Worldwide icon-chevron-right 7 brilliantly decadent Mardi Gras foods and traditions from around the world
King Cake
Photograph: Shutterstock

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

Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day… whatever you call it, Shrove Tuesday is all about eating. Here are seven traditional dishes you should try

By Huw Oliver
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Happy Mardi Gras! It’s Shrove Tuesday, known around the world as Carnival or Fat Tuesday, and that means today is a welcome opportunity to stuff your face.

For Christians, Shrove Tuesday is traditionally a final chance to eat and drink to excess before the strictures of Lent begin. But even if you aren’t a believer, you may as well join in: Carnival festivities are much more than just a pre-Lenten blowout. Given how crap life is for almost all of us right now, what better excuse could you have to indulge yourself just a tiny bit?

All over the world, classic Mardi Gras foods tend to involve stuff that’s traditionally forbidden during Lent – which often means a generous dose of meat and dairy and ridiculous levels of richness and sweetness. So, feeling peckish? Here are seven traditional Mardi Gras dishes that are guaranteed to fill you up and keep you happy through the lean days ahead.

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Best Mardi Gras food and traditions around the world

Semla
Semla
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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.)

Cannoli
Cannoli
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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.

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Feijoada
Feijoada
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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.

Pancakes
Pancakes
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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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King Cake
King Cake
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King cakes

The best known Mardi Gras dish in the US, king cake is particularly popular in New Orleans. It may look like one hot mess, but that’s kind of the whole point: the ‘king cake’ is excess embodied. The cake typically comes covered in purple, green and gold icing, and has a plastic baby hidden inside – whoever scores in their slice it is named king for the day.

Jambalaya
Jambalaya
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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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Jam doughnut
Jam doughnut
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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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