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Where Y’Eat: How New Orleans Makes a Moveable Feast for Mardi Gras

King cake is a symbol of Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Ian McNulty
King cake is a symbol of Mardi Gras in New Orleans

We New Orleanians don’t have much sway over the outcome of the Saints season, jinxes and mojo aside. The same goes for crawfish season, which has been a dismal one thus far.

But we are right now deep in a season over which we have a great deal of influence in charting our own enjoyment.

I’m talking about Carnival season and its final countdown is rolling fast.

I believe the way we enjoy it is in our hands, and we can perhaps also contribute to what others get from this wonderful piece of New Orleans life.

I look at it through the lens of food and hospitality, because, well, that’s how I look at much around here anyway.

Yes, the official framework of Carnival is pretty well set by parade schedules and balls and such. But some of my best memories from seasons past tend to revolve around the things we do on our own between all that. It’s the parties that we convene, or the ones we join, whether at someone’s house providentially close to the parade route action, or just out on the streets that belong to us all (no matter what the guy roping off arpents of Orleans Avenue thinks).

This is time when a lot of people overdo it, and I’ve certainly been in that number. But it’s also a time of gregarious generosity and hospitality, expressed so richly by indulging others in food and drink.

It’s feasting, feeding your friends, maybe even some strangers swept up in it, and putting in a little planning to pull off what can feel like ephemeral pleasures of the season.

 

It’s a time to do special things in this realm, whether its hunting down that coveted king cake because you simply must have it, and share it, or wheeling out the killer recipe you’ve maintained year after year.

Between the gumbo pots and the jambalaya trays, the catering platters of mini muffulettas and the family-sized fried chicken boxes from your favorite takeout joint, New Orleans set the ultimate movable feast. It’s Carnival time, and it’s ours to make it what is, a celebration of ourselves. Long may we roll.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.