Global Mardi Gras Food and Customs

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What is Mardi Gras? Or what is Fat Tuesday?

The Roman pagan festivals of times long past were integrated into Christian traditions by the Roman Catholic Church and are now part of the festival that is called Mardi Gras. When is Mardi Gras? Or When is Fat Tuesday? Well, depending on the culture celebrating it, the festival either is for just one day before Ash Wednesday, or starts a few days or a week before, or otherwise starts at the feast of Epiphany, on the 6th of January.

Mardi Gras is also known as Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday. The Mardi Gras meaning in English derived from French is literally Fat Tuesday. Why is it called Fat Tuesday? Because it’s the last day before Lent when Catholics eat the rich, fatty foods that are leftover in their homes, a sort of cleansing; but a cleansing that involves indulgence for one last time before forty days of fasting – mainly consisting of meat, cheese, milk, eggs and fat. It’s also called Shrove Tuesday because of the absolution received from the confession of sins, the original word here being Shrive.

Countries across the planet have been celebrating Mardi Gras for generations; riots of color and masquerades, feasting and drinking, and a whole lot more. Preparations for Mardi Gras Parades and floats start months in advance by the teams or krewes. Travel plans are made, hotels are booked, arrangements are made. Foods get richer, flashers flash for Mardi Gras beads and favors, carnival balls and parties are held; whatever happens, revelry is guaranteed.

Me, I’ve never been to the Mardi Gras carnivals. In my culture, Mardi Gras is more about the food and sweet pancakes. But I’ll come back to that later. For the moment, I’ve asked my friends to talk about the best carnivals around the world that they’ve been witness to. Here goes!

Carnival Celebrations around the world

Sartiglia in Sardinia

The biggest Mardi Gras celebrations in Sardinia is Sartiglia. Pic by Claudia from My Adventures Across The World
Sartiglia in Sardinia
Pic by Claudia from My Adventures Across The World

One of the biggest Mardi Gras celebrations in Sardinia is Sartiglia. This actually takes place on the last Sunday and Tuesday of Carnival in Oristano. It takes back to the medieval times of crusades, when equestrian and military tournaments became very popular. Nowadays, the show has the only purpose of entertaining the public – while back in the day it was a propitiatory show for the harvest. Various skills show take place during Sartiglia, but the most popular one is that during which a masked knight (who can also be a woman, actually) gallops towards a star and has to transfix it with a spear. Needless to say, the show is thrilling. 

With regards to food, one of the things to do in Sardinia during carnival and especially at Mardi Gras is eating “zeppole,” a sort of fried doughnut sprinkled with sugar and best eaten as soon as it’s cooked. Zeppole are usually sold by all bakeries during Carnival time, but lots of families still make them for home celebrations.

By Claudia from My Adventures Across The World. Catch up with Claudia on Facebook at My Adventures Across The World.

Masskara Festival in Bacolod, Philippines

Masskara Festival is held annually in October in Bacolod, Negros Island. Pic by Ceslou from Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0.
Masskara Festival in Bacolod, Philippines
CVP 4428, Pic by Ceslou from Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0

Masskara Festival is the Philippines’ version of Mardi Gras festivity in terms of sights and sounds.  Unlike carnivals celebrated every year before Lent, Masskara Festival is held annually in October in Bacolod, Negros Island.  This vivid celebration features colorful smiling masks, elaborate headdresses and Latin musical beats influenced by the Carnival of Venice and Rio Carnival.  Masskara was coined from the word “mass” meaning multitude of people and “cara” meaning face in Spanish.  The resulting word is also a pun on “maskara”, translating to mask in Filipino.

The celebration of Masskara Festival started in 1980, at a time when the sugarcane industry in the region was in crisis due to stiff competition with fructose. Being sugar industry as the province’s main source of living, their economy was severely affected when the Americans introduced fructose as a sugar substitute.  In that same year, another tragedy happened when a prime inter-island vessel serving the Negros Island sank and took more than 700 lives, many of whom are residents of Bacolod. In order to lift up the spirits of the people, the local government initiated holding a “festival of smiles”.  Today, the smiling mask became a symbol of the people’s resilience and positivity in the face of adversity.  Over the years, the celebration of Masskara Festival in a Mardi Gras fashion has attracted local and foreign tourists alike.  Festive events include street dance competition participated in by different schools and barangays (the smallest administrative division in the Philippines), beauty pageant, food festivals, musical concerts and agricultural trade fairs.

By Jing Calonge from Finding Jing. Catch up with Jing on Facebook at Finding Jing.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is one of the world’s most fun celebrations. Pic by Talek Nantes from Travels with Talek.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Pic by Talek Nantes from Travels with Talek

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the mother of all Mardi Gras celebrations in the U.S.  The festival dates back to ancient Rome, Medieval Europe and on to the Americas. Just like Christmas, Mardi Gras is a season, not just a single day, but Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday) is the biggest day of the celebration. This day can fall anywhere between early February and early March. The celebrations start on the feast of the Epiphany and get louder and more elaborate culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday which is right after Fat Tuesday. 

Everyone participates in the celebrations. There are dozens of parades all over the city. These are organized into Marching Clubs and Krewes and can be extremely elaborate with their floats and costumed characters. Many of these participants plan and organize their parades for months ahead of time. 

Some of the traditions involve gathering as many beads as you can. These beads are sometimes thrown form the balconies and the parade floats as they stream by.   The city does tend to get a bit wild with musicians playing in the streets and bars overflowing with revelers. But all good fun.
The city is full at this time of year and it is difficult to get a hotel room if you have not reserved way in advance. 

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is one of the world’s most fun celebrations.


By Talek Nantes from Travels with Talek. Catch up with Talek on Facebook at Travels with Talek.

Carnaval de Barranquilla in Colombia

The Carnaval de Barranquilla is full of folklore, costumes, dances, music, parades. Pic sourced from Wikipedia.
Carnaval de Barranquilla in Colombia
Pic sourced from Wikipedia

If you like Mardi Gras festivities, than you cannot miss the Carnaval de Barranquilla in Colombia. It is the second biggest Carnival in the world, second only to the legendary Rio Carnival in Brazil. It has been happening for over 100 years and UNESCO has proclaimed it one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The Carnaval de Barranquilla is full of folklore, costumes, dances, music, parades.

The Carnival officially begins on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday and ends on Fat Tuesday and is an amazing spectacle. Visitors are amazed by the colors of intricate and impressive costumes ranging from traditional folklore to surreal creative creations. If you like partying and dancing then you are in for a treat. Barranquilla is where Colombian pop-star Shakira grew up honing those world famous dances and hip shakes! Several different music styles are played by orchestras and live bands as well as dances performed in amazing choreographed shows.

There is an expression in Colombia that says, “Who lives the carnival, is who enjoys it.” The carnival is the biggest party of the year in Colombia and they repeat every year for a reason. It is a chance for everyone to put aside their inhibitions, and eat, drink and be merry. Make sure you do not miss this once in a lifetime experience.

By Alejandro Turbay from Please Live Your Dream. Catch up with Alejandro on Instagram at Please Live Your Dream.

Cologne Carnival in Cologne

The Cologne Carnival is one of the liveliest and most fun in Europe, and a must for all lovers of street parties. Pic by Margherita Ragg from The Crowded Planet.
Cologne Carnival in Cologne
Pic by Margherita Ragg from The Crowded Planet

The Cologne Carnival is definitely one of the liveliest and most fun in Europe, and a must for all lovers of street parties. Unlike most other European carnivals that take place over just a few days, Carnival celebrations in Cologne are a week long, even though events officially start on November 11th, with the opening of Carnival season. Then, Carnival week gets in full swing from the last Thursday before the beginning of Lent, and end on Ash Wednesday. Thursday, the first day, is the Women’s Carnival, and the three main Carnival characters ‘officially’ open celebrations at 11.11 am. Then it’s a crescendo of events, parades, street parties and masked balls until the main Rose Monday parade, with over 70 floats, attended by hundreds of thousands of people. If it’s too hectic for you, we recommend attending the family parade on Sunday, which is a little more low key but no less fun! We highly recommend visiting Cologne Carnival at least once, remembering that it’s not just about the official events – the after parties are even more fun!

By Margherita Ragg from The Crowded Planet. Catch up with Margherita on Facebook at The Crowded Planet.

Carnival in Netherlands

Each city of Netehrland has their own unique traditions like polka-type music, everyone in costume, and some great costumes parodying politics. Pic by Karen Wanderlustingk from Wanderlustingk.
Carnival in Netherlands
Pic by Karen Wanderlustingk from Wanderlustingk.

Many people don’t know that the Netherlands has its own version of carnival in the south of the country.  This region is historically Catholic and despite a checkered history (when the celebrations stopped), you can find some roaring parties in Limburg and Brabant each year.    Each city has their own unique traditions, however expect polka-type music, everyone in costume, and some great costumes parodying politics.  

Carnival here is not so much about religion, but rather inverting social mores for a brief period.  Every city erupts in parties that last for days after the prince of Carnival receives the key.  At this point, most cities have an alternative name for this period, which refers to the city only during Carnival.  It’s a lot of fun for tourists and locals. 

If you’re lucky enough to be in Amsterdam during this period, be sure to take a train down towards Brabant (Breda or Den Bosch), which are the closest big cities celebrating this fun holiday.  Be sure to have a shot of Schrobbeler.

By Karen Wanderlustingk from Wanderlustingk. Catch up with Karen on Facebook at Wanderlustingk.

Mardi Gras Food : Shrove Tuesday Dishes and Desserts

The Mardi Gras food history is as diverse and distinct as the locations and cultures where Mardi Gras is celebrated. You have the Semla in Sweden, the pancakes in the UK and India, the castagnole and chiachhiere in Italy, the king cake in Louisiana, France and Dutch regions, the Laskiaspulla in Finland, and so much more. But instead of me telling you about them, why not just read about some Mardi Gras traditional foods and what dishes these friends of mine love. 🙂

Chiacchiere’s in Italy

A typical mardi gras food that unites all the different regional cuisines in Italy is “chiacchiere.” Literally means “chit-chat” in Italian - Pic by Annalisa from Travel Connect Experience
Frappe or chiacchiere
Pic by Annalisa from Travel Connect Experience

Carnival in Italy represents a tenacious tradition and culminates in the celebrations of mardi and jeudi gras. During those two days, kids enjoy wearing costumes while adults focus on preparing traditional foods. A typical mardi gras food that unites all the different regional cuisines in Italy is “chiacchiere.”

This dish’ name literally means “chit-chat” in Italian. From town to town, it gets different names, like “frappe”, or “bugie”, and “cenci.” Chiacchiere is a dessert and consists of extremely thin, crumbly fritters, cooked in sunseed oil. To preserve the chiacchiere’s friable texture, cooking oil needs to be below 350F/180C. Ancient Romans used to cook the chiacchiere in pork suet.

Before, during, and after mardi gras’ week, you’ll find chiacchiere everywhere in Italy, from bakeries to patisseries and restaurants, and of course, in the houses of the Italians. They are usually served with confectioner sugar, and in some areas they are combined with “sanguinaccio”, a cream of chocolate and pork’s blood.

Pork is the other protagonist on Italian’s dining tables during the mardi gras celebrations. The Italian’s favorite way of cooking pork are: pan-fry sausage with broccoli, spareribs with beans, and ragus with minced pork with Lasagna and other homemade pasta dishes.

By Annalisa from Travel Connect Experience. Catch up with Annalisa on Instagram at Travelconnectexperience.

King Cake in New Orleans

It’s typically a circle-shaped Danish– commonly topped with icing and/or sugar in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold, and green– with a delicious filling such as cinnamon, almond, apple, and/or chocolate in the middle.  Pic by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett from Green Global Travel
King Cake
Pic by Bret from Green Global Travel

One of our favorite Mardi Gras food traditions, King Cake is a delicious dessert that’s especially popular in New Orleans today. But its roots date back to France more than 300 years ago. We learned a lot about the history of the dish during a Cajun Food Tour in Lafayette, Louisiana.

It started out as part of the pre-Lenten celebrations in France and neighboring countries in Europe, and the original dish used dry French bread–type dough with sugar on top and a bean inside. Traditionally consumed during the festival of Epiphany at the end of the Christmas season, the King Cake was named after the biblical kings who made the journey to Bethlehem, with the bean said to represent the newborn Christ child. 

The King Cakes you’ll find in Louisiana around Mardi Gras today are much more elaborate and decadent. It’s typically a circle-shaped Danish– commonly topped with icing and/or sugar in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold, and green– with a delicious filling such as cinnamon, almond, apple, and/or chocolate in the middle. 

There’s usually a plastic baby hidden within the cake as well. The person who finds it is said to be blessed with prosperity for the coming year, and is responsible for buying the next King Cake and throwing the next Mardi Gras party. These days variations of the King Cake are common throughout North America and parts of Europe, where it is consumed regularly between the 12th day of Christmas and Mardi Gras/Carnival

By Bret & Mary from Green Global Travel. Catch up with Bret & Mary on Facebook at Green Global Travel.  

Castagnole in Italy

Castagnole are sweet, fried balls, covered with sugar - Pic by Federica from A stroll around the world
Castagnole in Italy
Pic by Federica from A Stroll around the World

Among the typical Italian desserts served on Mardi Gras and during Carnival are the castagnole. These treats are named after the chestnuts (in Italian castagne) with whom they share little dimension and a similar shape. Castagnole are sweet, fried balls, covered with sugar.

As Italian cuisine heavily relies on regional tradition, castagnole are typical of Liguria, Lombardia, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, and Marche. Over time the production of castagnole is typical also in the south, especially in Campania.

What all the regional varieties of castagnole have in common are some essential ingredients, along with the way preparing and cooking them. These carnival desserts are made of eggs, sugar, wheat, and butter mixed and divided into small balls and then fried.

According to historians, their origin is relatively recent as the oldest recipes date back to the end of the 18th century. However, some studies believe that known with the different name of “roman struffoli,” castagnole were made already in the second half of the 17th.

The original recipe is often proposed in different varieties. Instead of deep-frying, some prefer to bake castagnole in the oven; instead of serving them plain, some fill them with whipping cream or custard. The last variety consists of covering them with honey instead of using sugar.

By Federica from A Stroll around the World Catch up with Federica on Facebook at A Stroll around the World.

Laskiaispulla in Finland

A laskiaispulla is a sweet what bun spiced with cardamom. The top of the bun is generally cut off before it is filled with whipped cream and almond paste. Pic by Jacky from Nomad Epicureans
Finnish laskiaispulla
Pic by Jacky from Nomad Epicureans

Although Finland adopted Christianity relatively late, many Christian traditions are an integral part of Finnish culture today. One is the celebration of Shrove Tuesday, the day preceding the period of Lent. Like so many other traditions in Finland, however, this holiday also has pagan roots. Traditionally it was a day for the children to go sledding (hence the name laskiainen) and the distance they sled was supposed to be indicative of the year’s harvest. Today, children do still go sledding, but they are also feasting on the famous laskiaispulla.

In short, a laskiaispulla is a sweet what bun spiced with cardamom. The top of the bun is generally cut off before it is filled with whipped cream and almond paste. The top is then put back on and serves as a lid. Today, you can find the traditional almond version, but also buns filled with jam instead. The most popular flavors are without a doubt strawberry and raspberry. Sweet treats similar to the Finnish laskiaispulla can also be found in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and the Baltics.

By Jacky from Nomad Epicureans. Catch up with Jacky on Facebook at
Nomad Epicureans

Coconut filled pancakes in India

East Indian Coconut Filled Pancakes - By Abby from TheWingedFork
East Indian Coconut Filled Pancakes

In the East Indian culture, Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday are all about pancakes; rich, sweet, coconut filled pancakes that keep you reaching for more. Getting rid of the last of the rich food from the house by making these pancakes that are reminiscent of the French crepes, but are then filled with a delicious mixture of coconuts, raisins, almonds, cashewnuts and more and rolled into finger-sized bites of heaven. And just like every other East Indian sweet, the pancakes are super sweet and sometimes dripping a sugary vanilla flavored syrup. (PS. I have to say it again because of all the misconceptions, East Indians are from the West of India, particularly from the city of Bombay, India.)

These pancakes can’t be bought at stores. You have to order them from local East Indian ‘aunties’ who take orders. But you can make them at home too. Although each East Indian home has a slightly different recipe, the base ingredients are the same. If you want my granny’s recipe for pancakes, it’s here.

There are probably a lot of different Mardi Gras dishes and foods in other cultures, but I don’t have friends in those cultures yet. Sniff sigh! Comment and let me know how Mardi Gras is celebrated in other cultures.

Other useful Mardi Gras FAQS, trivia and tidbits of information

What Are Mardi Gras Colors?

Fat Tuesday colours or the colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green and gold.

What Do The Mardi Gras Colors Mean? How did these colors get associated with Mardi Gras?

In 1872, Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia visited New Orleans and was the guest of honor attending the first Mardi Gras parade of the Krewe Rex. The Mardi gras colors they chose were purple, green and gold; purple being representative of justice, green of faith and gold of power; and in the years following, Mardi Gras celebrations have used these colors.

When Was The First Mardi Gras In The US?

That question is as much a topic for debate as the question about when is ‘where was the first Mardi Gras celebrated in the US’? In the late 17th century, the French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville aka Sieur de Bienville set out to defend the French claim to the territory of Louisiane, which at the time included part of Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. They landed near New Orleans at a site they christened the Point du Mardi Gras on 3rd March, 1699. And since then, New Orleans and other US towns settled by the French started observing Mardi Gras every year.

Well, that’s what the people from New Orleans believe. The people from Mobile believe that Sieur de Bienville travelled further and in 1702 founded the first French capital of Louisiana at Mobile, Alabama. And since 1703, the people of Mobile and the rest of the United States have been celebrating Mardi Gras. The first krewe was formed in Mobile in 1711. That’s the short history of Mardi Gras.

What Are Mardi Gras Krewes?

When I heard of krewes, I first thought of the singing or dancing groups that you see in movies like Step Up. Who doesn’t love Channing Tatum? Ahem! But anyways, Mardi Gras Krewes are similar. They’re social groups that put together parades for the Mardi Gras Carnival, usually in the United States. Although, the official Mardi Gras Krewes history began in the 19th century with the group called Ye Mistik Krewe of Comus; the first informal krewe was the Boeuf Gras Scoiety from Mobile that was formed in 1711.

When Is the next Mardi Gras?

Here are the Mardi Gras dates for the next few years are here for your reference.
16th February, 2021
1st March, 2022
21st February, 2023
13th February, 2024
4th March, 2025
17th February, 2026
9th February, 2027
29th February, 2028
13th February, 2029
5th March, 2030

When does Mardi Gras start?

There’s a simple trick to finding out when is Mardi Gras this year. See, the Lenten Season always follows a certain order – Shrove Tuesday aka Mardi Gras – Ash Wednesday – Palm Sunday – Maundy Thursday – Good Friday – Holy Saturday – East Sunday – Easter Monday. So Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday. How do you find out when Ash Wednesday is? Well that depends on when Easter is. When is Easter? It depends. It’s usually on whether the church is using the Gregorian or Julian calendar. Most churches follow the Gregorian calendar, which celebrates Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox as decided by the Nicean Council in 325 CE or 325 AD.

If that’s all a bit too much, just ask Google. It always knows whens Mardi Gras is coming around.

That’s it folks! I forget which cartoon character used to say that. But yeah, end of post. What did you think? How similar or different is the Mardi Gras celebration in your culture? Comment and let us know.

And a PS if you’re a blogger/writer – I know there’s probably a lot more information to be added on here. If you have some info to add to this post, just ping me at [email protected] and I’ll add it in.

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