What, Exactly, Is Fat Tuesday And What Should You Eat During It?

Experiencing the festivities of Mardi Gras sits on the bucket lists of many food lovers around the world. The holiday is associated with elaborate parade floats, colorful beads, king cakes, and partying galore. However, Mardi Gras is rooted in thousands of years of tradition, dating back to pagan fertility rites. With the spread of Christianity, the celebration was appropriated and turned into a day of indulgence before a period of sacrifice. Falling on the day before Ash Wednesday each year, it's a day for merry-making before the start of Lent, which lasts for 40 long days up until Easter Sunday.

Mardi Gras translates to "Fat Tuesday," and the term refers to the fact that, on this day, people enjoy the rich, fatty foods they will give up during Lent. Historically, Christians would make it a point to clear out their cupboards of fats like butter, milk, and eggs, which frequently resulted in batches of pancakes. This is why Fat Tuesday is known as Pancake Day in England. Other European countries like France, Germany, and Spain eventually caught on, which led to a rise in the eating of other rich pastries to celebrate Mardi Gras.

In the U.S., New Orleans is the go-to city that revelers flock to get their party on. So, it's only natural that, when we think of Mardi Gras food, all of the best Cajun and Creole specialties will be on the menu.

The best foods to eat for Mardi Gras

Although the site of the first U.S. Mardi Gras celebration wasn't actually in New Orleans, it's the top place to be if you're on the hunt for an unforgettable culinary experience. Eating a slice of colorful king cake is a must, and that treat is hard to miss. This cinnamon roll and coffee cake hybrid is traditionally decked out in gold, green, and purple, which represent power, faith, and justice, and it often has a treat baked into it, which will decide who is the king or queen of the Carnival. If you want to celebrate Mardi Gras with New Orleans-style, look for seafood-heavy dishes like crawfish etouffee, gumbo, jambalaya, and shrimp-laced po'boy sandwiches. 

Outside of New Orleans, you will find an array of tasty Mardi Gras pastries. Often, these take the form of donuts: sweet deep-fried dough to enjoy before days of fasting. One tradition hailing from Poland is the pre-Lent donut, known as paczki, which is frequently filled with flavors such as marmalade or chocolate. In Portugal, you'll find sugary donuts called malasadas. Germans call their version of filled donuts fastnachts. In Italy, during Mardi Gras, you can sample their version of the donut, called castagnoles. And, of course, French beignets once made a sugary splash in New Orleans and have been a staple during Carnival festivities ever since. Maybe the best foods to eat during Fat Tuesday are all of them!