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7 brilliantly decadent Mardi Gras foods and traditions from around the world

Mardi Gras, Pancake Day, Fat Tuesday. Whatever you want to call it, here's the wildest things to eat across the globe.

Ella Doyle
Huw Oliver
Edited by
Ella Doyle
Written by
Huw Oliver
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Everyone makes a massive deal out of Christmas, New Year’s Eve and all that. But don’t sleep on Shrove Tuesday in 2023, otherwise known as Carnival and even Fat Tuesday – a day where you are permitted to eat loads and loads of food, among other things.

Shrove Tuesday was born out of Anglo-Saxon Christians being absolved from their sins after 40 days of fasting before Easter. The day would be marked by the sound of a bell, which would call each person to make their confession. That became known as the ‘pancake bell’, which became ‘Pancake Day’. 

But all over the world, Mardi Gras is a day to indulge in foods you don’t normally get to indulge in. Rich, sweet fried doughnuts, thick meaty stews, and cake smothered in icing. Not just pancakes (though they’re good too). So if you’re ready to get eating, here’s seven traditional Mardi Gras dishes to sample for the big day. 

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Delicious Mardi Gras foods across the globe

1. Cannoli

In Italy, the Carnevale period is celebrated between Epiphany (January 6) and whichever day Mardi Gras lands on. In the days leading up to the final blowout, one popular tradition is to eat cannoli, a Sicilian dish that originally comprised a flat piece of sugary fried dough stuffed with fresh ricotta. It now tends to have sweeter fillings and is consumed all over the world.

2. Pancakes

For the UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada, Mardi Gras is better known as Pancake Day. The original idea was to bung all the fat, milk and eggs you had left in the house into one mega-batch of pancake mix on Shrove Tuesday, to use up any animal products before Easter. Now it’s more of an opportunity to practice your flip, since these guys tend to be closer to French crêpes than thick, breakfast-style pancakes.

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3. King cakes

Yep, these wild looking cakes really are a delicacy in the US, particularly New Orleans, for Mardi Gras. The ring-shaped cake is covered in white, gold, green and purple icing, and often a hell of a lot more decorations too. It’s sweet and delicious, and the best bit? A plastic baby gets hidden inside it. No, really. Whoever gets the slice is named king for the day. 

4. Feijoada

Carnaval is big in Brazil, and they’ve got seriously hearty meals to match. One classic is feijoada: a rich stew of black beans, pork and salted beef, best washed down with a potent Caipirinha. It’s considered the country’s national dish but is especially popular on special occasions like Mardi Gras.

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5. Semla

It may not go in for OTT carnival celebrations in the same way as many other countries, but Sweden sure knows how to treat itself on Mardi Gras. Some six million of these semlor (cream buns filled with whipped cream) are estimated to be consumed on Fat Tuesday each year. (For context, the population of Sweden is ten million.)

6. Doughnuts

Krapfen, kreppel, kräppel, fastnachtküchelchen and packzi are just five of the names used across Europe to refer to the jam-filled doughnuts that are a staple of Mardi Gras meals in Austria, Germany and Poland, as well as places like Chicago where plenty of immigrants from central Europe have settled,, brining their do(ugh)nuts with them. As with pancakes, the idea originally was to clear out the larder of eggs, dairy and lard in time for Lent. In this case, you also get a bonus hit of sugary fruit. Why not give them a go this year?

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7. Jambalaya

Another staple of Louisiana Mardi Gras feasts, jambalaya is a hearty stew comprising rice, peppers, chicken, andouille sausage, shrimp and a heck of a lot of spice. Those with more adventurous palates could be more into another New Orleans classic: dirty rice, a paella-like dish where the main event is chicken livers.

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