the most popular dishes served during the celebration. Crawfish etouffée is also a stew, combining the Louisiana shellfish with a more French style cream cooking. A po’boy combines the cuisines by setting fried shrimp (a southern favorite) in a hearty slice of French bread.
While these dishes are most famous, other Cajun and Creole dishes gain popularity during Mardi Gras festival. For those unable to make the journey to New Orleans, restaurants everywhere can serve up traditional Mardi Gras dinners. Consider creating a dinner special for the celebration, or the week leading up, highlighting these traditional flavor-filled New Orleans meals.
In addition to savory foods, Mardi Gras celebrates through drinks and desserts as well. Native to France, beignets made their way to New Orleans. Similar to donuts, these fried puffs of dough are sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and generally consumed with coffee. In addition to beignets, serve King Cake; the most traditional Mardi Gras dessert. King Cake combines brioche bread with cinnamon date filling, topped with icing and purple, green and gold sprinkles. According to tradition the cake holds a baby figurine. Whoever holds the slice that contains the baby will have good luck for the coming year.
To drink, serve Milk Punch. This simple drink is popular in both New Orleans and the Deep South. Shake milk, bourbon and vanilla with ice for a delicious cold drink. Top with cinnamon or nutmeg for a little extra kick. Beignets, King Cake and Milk Punch can all be found on a variety of Mardi Gras menus.
Although Mardi Gras celebrations and parades take place in New Orleans, any restaurant can serve traditional New Orleans food. Create a special menu featuring Cajun and Creole foods to highlight these unique New Orleans flavors. Consumers are very likely to splurge on this notorious “Fat Tuesday”. Create a delectable dessert menu as your customer will feel less guilty about ordering something sweet. This Mardi Gras, make sure your customers know they can celebrate with their favorite New Orleans foods at your restaurant.