For many Christians around the world, Mardi Gras is the last chance to bite into a juicy burger, filet or other meat and rich foods for a while. Considered the Eve of Lent (a six-week period of penitence and fasting before Easter), Mardi Gras celebrations around the world often involve indulging in a host of foods that won’t grab a spot of real estate on the plate again until Easter Sunday arrives.

In New Orleans, king cakes reign supreme as a staple during Mardi Gras. But elsewhere, those celebrating “Fastnacht,” or "Eve of the Beginning of the Fast" as it's called in Germany, or “Carne Vale,” which means “goodbye to the meat” in Latin, incorporate other foods and beverages in the day.

Celebrating Mardi Gras in the U.S.



Mardi Gras King Cake

The king cake reigns at Mardi Gras celebrations across the United States.


King cake may be the reigning favorite at American Mardi Gras celebrations, but Chef Chris Brugler, who has traveled the country working for the Ritz Carlton and now runs a private catering business in Los Angeles, said no Mardi Gras celebration in America would be complete without jambalaya, the Mardi Gras staple with roots in southern Louisiana. 

“It was made by the Cajuns around the bayou where food was scarce," Brugler said. "Common belief is that it’s based on the Spanish dish ‘paella’, which has also transformed in the United States to a dish called Spanish rice. Jambalaya is a bit different as it often incorporates seafood, ham, link sausage rounds and chicken, although it doesn't have to have all those ingredients.”



Maslenitsa blini

In Mosco, Maslenitsa is celebrated with savory blini.




In Russia

In Moscow, “Maslenitsa” is celebrated with blini, crêpe-like thin golden pancakes topped with caviar, smoked fish, sour cream, butter, or cheese. 

The centerpiece food of the celebration, blini are considered symbolic representations of the sun in this ancient festival. The celebration is also known as "butter week," in honor of one of the rich foods the church prohibits once Lent begins.

In Germany

“Karneval” as it’s called in Germany, relies on traditional German fare including “berliner” according to Mark Bolton, chef at the Phoenix Club, a German Culture Club in Anaheim, CA, that regularly celebrates the German Mardi Gras season.



Berliner

Jelly-filled berliners are traditional Karneval fare in Germany.


“One typical dish is a dessert called berliner, krapfen, or fastnachtskuechelchen, depending on the region in Germany. These are basically a kind of donut, sometimes filled with jelly, sometimes not,” said Bolton. There are several variations of this recipe, but the idea is always the same, it's a fried pastry with powdered sugar on top. There are even Karneval songs about this pastry.  

Herings are another German Karneval custom. “Herings, the fish, is served raw and marinated with onions and often marinated apples,” Bolton said. And depending on the region, this is served with a yogurt-based sauce or plain and paired with steamed, salted potatoes. 

“The idea behind this dish is that it is very salty and will extract all the alcohol consumed during the Karneval festivities,” he said.



Feijoada

Hearty feijoada completa is Brazil's national dish.




In Brasil

In Brazil, Carnaval is filled with revelers preparing to give up meat (and those who aren’t too), chowing down on “feijoada completa,” a hearty meat-and-bean stew widely considered the Brazilian national dish. Variations vary by region but the dish usually includes a variety of meats like corned beef, pork sausage, pigs' tails and feet, and bacon.

The dish is thought to originate in Portugal, but Brazilians tweaked it to make it their own—and to incorporate it in the world’s biggest Mardi Gras celebration.

In Canada

No Winter Carnival, the annual winter celebration introduced by 19th-century French transplants as a Mardi Gras festival, in Québec is complete without beaver tails and caribou. 



Maple Taffy

Canadians make delicious taffy by ladling maple syrup onto freshly fallen snow.


But this fare won’t have vegetarians heading for the hills. A beaver tail is actually a fried-dough treat topped with cinnamon and sugar. Caribou is a nickname for blend of port, sherry, brandy, and vodka, served in a hollowed-out cane that’s sure to warm revelers’ insides when the mercury dips. Sugary treats like as maple taffy cooled on the snow are also popular.

In Malta

16th century carnivals in Malta featured jousting matches among the Knights of the Order of St. John. These days, the Maltese battle for the most flamboyant and ostentatious float design. And they fuel that fighting spirit by eating the carnival's signature treat, prinjolata. The frothy sweet is reminiscent of sponge cake that’s frosted with whipped cream and decorated with pine nuts, candied cherries, and a decorative pattern of melted chocolate.

In Italy

Carnevale, as it’s called in Italy, began in ancient Rome. Its name stems from the Latin phrase “carnem levare” which refers to the period of fasting from meat. 

Today, the feast lasts for about 10 days, but the ancient Romans celebrated it for nearly half the year. “It was their way of celebrating their victories,” says Maria Liberati, author of The Basic Art of Italian Cooking: Holidays and Special Occasions-2nd edition.

Today in Italy, each region has their own special Carnevale festival and related foods. But Liberati says “frittelle,” which are doughnuts, sometimes prepared with a sweet or savory filling, are usually served in Venice. 



Chiacchiare

Italians satisfy their sweet tooth with chiacchiare during Carnevale.




Chiacchiare, baked squares of sweet dough, are also served. “Chiacchiare can be translated as 'to gossip' and are made all over Italy and are called different names in different regions and dialects,” says Liberati. 

Ingredients vary depending on the region of Italy, but this is Liberati’s recipe for the version traditionally made for Venice's Carnevale.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 3 eggs
  • powdered sugar for dusting
  • ½  cup grappa
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 Tbsps milk
  • 3 Tbsps unsalted butter, softened

Preparation

  1. Place flour on a wooden board and make a well in the center.
  2. First beat eggs with milk with a fork and place in the well along with all other ingredients.
  3. Blend by hand on board, then place in mixing bowl or food processor to continue blending until smooth dough is formed.
  4. Roll dough out to 1-inch thickness.
  5. Form chiacchiareby cutting with jagged edge cutter or knife or cookie cutter forms that are square in shape and about 1 ½ inches in thickness.
  6. Bake in preheated oven to 400 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.
  7. Dust with powdered sugar when cool.