Where Y’Eat: In New Orleans, The King Cake Reigns Without Many Rules

Feb 1, 2018

The cynical might chalk it up to the sugar buzz talking, but I believe king cake brings optimism. It barrels through indecision in favor of indulgence. It can brighten your day, even if it’s the last thing you eat at night. It’s not just a cake, it’s an emblem.

This is also why king cake has become contentious.

The popularity has spawned a cottage industry in New Orleans. The king cake concept has become fodder for practically anything edible, and many things that aren’t. For some this is an affront, and their protest usually boils down to four words: "that's not king cake.”

I get it. It’s a question of cultural ownership. After all, the traditional king cake is the basis for the entire king cake craze. It was the king cake of school days, break rooms and kitchen counters that set the cravings that forged the memories that make everything from king cake daiquiris to king cake earrings possible products. People feel a connection, and they don’t want that connection being peddled back to them.

But is the king cake actually under threat from all these riffs? Is it really time to draw a line in the granulated sugar? Maybe all we really need is a little levity.

We are still talking about dessert, the food realm most susceptible to mischief. Add the X-factor of Carnival, and how can anyone expect it to stay the same?  

What I love about Carnival in this town is how a traditional framework persists while woven across, between and throughout are these threads of individualistic interpretation and creativity. Getting persnickety about king cake feels at odds with the spirit of the celebration.

And for all the manipulations to the king cake model out there now, they remain sidelines, novelties. The bestsellers are still the classics.

Maybe I’ve already had too much king cake this season, but I’m feeling optimistic again. I believe the king cake reign can continue without insisting on too many rules.