If you were going to embark on a strict and solemn fast for 40 days—what would you do on the day before? Go on a fling and get your fill of food and partying?
Simply stated, that is, what Mardi Gras is about.
A Christian holy day, it’s also known as: Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras in French; Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday; ; Malasada Day, in Hawaii; and Carnival, in Latin, which means "farewell to meat."
Around the world, the event is celebrated with costumes, beads, masks, parades, dance, music and lots of good food! Whether or not you observe the holy day, this can be a spectacular and fun experience.
With its beginnings in Southern Louisiana, Cajun and Creole cuisine became the signature food of Mardi Gras. Many familiar dishes include gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, sausage, beignets, po’boys, crawfish, fried catfish and other seafood. Malasada, similar to beignets, a Portuguese confection, was traditionally made for Mardi Gras.
As the story goes, before Ash Wednesday, all the lard and sugar had to be used up. This was to be the last time to enjoy the luxurious donut-like pastries as well as other rich foods including meat, until the end of the fast.
So, the idea is to party hard and eat up, because you will be abstinent for over a month. Whether or not you actually plan to fast, the eating and partying is still fair game.
Although the largest Mardi Gras festival still takes place in its place of origin, the Bay Area has its share of merrymaking to entertain all your senses, from the savory dishes to the colorful music, parades and shindigs.
Where to eat
The Louisiana Territory serves up New Orleans fare in a food truck that frequents surrounding cities including San Jose, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and completes its rotation in Mountain View at the office park at 331 E. Evelyn Avenue on various scheduled days.
If you want to get the flavors of Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Carnival, et al., it is worth finding this roving food stop. They offer the traditional New Orleans style dishes and more.
A sampling of what's cooking in their mobile kitchen include Chicken & Sausage Gumbo, New Orleans Jambalaya, Red Beans & Rice, Traditional Creole dish with smoked sausage, Fried Catfish Po' Boy, Caesar Salad with Blackened Chicken along with your choice of soda, water, ginger ale or berry lemonade.
These dishes are serious, delicious and offer a unique punch with their authentic spices. A scrumptious finish is the Bread Pudding. A mid-day meal at The Louisiana Territory can be quite a feast. Follow them on Twitter at @latcajuncookin to get updates on their locations.
The celebratory events which include parades, costumes, masks, beads, music, dancing, and more food, will soon be underway starting Friday. Families can consider checking out a local Mardi Gras festival or dinner and watching the spectacular parade in San Francisco. If you enjoy dancing, there's a couple events that'll keep you on your feet till the wee morning hours.
Where to party
- St Lucy School–Parent Teacher Group, Lightning Lounge presents, “MARDI GRAS” in Campbell. Friday, Mar. 4 from 7 to 11 p.m. Live from Bourbon Street with the Brotherhood. Great music, food by The Louisiana Territory, and fun on Bourbon Street (a.k.a the courtyard behind the annex). Special guest appearance from Ike, The Blues Musician, live on stage and The Brotherhood. Located at 2350 Winchester Blvd, Campbell. Cost: $45 which includes dinner. Telephone: 408-378-2464.
- Mardi Gras Mania at Pezzella's Villa Napoli in Sunnyvale on Saturday, Mar. 5 from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Featuring Cajun Specials, Catfish, Jambalaya, Gumbo, Hurricanes. Osso Bucco on Tuesday. Located at 1025 W. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale. Telephone 408-738-2400.
- Family Mardi Gras Party in Alameda. Sat Mar. 5 at 4 p.m. Carnival Games, kids can win prizes! Zydeco music, king cakes, beads, and masks. Dinner, soft drinks, and dessert. Adult entrée: Jambalaya (shellfish-free); vegan/vegetarian entrée: tofu jambalaya; Kids entrée: Mac & Cheese with hot dogs. Beer, wine and soda available for purchase. Venue: Immanuel Lutheran Church, Fellowship Hall. Located at 1910 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda. Cost: $15 adults and $5 kids. Tickets are also available in the church office, Tuesday & Friday Mornings. Telephone: 510-523-0659.
- Mardi Gras at Nolas in Palo Alto on Tuesday, Mar. 8 starting at 5:30 p.m. Live music and dining. Located at 535 Ramona St., Palo Alto. Telephone: 650-328-2722.
- Mardi Gras Party at Poorhouse Bistro in San Jose. Featuring, The Montego's "Tribute to the Meter's," Tuesday, Mar. 8 from 5 to 9 p.m. Located at 91 South Autumn St., San Jose. Telephone: 408-292-5837.
- 5th Annual Mardi Gras Masquesrade Ball/Fundraiser in San Francisco, Mardi Gras–San Francisco Style, “Fat Tuesday in the Fillmore.” This is a 4-day celebration with the kick-off activities on Saturday, Mar. 5, which culminates with the Masquerade Ball on Fat Tuesday, Mar 8. Here’s what’s happening:
- Saturday from noon–5 p.m.: Family day with live band on Fillmore Center Plaza (1475 Fillmore) jugglers, kiddies Carnival (Fillmore Minnie Park), band processional along Fillmore Street 5 to 7 p.m.: Movie screening–SF Black Film Festival presents: “Feathers and Lies" at the Jazz Heritage Media Center (1330 Fillmore), followed by a reception and live music.
- Sunday from 3 p.m.: St. John Coltrane Church Processional along Fillmore Street to the former Bop City club, now home to Marcus Book Store, (1712 Fillmore), followed by a reception & music.
- Monday from 7 to 11 p.m.: Pre-Masquerade jam session and ‘open mic’ at Rassalas Jazz Club. Located at: 1534 Fillmore St. Telephone: 415-346-8696.
- Fat Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m.: Masquerade Ball. Featuring live music, dancing, dinner, beverage, $300 prize for best costume, silent auction, DJ plus more. A neighborhood street party from Sutter to McAllister including a processional parade, live jazz music in the streets, stilt walkers, jugglers and face painters. Restaurants and clubs join the celebration with live music, along with free Mardi Gras beads and signature cocktails, wines, beers and nibbles, culminating in the Masquerade Ball.
- Mardi Gras 2011 at Pican in Oakland, Mar. 8 from 8 to 11 p.m., unleash the Big Easy in the East Bay with its annual funky Mardi Gras party done with traditional Southern flair. Celebrate Fat Tuesday and “Pass a good time” as the Cajuns say. Enjoy New Orleans fare such as Crawfish Jambalaya Fritters, Chicken, Andouille and Shrimp Gumbo; Cajun Chicken Wings; Abita Root Beer Calas, complementary Mardi Gras cocktails and a Zydeco band. A portion of the proceeds benefits St. Augustine’s High School in New Orleans 7th ward. Located at 2295 Broadway at 23rd St, Oakland. Cost: $49 advanced purchase plus internet fees, $59 at the door. Telephone: 510-834-1000. Click to purchase tickets online.
- Mark St. Mary Louisiana Blues & Zydeco Band in Berkeley, Mar. 8 at 8:30 p.m. A favorite of Cajun/Zydeco festival crowds for years and voted best Zydeco band of 2007 by the Bay Area Blues Society. Performing original songs interspersed with dance floor favorites. Located at Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center, 1317 San Pablo at Gilman, Berkeley. Telephones: Show line: 510-525-5054; Ashkenaz front desk: 1-866-468-3399, advance tickets available. Click for ticket information.
- Annual Brazilian Carnaval Ball & Party at Café Cocomo in San Francisco. Saturday, Mar. 5 from 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. It will sizzle when Brazil’s Carnaval arrives in SF’s exciting Cocomo Club for the biggest Brazilian party in town. Throbbing beats of Brazil’s Swingueria Bahiana Band. Capture exotic Bahia and rhythms of Rio Carnaval. Drums of the spicy Axe Brasil, spectacular cosumes, choreography of Aquarela Dancers. Heat up the dance floor with your own samba, frevo, axe, lambada, salsa. Non-stop music, over 50 performers. Located at 650 Indiana St., San Francisco. Club Telephone: 415-824-6910. Advance tickets are $35. Tickets available online and at the door. For information: 415-334-0106 or 415-425-7242.
- Fat Tuesday Celebration with Zigaboo Modeliste at Club Fox in Redwood City, Mar. 8 at 8 p.m. Classic New Orleans Band performing hits. Come prepared to dance. Doors open at 7 p.m. Cost $12 advance, $15 at the door. Location: 2215 Broadway St, Redwood City. Telephone: 650-FOX-7770.
However you plan to celebrate Mardi Gras, be sure to bring your camera, wear your beads and “Pass a good time.”