My first fully immersed Mardi Gras experience was last February, when I spent a week in Lake Charles, Louisiana, soaking up the colorful and fun spirit of this awesome annual event. Throughout the week, I participated in a number of activities that helped me define Mardi Gras. I walked away with this: There are two things inherently integrated into all things Mardi Gras – Community and Food.
One of the main Mardi Gras traditions that embodies the community aspect along with delicious food is the king cake. King cake is found throughout the world in a number of incarnations for a variety of celebratory reasons, but in the Southeast United States, king cake is eaten throughout the Carnival season, which lasts from Epiphany Eve to Fat Tuesday.
King cake comes in the shape of a giant, twisted ring. It is generally topped with icing and decorated in green, gold and purple for Mardi Gras, but the basic king cake now comes in a variety of flavors. You can order it stuffed with fruit filling or different kinds of creams, but even something simple like cinnamon is super delicious. Once decorated, it looks like a giant frosted donut. When a king cake is made, a small plastic baby is hidden inside (don’t worry – they’re big enough so they can’t be swallowed!).
King cakes are shared by a large group of people—a family, among colleagues, etc. Once the cake is cut open, whoever gets the piece with the baby hidden in it is in for a year of good luck. However, if you find the baby and the lucky recipient of the year of good luck, you also have to buy the next king cake. This means that family gatherings, office break rooms and any other gathering spot always has a king cake during Mardi Gras.
Combine the custom of the king cake with the camaraderie of friends and family during Mardi Gras and, I’m convinced, there are few traditions that are nearly as sweet as this one.