This Tuesday is Mardi Gras, the end of Carnival, known as Martedì grasso and Carnevale in Italian. Fried foods are often the most traditional choice for Carnival around the world, stemming from an attempt to use up all the decadent sugar and oil before the austere time of Lent. Fried foods are also popular in Italy, including the omnipresent Chiacchiere, but in Naples they have their own, slightly different culinary tradition. Migliaccio is the typical Carnival cake in Naples, and is a relatively light, crustless cake made with ricotta and semolina, flavored with lemon. If you are in Naples you can sample Migliaccio at many bakeries including the stalwart Gambrinus. If you are not lucky enough to be in Italy, here are recipes from Manu’s Menu (pictured below), Foodellers, and Gourmet Traveller. There are many variations of Migliaccio, and it is popular in communities in Italy and the diaspora. We even found a version from Memorie di Angelina that doesn’t include ricotta.
So we definitely are more familiar with King Cakes and paczkis, but the reach of the Mardi Gras fried doughnut also extends to Germany with Fasnacht. Fasnacht is a type of fried doughnut used to celebrate the holiday of Fasnacht, from where it gets its name. Fasnacht/Fastnacht (as it is called in Germany, Austria and Switzerland) means “Fast Night” and is the day before Ash Wednesday, where the last decadent treats (like the sugar and oil in doughnuts) are supposed to be eaten before the austerity of Lent kicks in. Fasnacht doughnuts may be square-shaped or more round like paczkis. I have never seen Fasnacht for sale, but outside of German-speaking Europe you can find them in small pockets, especially in places with Amish populations! Here are some recipes from All Recipes, Eve of Reduction, and PA Dutch Country (recipe circa 1936).
Cleveland has a huge amount of Slovenian culture and Slovenian descendants, so it it perhaps not surprising that Cleveland is home to a local celebration of Slovenian Mardi Gras – Kurentovanje. The emblem of Kurentovanje are the Kurents, big fuzzy beasts who romp through town during Mardi Gras (called Pust in Slovenia), ringing bells loudly. The Kurents are rumored to have the power to chase away winter with their ruckus. For Slovenian Mardi Gras, a traditional food is Krofi – or doughnuts. Doughnuts are a popular choice for Mardi Gras celebrations around the world, since they would use up some of the ingredients that would then be forbidden in Lent: sugar, butter, and oil! Slovenian krofi are simple to make, and mirror the other Mardi Gras fried sweet fritters found worldwide like Paczki, Malasadas, Semla and Chiacchiere. Here are recipes from homemade krofi from E-Slovenie and Homemade Slovenian food. Though krofi looks delicious, we are more intrigued by the Kurents!
New Orleans is one of our favorite food cities (heck, ANY type of city) in the US. Unfortunately, it seems like NOLA only enters the general public consciousness around Mardi Gras Time (which is right around the corner). We like to go to New Orleans on Super Sunday, the big Mardi Gras Indian parade day, and while there is a ton of street food available at the parade, the standout was sweet potato and pecan pies from Tee-Eva’s. When we were at Super Sunday in 2016, we happened upon the ebullient Miss Eva Perry herself, selling her homemade pralines and pies to the crowds, and chatting with everyone like they were old friends. And we have to say, this was the best pecan pie we have ever had! Fortunately we found out that Tee-Eva also has a long-standing bricks and mortar shop (5201 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70115), so you can sample some delicious treats (and full-sized pies) any time you are in NOLA. Definitely take some time to explore outside of the French Quarter and visit Tee-Eva’s!
It seems that there are two main categories of Mardi Gras food, rich, sweet cakes meant to use up all the sugar and fat before Lent, and savory,”lucky” foods. In the sweet camp are Polish Paczki, French galette des rois, Scandinavian Semla (called vastlakukkel in Estonia) or Hawaiian Malasadas. On the other hand are savory foods that are deemed lucky. In Eastern Europe, one such lucky, savory dish is a hearty pea soup. The classic Estonian Mardi Gras Soup is called hernesupp, and is a hearty mix of yellow split peas and pork. Check out these classic recipes from Nami-Nami (seen below) and Stanford.
As we enter mid-February, Carnevale / Mardi Gras / Carnival is right around the corner! It’s never too early to start planning some sweet treats for the festivities. In Italy, Carnevale is a big deal, and Mardi Gras (or Shrove Tuesday) is celebrated with sweet, fried dough fritters called Chiacchiere. The simple-to-make Chiacchiere is popular throughout Italy, and goes by many regional names including Frappe, Cenci, Guanti and Bugie. There is a tradition of serving fried dough or doughnuts on Mardi Gras (think beignets, paczki and malasadas), in order to use up all the sugar and fats in the house before the austerity of Lent sets in, and Chiacchiere is no exception. Here are a few traditional Chiacchiere recipes from Academia Barilla, Cooking with Rosetta and Napoli Unplugged.
We can hardly believe it – but Mardi Gras is next Tuesday – February 9th! Nowhere does Mardi Gras like New Orleans, and an integral part of the celebration in the city is the iconic purple, yellow and green King Cake. However, if you are in New Orleans around this time of year you are completely spoiled for choice. So that’s where the King Cake Database comes into play – you can search by name, neighborhood or by type of king cake desired (traditional, dietary specifications, etc.). Laissez les bons temps rouler!
[updated 2/2016] Happy Mardi Gras! In Chicago, the classic Mardi Gras treat of choice is the Paczki, however we are also big fans of a fried doughy treat right out of New Orleans, the beignet! While we are not going to be near Cafe Du Monde, we are hoping to get some of that NOLA spirit, so where to go in Chicago? It turns out there are quite a few places. You can get beignets in Chicago at Jimmy’s which specialized in NOLA-style beignets, Big Jones and our new favorite beignet: Butcher & Burger, which also serves Cafe Du Monde coffee. Of course, you can always make your own. Laissez les bon temps rouler!
It’s almost Mardi Gras, and we are in NYC, so we decided to indulge in a semla (plural: semlor) from the Swedish coffee shop Fika (41 W. 58th St.), which we had visited on a previous trip. So while many may think of king cake for Mardi Gras, we were in a Scandinavian mood. A semla is traditional Swedish brioche roll flavored with cardamom and filled with whipped cream, usually eaten before Lent. Understated, yet indulgent, this is definitely a Mardi Gras tradition we can get behind. Learn how to make your own semla at Saveur.
We first ate an ensaimada, a sweet eggy, yeast roll on a warm day in Puerto Rico, not knowing anything of its history, other than that it looked pretty tasty (it is actually called a Mallorca there). However, we did not put two and two together until we stumbled upon the same sweet yeast roll, with the same spiral top, on a cold winter day in Madrid, except this time it was called an ensaimada. When we got home, we did a little research and sure enough these two rolls, encountered an ocean apart, were actually the same pastry.
Enaismada (center) from La Mallorquina in Madrid
Ensaimadas originated on the Spanish island of Mallorca, and gained their name from the pork fat used to make them, saïm. The pastry traveled with the Spanish around the world, and throughout the centuries have found their way throughout the Spanish speaking world to Puerto Rico, and to the Philippines, where they are particularly popular. Ensaimadas, due to their richness, are popular to eat around Mardi Gras time, before all the sweets and butter are given up for Lent, so why not whip some up now? Check out this Spanish-style recipe from Delicious Days, or a traditional Cabell d’àngel pumpkin jam-filled version from the Gusty Gourmet. Jun-blog has a recipe for Filippino ensaimadas, which are miniature-sized and made with butter.
It’s Mardi Gras / Fat Tuesday / Carnaval! Hope you are having a festive time, or at least enjoying some festive treats. We’ve written about many Fat Tuesday goodies in the past including the inimitable Chicago doughnut staple, the Paczki. Like the Polish Paczki, the Portuguese malasada is a filled doughnut without a hole, eaten as a last indulgence before Lent. The malasada first came to Hawaii with Portuguese immigrants in the late 19th century, and has since become immensely popular in Hawaii as well as in Madeira and the Azores. Due to the treat’s popularity, Shrove Tuesday in Hawaii is informally known as “Malasada day” and at the iconic Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu (933 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816) you can even get plush Malasada toys alongside the coveted pastries. Traditionally, Malasadas were not filled, but today in Hawaii you can get fun fillings like Coconut (Haupia), Chocolate and Passion Fruit. Saveur even has a recipe for Leonard’s signature Malasadas.
Like many other counties, Denmark celebrates Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras – Fastelavn – with merriment, rich treats and other festivities. But you’ll never guess where it pops up outside of Denmark – Brooklyn. Apparently there is still a yearly Fastelavn celebration going strong in Sunset Park, at the 120-year-old Danish Athletic Club. We love hearing about hidden cultural pockets like this, still surviving after 100+ years.
Semla (or as it goes by many other names: fastlagsbulle, laskiaispulla, or fastelavnsbolle) is a Scandinavian pastry strongly associated with Lent in Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Sweden. Semlor (plural) used to be eaten on Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras, however, it is now eaten throughout Lent, especially on Tuesdays. Semla seems pretty easy to make – and consists of a cardamom flavored sweet roll filled with whipped cream and almond paste. During this time of year, all of the bakeries in Scandinavia stock semla, and it is the perfect snack to enjoy with your afternoon coffee break, or fika. For those outside of Northern Europe, Camilla’s Cravings has a recipe for Semla.
When we were in Chicago for Fat Tuesday, it was not uncommon to have a friend or co-worker bring over a box of fresh Paczki. Paczki, a type of jelly- filled doughnut, originated in Poland (the official plural in Polish is pączki -pączek is the singular form), as a way to use up sugar and butter before the start of Lent. Unsurprisingly, Paczki Day is really big in Chicago, which has one of the biggest Polish populations outside of Poland. In Michigan, Hamtramck and Detroit are also epicenters of paczki culture. So what is a pączek like? The texture of a pączek is a bit denser than a jelly doughnut, and the jam fillings range from standard raspberry to more creative varieties, such as rose-hip or even guava (you may also see cream fillings). Louisa Chu on the WBEZ blog lists some top picks for Paczki in Chicago, and DNA Info rounds out the list even further. Rest assured, if you are in Chicago, you can get your Paczki fix.
However, in addition to the Nawlins Mardi Gras we know and love, there are some other pretty great food traditions, such as Paczki Day in Chicago. Paczkis (pronounced poonch-key) are filled doughnuts and are traditionally consumed in areas with high Polish populations. On the other side of the pond, the tradition in England is to have Shrove Tuesday Pancakes (is it a coincidence that IHOP has free pancakes today?). In Sweden, the day is called Fettisdagen, and a traditional pastry of semolina wheat called Semla is consumed. Basically every country or community that celebrates Easter has their own Mardi Gras food traditions, and they all sound pretty delicious to us!
We’re two Midwestern omnivores, L and M, who are trying to eat food from every country in the world (at restaurants in both the US and abroad). Eating the World is where we update our global restaurant and food adventures. We are based in Cleveland, Chicago and beyond.
To contact us for partnerships or just to say hi, email us at eating the world (at) gmail.com
Eating The World · We're two Midwestern omnivores, L and M, who are trying to eat food from every country in the world (at restaurants in both the US and abroad). Eating the World is where we update our global restaurant and food adventures. We are based in Cleveland, Chicago and beyond.