Each year 1.4 million visitors descend on the city of New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. Krewes (local social clubs and organizations that sponsor the parades) vie for the largest floats, most throws (beads, doubloons and other trinkets) and biggest marching bands. The Krewe of Endymion parade draws 30,000 parade goers each year as they toss over 15 million throws along the parade route, eventually rolling into the Super Dome for the black-tie Extravaganza ball with big-name entertainers performing for an intimate crowd of 20,000 This city knows how to celebrate in a big way.
But, beyond the raucous partiers and crowded balconies of Bourbon Street and the “Super-Krewe” size parades, Mardi Gras is about time honored traditions and the rich cultural heritage of New Orleans. For the locals, much of the celebration is a family experience filled with king cakes, parties, picnics and neighborhood parades.
There are over 80 parade krewes this year, rolling throughout the city from Twelfth Night on January 6th through midnight on Fat Tuesday February 25th, marking the beginning of Lent. Each Krewe has a unique history and parade route, reflecting the heritage of the city.
The diverse neighborhoods of New Orleans, each with their own charms and traditions, are a great place to celebrate the local flavors of Mardi Gras. The artsy neighborhood of Marigny hosts a grassroots walking parade on Mardi Gras morning with street-side cookouts and music venues. Or head to Treme, the historic African American neighborhood that brought jazz to the city, to experience the elaborate museum-quality feather and beaded suits the Mardi Gras Indian chiefs and their tribal entourages are known for. Uptown parades, which stretch from the historic Garden District to Audubon Park along mansion-lined St Charles Avenue, are popular with local university students and families alike. From the trendy crowded parades in the Warehouse District to family-friendly parades in Mid-City, this city has a krewe-themed parade for everyone.
Between all the parade floats and marching bands, an eclectic array of street eats, local restaurants and corner grocery stores provide a diverse assortment of authentic cuisine options ranging from traditional shrimp etouffee to party fried chicken to keep everyone going during parade season. Colorful purple, green and gold king cakes are everywhere right up to Fat Tuesday. I’ve included a recipe for classic Muffuletta, made famous at Central Grocery in the French Quarter, to prepare for the festivities. This oversize sandwich is layered with olive salad, sliced meat and cheese, then cut into hearty wedges for on-the-go eating during parade season.
New Orleans is a big city filled with culturally rich and unique neighborhoods to experience during Mardi Gras. Celebrate like a local, grab your Mardi Gras mask and take in a few parades put on by the smaller krewes that parade off the typical routes this season and laissez le bon temps rouler.