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Celebrate Mardi Gras!

It’s Fat Tuesday! Indulge in these delicious eats.

Mardi Gras menu: Crayfish gumbo

In New Orleans cuisine, gumbo is elevated almost to a food group of its own. — Photo by Paul Poplis/Getty Images

When the French colonized New Orleans in the 1700's they brought many of their Catholic traditions with them, including the lively celebration of Mardi Gras, which literally translates to "Fat Tuesday." Mardi Gras is the final day of the Carnival season, a period of great indulgence that leads up to Ash Wednesday and Lent.

See also: Welcome to New Orleans!

While Mardi Gras is observed around the world, the headquarters for traditions and festivities in the United States is New Orleans. Parades, costumes, music and dancing characterize the spirit of Carnival season, but front and center are the Creole and Cajun foods that New Orleans is known for.

Bring the celebration of Mardi Gras to your own kitchen table with a few of New Orleans’ best-known and beloved dishes.

Technically, gumbo is simply a stew served over rice, but in New Orleans cuisine its importance is elevated almost to a food group of its own. Okra, which plays a starring role in classic gumbo recipes, was brought over by West African slaves and is believed to be the namesake of the stew, as “kimgombo” is the word for okra in the Bantu language. Okra and “filé,” sassafras leaves introduced to settlers by Native Americans, appear in gumbo recipes as both a flavoring and thickening agent.

Jambalaya is similar to gumbo in its combination of stock, vegetables, meat and fish, but the rice is usually incorporated into the dish itself. In this dish, the Creole version distinguishes itself from the Cajun interpretation with the inclusion of tomatoes.

Red beans and rice
It’s said that red beans and rice composed the traditional dinner of Monday nights, as Monday was “wash day” and laundry could be done while red beans cooked largely unattended. An emblematic meal in Creole cuisine, the beans and rice were usually flavored with ham bones left from Sunday’s dinner.

Italian heritage plays an important role in New Orleans, and the Italian cold-cut sandwich known as a muffuletta has become a signature New Orleans specialty. Piled high with meats, cheese and an antipasto-like olive salad, this giant sandwich is best shared.

Next: Étouffée, beignets and king cake. >>

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