Mardi Gras translates from French as “fat Tuesday” and has roots in the Christian liturgical calendar.
The Epiphany is January 6, 12 days after Christmas when the Magi or Wise Men from the East, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh followed the star to the Christ child in Bethlehem. Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Carnival season (or Carnaval in other languages, such as Portuguese and French). Carnival lasts until Mardi Gras. The day after Mardi Gras is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.
For Christians, Lent is a time of fasting, denial, repentance, and alms-giving that lasts 40 days until the Easter season. So, Mardi Gras is one last night of overindulgence in food, drinking, and revelry.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the country’s most celebrated location for Fat Tuesday, with traditions that include parades, masks, beads, and King Cakes.
Mardi Gras traditions
The colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green and gold, representing (respectively) justice, faith, and power. Everything from masks to beads and cakes will bear these colors.
“King” cakes represent the gifts brought by the Magi. The tradition of sweet treats and gifts dates back to the Middle Ages, but the form has changed over time. Today, King Cake is typically a glazed or frosted circular, often braided cake decorated Mardi Gras colors. A brioche dough or even cinnamon rolls are often used. A bean, coin, nut, or tiny baby figurine may be hidden in the cake–some say to represent the Baby Jesus. But that tradition, too, has changed over time.
Parades and balls are a feature where Carnaval is celebrated in full fashion, including Nice (France), Venice (Italy), Brazil, Quebec, Canada, and Mobile, Alabama–where Mardi Gras was first celebrated in the U.S..
Masks are worn by parade participants and at Mardi Gras balls, historically to hide their identity and/or escape social constraints, allowing them to mingle freely with whomever they chose.
Beads are thrown from parade floats. Other trinkets are also used, including coins (real, plastic, or candy), stuffed animals, and unique hand-decorated items.
These are just a few of the more commonly known Mardi Gras traditions. If you visit New Orleans or another city that celebrates Carnaval, you may be introduced to other frivolities.
If you want to start some traditions of your own, check out these Mardi Gras recipes on Allrecipes.com, including King Cake, Gumbo, Jambalaya, Muffaletta sandwiches, King Cake, Sazerac cocktails, and much more. Since I’m not one for a lot of sweets, I go for a savory Boudin King Cake, filled with sausage and cheese and garnished with hot pepper jelly and bacon. Laissez les bons temps rouler! (Cajun-French phrase borrowed from the English “let the good times roll!”).
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Mardi Gras 2021 in the Puget Sound region
Mardi Gras 2020 is Tuesday, February 16, 2021.
In the Seattle-Tacoma metro area, you can find the Cajun/Creole cuisine of New Orleans, southern cooking, and seafood boils at the following restaurants. This is a great way to bring a little bit of the Mardi Gras spirit to your corner of the Northwest.
For more revelry, see the Mardi Gras event calendar after the restaurant list for upcoming Mardi Gras events in the Seattle-Tacoma metro area.
Seattle-Tacoma Cajun/Creole and Southern Restaurants
(Listed alphabetically by city. In Seattle, listed by zip code.)
Where Ya At Matt (food truck), rotating locations in Bellevue and Seattle. Owner and NOLA native Matthew Lewis grew up helping his mom and grandmother in the kitchen prapring traditional Creole dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya, and etouffee and fishing with his grandfather and dad to bring home fixin’s for a southern fish fry. Matthew brings New Orleans soul food to the streets of Seattle. Find Matt: https://www.whereyaatmatt.com/
Boiling Crawfish, 4301 S Meridian, Puyallup, WA 98373. Great seafood boil spot with several combos, sides, sauces, beer, and wine. More info: http://boilingcrawfishwa.com/
Bourbon Street Bar & Grill, 401 S Meridian, Puyallup, WA 98371. The menu features gumbo, jambalaya, shrimp etouffée, Cajun shrimp and grits, blackened catfish, cochon de lait, and po’ boys along with beer and craft cocktails. More info: https://www.facebook.com/Bourbon-Street-Creole-Kitchen-Bar-1381773648744625/
Crawfish House, 9826 16th Ave SW, Seattle 98106. Chef/owner Hiep is a Vietnamese-American cook who originally came from Louisiana and decided that he wanted to give the Northwest a taste of the south. He opened Crawfish House to share Cajun cooking, crawfish, and seafood boils. It’s considered one of the best spots in Seattle for seafood boils. More info: http://www.crawfishhouse206.com/
Toulouse Petit, 601 Queen Anne Ave N, Seattle 98109. The menu is centered around the cuisine, decor and imagery of the French Quarter in New Orleans, creating the feel of the Big Easy. You’ll find traditional Creole and French Quarter menu choices as well as Parisian and French countryside preparations to more innovative dishes that are entirely unique to Toulouse. More info: https://www.opentable.com/r/toulouse-petit-kitchen-and-lounge-seattle
Simply Soulful Café, 2909 E Madison St, Seattle 98112 menu of hometown foods are prepared in the traditional southern way and served with southern hospitality. Owner Lillian Rambus features a menu she enjoyed at her grandmother’s house using locally sourced, organic ingredients (such as Alm Hill Farm, Falls Brand, Olsen Farms, Kirsop Farms and One Leaf Farm). More info: http://www.simplysoulfulcafe.com/
JuneBaby, 2122 NE 65th St, Seattle 98115 features an inspired menu of soul food that is nothing short of beautiful. Award-winning James Beard Chef Edouardo Jordan’s menu captures food in a historical context by showcasing the cuisine of the South, his family, and his ancestors. More info: https://www.junebabyseattle.com/
Island Soul, 4369 Rainier Ave S, Seattle 98118. This family business is best described as Caribbean-inspired soul food. It is a fusion of native Caribbean foods with traditional soul food from Louisiana Bayou. They also offer a vast selection high-end rums to sip alone or enjoy in one of their numerous rum cocktails made with freshly squeezed juices and house-made syrups. (Tip: be sure to ask about their seasonal Mojitos.) More info: https://www.islandsoulrestaurant.com/. For Mardi Gras, Island Soul restaurant celebrates for ONE WHOLE WEEK with a special menu and drinks filled with delicious Fat Tuesday dishes like Jambalaya, Crawfish Monica, Collard Greens with Ham Hocks, Fried Oysters and sooooo much more! Be sure to stop by and soak up some rum and plenty of vibe! More info: https://www.islandsoulrestaurant.com/
Jude’s Old Town, 9254 57th Ave S, Seattle 98118 offers a southern-inspired menu at their cozy spot in Rainier Beach. It’s a family-friendly neighborhood bar, featuring great food, draft beer, Washington state wines, and locally-distilled craft cocktails. More info: https://www.judesoldtown.com/
Dragon’s Crawfish, 750 S 38th St, Tacoma, WA 98418. Great seafood boils, garlic butter dipping sauce, and friendly service in a welcoming hole-in-the-wall. More info: https://www.facebook.com/Dragon-Crawfish-476580162515578/
2021 Mardi Gras Events
As always, we focus on free and cheap events.
(If nothing is listed below, all events have passed for this year. Since Mardi Gras is 47 days before Easter Sunday and Easter can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25, we usually begin updating Fat Tuesday events in January or February for the current year. )