The Mardi Gras parade, dating all the way back to the late 1830s, included street processions of maskers with carriages and horseback riders — some carrying fascinating gaslight torches. Fast-forward to present day, the parade now consists of over-the-top floats, exotic costumes, lots of beads, balls and never-ending feasts of King Cakes.
Louisiana native David Guas knows a thing or two about Mardi Gras, especially when it comes to food. His restaurant, Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery, is the first Washington, D.C. establishment to offer authentic delectable Southern sweets and savory casual eats. While King Cake gets all the glory during this time (as it deserves), we went to David and asked him, “If there were such a thing as parade route food, what would that be?” His answer: the classic hot dog. Well, sort of classic: “the Gras Dog,” he dubs it.
Why hot dogs? “There’s something to be said about the all-beef hot dog,” David says. “It’s about as American as they come and I think they’re the best. This is how you make a Gras Dog — Louisiana-style — and when it’s Mardi Gras time, your most important concern is how you juggle catching beads and keeping a cocktail or beer in the other hand. So when you take a break to eat and free up one hand to get some food fuel in your system, it has to be easy and take only a few bites to finish. After that, back out to catching beads.”
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When Mardi Gras rolls around in New Orleans, king cake reigns supreme. Local bakeries crank out thousands of the ring-shaped cakes, topping each with purple, green and gold sugar and baking a plastic baby inside (getting the slice with the baby is considered good luck!). But when the holiday hits this February 12, fans will be drinking their cake too: Big Easy bartenders are using new king cake-flavored vodka, introduced last year, to create king cake cocktails, including this fun one from Carousel Bar & Lounge at the historic Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans’ French Quarter (214 Royal St.; hotelmonteleone.com). Just like a traditional king cake, the drink is cinnamon-spiced and decorated with colored sugar. We snagged the recipe so you can try it at home.
Try the recipe: Parade Time Cocktail
Courtesy of Besh Restaurant Group
Louisiana native and Next Iron Chef finalist John Besh has been celebrating Mardi Gras since he was a young boy. He remembers, “Night parades were for the older crowd but Mardi Gras Day (Fat Tuesday) was getting together and eating jambalaya on Saint Charles Avenue with my parents and all of their friends and spending the whole day eating and enjoying friends and family. We’d be on the hunt for a Zulu coconut from the first parade to run that day.” That tradition continues with his wife and kids by visiting the parade routes throughout Mardi Gras and on Fat Tuesday eating red beans and rice, fried chicken and jambalaya.
And, of course, beginning on Kings Day, everyone starts eating King Cake. As a kid, Besh recalls, “You’re eating King Cake in class least once a week if not more until Fat Tuesday and with every slice you’re thinking about the excitement of Mardi Gras Day.” With all this King Cake consumption Besh has definitely found his fair share of the porcelain figures called feves, one of which is hidden in the cake. The custom requires the finder to supply the next year’s cake, and we’re betting that everyone is pretty happy when Besh gets that job.
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There is something so appealing about a hi-hat cupcake. It brings me back to childhood summers when we would sit outside the ice cream shop and desperately try to lick up the ice cream as it melted down our arms. Cherry-dip was always my favorite, but I was always outnumbered by the chocolate lovers.
With Mardi Gras around the corner, I thought I’d bake up something the whole family can enjoy. New Orleans is known for many institutional cocktails, but these sweets will allow the little ones to participate in the fun too. You can’t go wrong with a delectable yellow cupcake covered in sweet clouds of frosting and gently dipped in chocolate. That first bite is transcendent, the second so satisfying.
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Mardi Gras is the perfect excuse for a party, and not just any party — a New Orleans-themed party. I don’t know if you’ve been to New Orleans (NOLA for short), but let me tell you this: Those people know how to party. I was there last year for a quick week and even this California girl had a hard time keeping up with the nightlife. That aside, you can’t forget the amazing Cajun and Creole food on every corner and the unforgettable cocktail scene with live music that pours into the streets at night. If you can’t head down south for Mardi Gras this year, re-create a NOLA-inspired appetizer for Fat Tuesday.
And who better to take inspiration from than the king of NOLA himself, Emeril.
This Mardi Gras Jambalaya from Emeril is one of my all-time favorites. I’ll make this for a big dinner party any day, but I wanted to turn it into an appetizer so it would be easy to eat — people can grab a bite and run back to the dance floor.
Get Gaby’s Creole Shrimp Skewer recipe »
- Make easy Shrimp and Chicken Etouffee for dinner tonight.
Just because it’s Tuesday doesn’t mean there isn’t time to celebrate Mardi Gras. Cook up a sweet or spicy Big Easy-inspired dish tonight for a taste of New Orleans at home. With a little bit of chopping and simmering, you could mix up a hearty, traditional Shrimp and Chicken Etouffee served with rice. For super quick fixes, try Rachael’s 30-Minute Jambalaya or the Neelys’ easy Dirty Rice with Smoked Sausage.
- Pancakes (along with donuts and other fatty foods) are traditional Mardi Gras fare. It's a good night to make breakfast for dinner.
Or, indulge in another quick and easy traditional Mardi Gras food: Pancakes! Serve one of the Neelys’ dueling pancake recipes for dinner, or browse 50 pancake ideas from Food Network Magazine. Prefer the classics? Go for Buttermilk Pancakes topped with maple syrup and butter.
More Mardi Gras Feasting Ideas:
What are you serving for Fat Tuesday?