Louisiana’s Coastal Parishes Prepare for Mardi Gras

Coastal Louisiana is home to family-friendly Mardi Gras fun.

Louisiana Coast, January 2016 – It’s one of the most fabulous and festive times of year in coastal Louisiana, and the excitement is increasing each day. Locals are assembling elaborate costumes and masks, but it’s not Halloween. They’re organizing spectacular parades, but it’s not a bowl game. And they’re preparing an array of delicious foods, but it’s not Thanksgiving. It’s almost as if all of those special events get rolled into one – with a dash of Louisiana culture thrown in for good measure. Tuesday, February 9 is Mardi Gras, and all of coastal Louisiana is eager to welcome visitors who want to immerse themselves in the festivities.

Many people mistakenly believe that Mardi Gras only takes places in New Orleans … and that it always involves at least a hint of debauchery. But indeed, the celebration is firmly tied to Christianity. Quite simply, it’s the day before Ash Wednesday. When Mardi Gras is translated from French it becomes “Fat Tuesday,” a nod to the fact that revelers indulge in all kinds of rich and decadent foods before Lent and the traditional fasting that comes with it. People from Brazil to Sweden acknowledge the date, and residents of Alabama, Mississippi, parts of eastern Texas and of course Louisiana pull out all the stops when it comes to organizing celebrations here in the United States. But the tourism officials from Louisiana’s coastal parishes want to send out the invitation for everyone to join the fun as they present it – more family-friendly than other destinations, and (in our humble opinion) way more fun.

All the coastal parishes have parades and celebrations, but here’s a sampling of a few events that may be particularly interesting this year:

·         In Jefferson Parish, the local convention and visitors bureau produces a family-focused Mardi Gras event each year. Family Gras features free concerts and parades, food with a Louisiana flare, an art market and a variety of kid-friendly activities. This parish is just a stone’s throw from New Orleans but offers a very different kind of Mardi Gras experience – a week earlier than the standard events. This year’s event will be held January 29, 30 and 31.

·         In St. Mary Parish, dubbed “the Cajun Coast,” guests are invited to experience Mardi Gras like a king … or queen. Special packages are available that include VIP seating for parades, attendance at balls, and admission to after-parade parties with the krewes (the organizations that host the parades and balls). And if that’s not enough, guests can even ride in a parade. Both family-friendly and adult-oriented itineraries have been coordinated for this year’s Mardi Gras season.

·         St. Tammany Parish, also known as Louisiana’s Northshore, offers popular water-based Mardi Gras parades. The Krewe of Bilge will navigate along the canals of Eden Isles in Slidell on Saturday, January 23, and the Krewe of Tchefuncte will sail on the Tchefuncte River in Madisonville on Saturday, February 6. In these floating parades, krewe members decorate their vessels and throw beads, doubloons, and trinkets to throngs of parade-goers watching and waving from the banks.

·         In Vermilion Parish, dubbed “The Most Cajun Place on Earth,” the town of Kaplan hosts the Krewe de Chic-A-La-Pie Parade. This family-friendly, old-fashioned parade is a particular hit with the youngest revelers, as kids decked out in masks and the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold hit the streets for a fun-filled parade that takes place at 2 p.m. on Fat Tuesday.

·         At Iberia Parish’s Grand Marais Mardi Gras in the town of Jeanerette, they give out unusual awards … for the ugliest costumes. Entries can be created from any old thing – moss, bones, ugly masks, plastic sheeting, foam, chicken wire or pretty much anything else entrants find around their homes. Unlike some of the more traditional Mardi Gras costumes, which can cost a pretty penny, the prize-winning ugly costumes usually have a very low (or maybe even non-existent) price tag … though they do tend to take time to create and assemble. This year’s ugly costume contests are set for Friday, February 5 and Saturday, February 6 at 11 p.m., and Sunday, February 7 and Monday, February 8 at 10 p.m. There are admission fees for these events.

Perhaps the most delicious part of the Mardi Gras celebration is king cake, the traditional version of which is something like a giant cinnamon roll or coffee cake: braided dough filled with a cinnamon mixture, baked into an oval shape, then topped with a super-sweet white icing. The cake is typically sprinkled with sugar dyed the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold (representing justice, faith and power). Here are a few particularly interesting takes on this delicacy:

·         In Lafourche Parish, visitors drive down historic Louisiana Highway 1 to the town of Cut Off – yes, that’s it’s real name – for a taste of Cajun delicacies at the Cajun Pecan House. Sandra Cheramie opened this sweet place more than 30 years ago, and it all started with bins of fresh shelled pecans and pralines. Over time she introduced other candies unique to Louisiana, including pecan clusters and Cajun pecan logs. Though she sold the business in 2005, Sandra continues to work her magic in the store’s little kitchen every day. At this time of year, she’s busy filling orders for king cakes, which she’ll ship anywhere in the United States. www.cajunpecanhouse.com

·         Bertinot’s Best Bakery in Houma, located in Terrebonne Parish, puts a twist on the classic king cake with their “chix de femme” dough. Named for its resemblance to the twist of a woman’s hair in a bun, this dough – which is crafted using a 100-year-old recipe – isn’t quite as sweet as the traditional cake dough and doesn’t include cinnamon. But it’s filled with anything from cream cheese to pralines, baked, then topped with the traditional royal icing, colored sugar and Mardi Gras trinkets. The family that runs this bakery is happy to make and ship king cakes all over the country, all year round. Customers can contact the bakery directly at 985-872-6208.

·         In Southwest Louisiana they’ve taken some liberties with the traditional king cake and incorporated other favorite local treats to create a culinary mash-up called “boudin-stuffed king cake.” The bakers at Cajun Cakes n’ Creations have stuffed a king cake with boudin – a special type of sausage popular in Louisiana – and pepper jack cheese, topped it with Steen’s cane syrup (a super-sweet concoction made right here on the coast, in the town of Abbeville), bacon pieces and pepper jelly. The fusion of these elements is a sweet and savory snack that offers a true taste of coastal Louisiana. The bakery can ship traditional king cakes all over the country, but the boudin-stuffed version is one better enjoyed on an in-person visit to Louisiana. www.cajuncakesncreations.com.

Collectively known as the Louisiana Tourism Coastal Coalition (LTCC), the coastal parishes of Louisiana promote natural, recreational and cultural experiences to residents of and visitors to these parishes. The LTCC is also an advocate for the sustainable development of coastal communities and protection of the area’s fragile wetlands. For more information, visit www.visitlouisianacoast.com.