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king cake

Ramona King

Easy Almond King Cake


The Southern Kitchen guide to Mardi Gras food, drink and history

Whether you're planning to throw down with a Fat Tuesday fête, celebrate more calmly with a few pancakes and maybe a king cake, or just want to enjoy the holiday from afar, Mardi Gras is here. Or, at least, the biggest day of the sometimes weeks-long event (depending on where you live) has landed.

Celebrate Mardi Gras with our favorite New Orleans-style food, drinks and trivia, in our guide to (one of) the South's most rollicking holidays.

Throw — or attend — a party
4 simple ways to celebrate Mardi Gras at home — even on a weeknight
You want to celebrate a Mardi Gras but … it’s a work day. If you’re not in New Orleans, where work and schools are often closed for at least a week, you likely still have to get up bright and early on Wednesday morning. How can you festively feast on Fat Tuesday when your prep time is limited and you know you can’t get too buck wild?
Learn how

Have the fattest Fat Tuesday ever with these recipes and tips
While anyone with any sense of decency has been celebrating Mardi Gras for at least a few days now, tomorrow is the big blowout — Fat Tuesday. It's the day where we all load up on everything wonderful to eat and drink before the devout among us pare down for Lent. There's no sense in being stingy tomorrow, so go ahead and fill up your shopping cart so you can go a little crazy and have the fattest Fat Tuesday, ever. The secret to success is to plan to eat and drink all day long. Forget going to work. Forget eating vegetables. Today is about excess.
Read more

11 Mardi Gras celebrations that aren't in New Orleans
During Carnival season, over a million people head to New Orleans to celebrate and collect as many beads as they can. But we know not everyone can make it to the Big Easy for the festivities. Luckily, Mardi Gras celebrations extend throughout the South. These 11 other Southern cities have their own extravagant Fat Tuesday celebrations that are worth checking out. 
Find out which event is closest to you

21 places to eat New Orleans-style food outside of New Orleans
New Orleans has some of the best Creole and Cajun restaurants in the South. But if you can’t make it to the Crescent City, we’ve found a few places that will satisfy your cravings. Who knew you could find fried alligator in North Carolina?
Learn where to go

Cook up a killer meal
These 5 dishes are perfect for Mardi Gras parade-watching
With parties and gatherings that can run all day and night, it’s crucial to prepare dishes that can feed a crowd with minimal fuss. Whether you’re planning on spending an entire day along the parade route on New Orleans’ St. Charles Avenue or hosting a food-and-drink-fueled fête for friends at home, try these low-maintenance recipes guaranteed to help you laissez les bon temps rouler.  
Check out our favorites

Bring the best of Bourbon Street to your home with these recipes
You can't talk about Mardi Gras without mentioning New Orleans — from beignets to po'boys, gumbo to remoulade, and everything in between, the Big Easy is a veritable food fest during this two-week long celebration. So why not bring a bit of that home by cooking up a Mardi Gras feast, New Orleans style?
Here are nine recipes to get the party started

Two totally different ways to make colorful, festive king cake at home
There are as many different flavors and styles of king cake as there are beads in a Mardi Gras parade, so you should never feel limited by whatever you've heard is the "correct" form of the cake. At Southern Kitchen, we've found two particular stand-outs if you need some help. Feel free to go crazy with colored sugar, no matter which cake you choose.
Try 'em both!

Or give Leah Chase's butter cake a try
This cake, from legendary chef Leah Chase, is a recipe filled with love and history, perfect for spring and summer entertaining no matter where you live. And it marries well with fresh local strawberries and summer's peaches. 
Get the recipe, and the story behind the chef, here

How to eat a New Orleans beignet like a pro
If you’ve ever visited New Orleans, you’ve likely found yourself in the French Quarter sitting down to a plate of hot beignets with a cup of café au lait. Unfortunately, enjoying these delicious powdered sugar-covered pillows of fried dough comes with some small hazards. How do you finish a beignet without leaving a snowy smear all over your face and clothing? Can you avoid coughing from airborne powdered sugar? The answers: It's easy, yes.
Learn how with our step-by-step guide

The 10 essential Mardi Gras cocktails
The Big Easy is known for great food and great cocktails. Whether you’re celebrating in the Big Easy or hosting a Mardi Gras party at home, you can get into the Carnival spirit by sipping on these cocktails. So, have your cake — king cake that is — and one of these tipples too. 
Try them all

Get a classic New Orleans Pimm's Cup recipe
The Pimm's Cup originated in England in the 1840s, but it was made famous a second time by the Napoleon House hotel a century later. Since its debut in the Big Easy, it has remained one of the most classic and beloved beverages in town. (In fact, New Orleans is known for taking credit for the drink entirely.) This herbaceous ginger-flavored cocktail is traditionally enjoyed during the summer months due to its bright flavor profile. In our opinion, however, a good Pimm's should be consumed year round and as often as possible.
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Need some help shopping? See our guide to the best Cajun and Creole stores
Imagine yourself in the following scenario. You’re throwing a Mardi Gras-themed party and plan on serving up a Louisiana-inspired menu of crawfish etouffeé, fried alligator po'boys and tasso-studded dirty rice. Sounds delicious, right? There’s just one problem: You don’t live near Louisiana and get funny looks from the staff in your local supermarket when you ask about alligator meat or tasso ham.
Here's where to get them

Learn more about Mardi Gras, New Orleans, its chefs and its artisans
The Ultimate Guide to the Big Easy
We’re not going to lie, we love New Orleans. As the birthplace of the beloved po’boy and Creole cuisine, the historical city has a distinct food and dining scene unlike any other city in the South. The cultural impact from the French, Spanish, enslaved Africans and Southerners are ingrained in the city and still heavily influence it today. Those who are lucky enough to visit New Orleans are visiting at a special time in the food industry. Not only can you dine at a restaurant that is almost two centuries old, like Antoine’s or Arnaud’s, but you can also explore the city’s booming food truck scene. 
Read more

Do you know the differences between Creole and Cajun food?
Always ready to voice their opinion, Louisianans can be quite provincial when it comes to classifying their beloved foods. Indeed, ask someone from Lafayette about the finer points of crab meat Maison and you’re likely to encounter some choice words. Or post a recipe for gumbo on Facebook, and you'll likely be greeted with a chorus of responses explaining how you screwed up their favorite dish. There is even more of an uproar when you start to define both Cajun and Creole cuisine. To an outsider, the differences between the two may seem minimal; however, each has a very distinct culinary point of view.
Learn why — and get some authentic recipes

Digging into the diverse culinary lexicon of crawfish
There are hundreds of species of crawfish in America’s creeks, rivers and ponds. Sometimes it seems like the names we have for them are just as numerous. From the clinical and scientifically accurate “crayfish” to the more colorful “mudbug” to the more obscure but no less entertaining “ditchbug” or “crawpappy,” the nomenclature of crawfish is a linguistic melting pot. But where did these terms come from — and what do they say about the person who uses them?
Get the full story

Get the story behind King Cakes, plus an old-school recipe
Said to honor the three kings, or wise men, who visited the baby Jesus on the 12th day of Christmas, versions of King Cakes have been eaten by Christians since at least the Middle Ages. According to Scientific American, this tradition was picked up not from ancient Christian elders, but from cakes eaten for the winter solstice celebration of Saturnalia.
Learn more

Rather have colored sugar? Feast your eyes on these 26 King Cakes from around the South
Today, the modern, New Orleans-style king cakes are shaped like rings and covered in purple, yellow and green sugar. In both versions, small charms, usually plastic baby figurines that represent Jesus, are hidden somewhere in the cake and the person who finds the charm will have both good luck and the task of bringing a king cake to the next party. While many bakers love making these three classic types of cake, others across the South are taking creative liberty and putting their own spin on the traditional treat. To get you ready for the party, we’ve rounded up the very best of these cakes.
See (and drool over) each one

The top 5 places you have to visit on your next trip to New Orleans
New Orleans is one of the most unique cities in the world. From the food to the music to its strange obsession ghost stories, there is no other place like NOLA in the world. The funky jazz music is always pumping through the streets, the liquor is flowing and life is easy. Here are tried and true food and drink destinations that are a must when we're in the Crescent City.
See if you agree

A former Marine puts the spirit of New Orleans in your drink
There are plenty of delicious hand-made cocktail ingredients shaken up here in the South, but there are few as complex as cocktail bitters. And there are few South-made cocktail bitters as unique — and delicious — as El GuapoStarted as a passion project, El Guapo Bitters has quickly evolved into a successful international spirits brand molded by the indelible flavors of the South.
Founder Scot Mattox tells us how it all started in New Orleans

Learn the history of 3-martini lunches from Ti Martin of New Orleans' legendary Commander's Palace
The 1960s-based TV series “Mad Men” may have inspired the return of the classic martini on bar menus but it is Commander’s Palace, in New Orleans' stately Garden District, that has kept the flame alive for decades, offering the sophisticated cocktail for 25 cents at three-martini lunches.
Read more

A quick history of Mobile's Moon-Pied Mardi Gras
You know all about the beads, parades, masks and mayhem of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. But did you know that the country’s first Mardi Gras celebration was held not in the Crescent City, but 125 miles east, in Mobile, Alabama? It’s true, and there’s more: snack-lovers who get there in time for the parades can seriously rack up on free MoonPies.
Read more

The owners of this New Orleans bar serve up 300 years' worth of rum
There are plenty of borderline ancient bars in New Orleans, but none may be so full of history as the building that houses the bar Cane & Table, which has gone through as many iterations as the city itself.
Learn more about the bar and its tiki-inspired rum drinks

Have you heard of these Southern Mardi Gras traditions?
While we think of New Orleans as the home of modern-day Mardi Gras — although Alabama may disagree — there are plenty of different ways to let the good times roll all across the South.
Learn about four unique ways to celebrate 

Photos (gumbo, king cakes, beignets, hurricane cocktails): Ramona King
Photo (masks): Randy Heinitz/Flickr
Photo (Bacchus on the Beach): Facebook
Photo (po'boys, fried alligator): Maura Friedman
Photo (butter cake): Mitch Mandel
Photo (Pimm's cup): Ryan Hughley
Photo (jambalaya): Julie Koppman
Photo (cinnamon king cake): Kate Williams
Photo (king cake with sign): Joe Gambino’s Bakery Facebook
Photo (New Orleans street): Unsplash
Photo (El Guapo Bitters): Facebook
Photo (Ti Martin and Lally Brennan): Commander's Palace
Photo (MoonPies): Facebook
Photo (Cane & Table): Kevin O'Mara
Photo (Courir de Mardi Gras): Louisiana Travel Facebook

Author image

Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.