ORANGE COUNTY, CA, February, 2013—Around the globe Carnival comes alive this season with costumes, colorful parades, don’t-stop-‘til-you-drop music and dancing. As the exuberant, joyous revelry takes fuel, each region satisfies hunger and thirst in distinctive ways. Feasting is an integral part of the merriment and certain dishes are made for the occasion.
Carnival started in 13th century Venice, as a Catholic adaptation of a pagan festival with lavish costumes and balls. As a time to indulge in rich foods and entertainment before the 40 days of Lenten fasting and prayer, the pleasurable tradition spread easily to other Catholic countries. French and Spanish colonists brought Carnival to the New World where it was imitated and adopted by African slaves and other settlers. Food is still an integral part of the celebration with a medley of ingredients and cooking styles.
The first ever Carnival in Brazil is said to have taken place in Rio de Janeiro in 1641, when John IV of Portugal was crowned King. In order to celebrate his coronation and the start of the Lenten season, parties were thrown on the streets of Rio. Since then throughout the country, participants prepare for this festival for months by writing music, practicing dances, and designing floats and flashy, sequined outfits.
Samba, which originated in Bahia based on African rhythms, has become the national music of Brazil and Samba troupes compete in São Paulo and Rio de Janiero. Papier-mâché puppets, massive floats, and trucks weighted with bands and performers take to the streets during this bacchanal.
Held during February at the peak of southern hemisphere summer, mineral water and sodas keep revelers hydrated. Caipirinhas, Brazil’s national cocktail made with cachaça, sugar and lime, are also sold everywhere.
Street food venders hawk pastries and bolos (muffins / pies) filled with fruits, fish and beef, served salty, sweet or extra-spicy. Acarajé (black eyed pea fritters filled with shrimp and onions), and pão de queijo (cheese rolls made with tapioca flour) also float through the streets of Brazil during carnival season.
Festival-goers can find a variety of meat specialties available, including sausage, grilled meat, and meat on skewers.
Partiers may also relish the country’s most famous dish: feijoada, a hearty stew of beans, beef and pork. Since it is a heavy dish, it is usually consumed after the parades or at times of rest.
Tip from Embratur, the official Brazil office of Tourism: Tickets for Carnival events in cities other than Rio are less expensive but offer an equally colorful and spirited experience.
Trinidad and Tobago
The extravagant fête on these Caribbean islands begin right after Christmas and last to the Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday. The festivities include steel pan (steel drum) and calypso competitions, along with parades and dancing.
Islanders spend months designing ornate costumes and elaborate floats. Naturally, food is a major part of Carnival here and the food is a mixture of the cultures that settled on the island. Indian indentured workers brought in after slavery was abolished added chutneys, curries and flatbreads. Roti, “doubles,” pigeon peas and rice, and fried chicken are all on the menu during Carnival. Roti, East Indian in origin, are wraps filled with goat curry, pork, chicken curry, shrimp or vegetables. Doubles, the most popular street food during carnival, are sandwiches filled with chickpeas topped with spicy chutneys. People also like candies made with coconut and sesame seeds. Another favorite at this time is pigfoot souse, or pickled pig feet.
For beverages, Carib lager is popular and is the signature lager of Trinidad. Mauby (made from the bark of a tree) is Trinidad’s version of Kool-aid., if you want to try it.
Recommended: the Caribbean Treehouse Restaurant in Inglewood where roti, doubles, curried goat, chicken and shrimp are served.
Tip: Carnival events on Trinidad and Tobago are free to onlookers and participants alike.
Mardi Gras was brought to Louisiana by the French and is celebrated on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras—given the name, which translates as Fat Tuesday is a term New Orleanians take that seriously. It is all about consuming the best of food and drink that are emblematic of the city.
King Cake is the most typical Mardi Gras treat. Iced in purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power, king cake is more a cinnamon sweet bread than cake, shaped like a braid or a crown. (As a bonus, a tiny plastic baby or a coin or dried bean is hidden in the cake – and locals say whomever gets the piece with the prize gets to host the next king cake party and supply the king cake).
Mardi Gras parades start with Krewe Du Vieux in January and move straight through to Mardi Gras day. They are typically made up of 20+ stunning floats that move down the lanes as people line up on either side to catch beads and other throws. Krewe associations organize parades and balls.
The oldest, Comus, dates back to 1857. Zulu, one of the largest krewes, draws crowds to its parade to catch a Zulu coconut, an actual coconut painted gold or black.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
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