A “Carnavale” Food Parade

Frittelle

Frittelle

VICENZA, ItalyCarnevale, Carnival, Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras. Names that evoke well-known cities, such as Venice, Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans and Nice, and their stock of elaborate masks, samba schools, street parades and floats.

It all started as an Italian tradition, as the last moment of celebrations before Lent, forty days of fasting, a period of repentance and prayer before Easter. Most likely the time of the year for Carnevale was born to incorporate existing Roman festivals, with the name origin being a corruption of Carnem Levare (to remove meat) or Carne Vale (farewell to meat), a very clear indication of the strict fast ahead.

Crostoli

Crostoli

But everybody loves a good party, so the tradition spread fast throughout the entire Catholic world and subsequently well beyond it, incorporating in each country pre-existing popular celebrations infused with elements of folk tradition. It was and still is a time of the year where all rules are overturned and subverted, hence the use of masks to disguise one’s identity, often followed by proclaiming a new, temporary order. In many countries, especially in Latin America, the celebration calls for the nomination of a real, proper King – King Momo, which will preside the entire celebration.

But do not get mislead: ‘Carnevale’ is not only about revelry, street parties and dancing competitions: with weeks of fasting ahead, food certainly plays a major role. And not just ordinary food – sweets and savouries specifically prepared for this season, not exactly verging on the light side, are an explosion of flavours, colours and calories!

Back in Italy the national treats are rich, deep-fried frittelle, small, round doughnuts mixed with dry raisins and maize flour, and filled with custard or zabaione cream, then covered in icing sugar. Another popular sweet available during this season are chiacchere, again deep-fried ribbon of Grappa-infused dough that become crunchy stripes sprinkled with, guess what, icing sugar.

Similar preparations are found also further north and east, such as the German and Austrian krapfen or eastern Europe chrusty, very close relatives of their Italian counterparts.

Latin Americans prefer something savoury for their parades, but be sure they are not lighter – acarajé is everyone’s favourite, a crispy ball of black-eyed peas mash with different stuffing such as shrimp paste or cashew nuts. The origin of this dish is quite clear: it was brought over from Africa, and it stayed very much true to its origins, so much so that you can find it in most of Western Africa.

Moving on to French and Spanish influenced areas of North America, we find the tradition of offering guests and friends a King Cake, big circular buns topped with multicolour icing, complete with a small trinkets hidden inside. Whoever finds it becomes king for the day and buys the next cake for another day of celebrations.

Wherever you are partying Carnival this year, be prepared for an overwhelming celebration, not only with all night music and masquerade balls, but with some serious munching too.

Courtesy of: Pasticceria Vicentini di Maragnole (VI).
Dino Pozzato About the author

Having a very reputable but conversation killing day job, he has spent the last ten years scouting for and reviewing restaurants, food and recipes. A watch and car collector, he enjoys the finer things in life and shares his tastes with us.

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