Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras – French for “Fat Tuesday” – is a phrase we often hear in February or March (especially when we’re hitting the bars to celebrate), but what does it really mean? And where did the phrase come from? Turns out, Fat Tuesday has a long and fascinating history.


Fat Tuesday Marks The Beginning Of Lent

Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday, the Catholic holiday that marks the official beginning of Lent. For devout Catholics, the Lenten period – which lasts for the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday – is one of sacrifice. This could mean refraining from eating meat on Fridays (a common practice; one that gave rise to the tradition of “fish fries”) to abstaining from certain indulgences altogether. Fat Tuesday offers one last chance to really cut loose before Lent begins. This often involves eating rich, fatty foods (hence the name) and washing it all down with copious amounts of alcohol. Anyone who has ever been to New Orleans on Mardi Gras can attest to this.


When And Where Did Mardi Gras Begin?

While many of the activities that we often associate with Mardi Gras came about relatively recently, the tradition itself dates back to the Middle Ages. While the phrase “Mardi Gras” indicates that Fat Tuesday celebrations originated in France, they were actually believed to have originated in modern-day Italy, with festivities taking place in cities like Rome and Venice. It was France, though, that really took the Fat Tuesday concept and ran with it. The 17th Century House of Bourbon was known for its elaborate Mardi Gras celebrations. Today, Mardi Gras is celebrated in many parts of the world, from the infamous parade and celebration on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, to “Carnival” in Brazil.


Fat Tuesday Food Traditions

This being a food blog, I have to spend some time talking about all the delicious food traditions associated with Fat Tuesday. For many, Fat Tuesday offers one of the best opportunities to food binge all year. Many of the American food traditions centered around this holiday stem from the Cajun culture of New Orleans. That’s because the French settlers of Louisiana brough their Mardi Gras-loving ways with them to the New World.

Arguably, the most iconic Mardi Gras food in the U.S. is the “king cake.” A New Orleans tradition that has spread around the country, the king cake is a braided cake with multi-colored sprinkles. The colors of a traditional king cake are symbolic: green symbolizing faith, gold symbolizing power, and purple symbolizing justice. Be careful when eating a king cake: a small plastic baby is traditionally baked inside. And when tearing into a king cake at a party, be warned: whoever gets the piece with the baby is supposed to bring the king cake next time.

For many Americans, though, Mardi Gras is an excuse to pig out on Cajun food: gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and crawfish. I, for one, am all for it. I will take any excuse to chow down on some vegan red beans and rice.


If you enjoyed this article or have suggestions on how we can improve it, please leave us a comment below. Also, make sure to check out other articles I’ve created or stories I’ve written about food culture – here.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Special News

Subscribe to the recipe community

By subscribing, you accepted the our Terms & Conditions
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

This will close in 0 seconds

This will close in 0 seconds

AI Avatar
Ask me cooking questions!