I had the opportunity to attend Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, Louisiana this year, and it was amazing to say the least. I went the weekend leading up to the actual day of Mardi Gras, which is today, Tuesday, February 9, 2016. It definitely ranks high up there in one of the most memorable experiences of my life - granted, I’m in my early twenties, so I don’t have many years to show for amazing life experiences.
I spent a total of 4 days in the south, and each day was filled with eye-opening experiences, beautiful parades, and mouthwatering southern food. I am exhausted, but every yawn and encounter with droopy eyes I have been experiencing since I landed yesterday morning is completely worth it.
The first thing I have to address about Mardi Gras is the culture and the amazing people who make it what it is. Being a California native and attending college in California, my experience with culture doesn't extend far beyond the diversity in the Bay Area and southern California. People of all backgrounds and ages were adorned in all things gold, purple, and green (the official colors of Mardi Gras), intricate masks, and exciting headpieces. It was nice to see one city come together to celebrate something they all love.
This picture is of someone's home, and I especially liked it because her balcony is beautifully covered in Mardi Gras decorations. She was blowing bubbles and tossing beads to passerby, something I witnessed and experienced throughout my stay. Although Mardi Gras was bigger at night, the celebrations started early in the day. These people knew how to have celebrate!
The French Quarter is where most of the excitement took place, and you can tell you were in the middle of it by the festive nature of everyone and every building. In the above picture, my boyfriend and I are standing on the famous Bourbon Street (with my daiquiri in hand - public drinking is legal in New Orleans!). The history of New Orleans and Mardi Gras was manifested by your surroundings - decorations were plentiful and spirits were high. Even dogs were in celebration mode!
Many people who worked at the restaurants exuded southern hospitality, proving to me that it was as real as people say. I don't think I've ever been called "baby" as much as I have been this past weekend. There is definitely a generational difference when it comes to hospitality, and although everyone was kind and helpful, the older residents made me feel so loved!
The parades were by far my most favorite part of Mardi Gras! I had seen pictures before, but nothing prepared me for the real thing. The floats are presented by krewes, which are essentially groups of people who ride on parade floats. The floats were impeccably detailed, massive, and beautifully representative of the Carnival celebrations. Horseback riders and street processions made their way throughout the streets of this iconic neighborhood, traveling for hours to entertain their eager spectators.
Krewe members wore equally elaborate costumes, and their faces were usually covered either with a piece of fabric or a mask. Throughout their time down the streets, the members would toss colorful beads, stuffed animals and plushes, light-up toys, and even light sabers into the crowd. The interaction they had with the audience made it even more enjoyable because it felt like you were part of Mardi Gras. I loved interacting with them, and if you were able to make eye contact with one of the members, they might guarantee that you get a treat. There were a few instances when we were tossed entire bags of beads!
My boyfriend and I were ecstatic about the insane amount of beads we received during our first parade. I was only able to watch the Hermes and Endymion parades, but apparently, the biggest parade that weekend was Endymion. We made it a goal to attend that parade, and I was glad we were able to watch it. Endymion started at a park outside of the French Quarter and lasted for several hours, and there was not one float that disappointed me. I saw marching bands (one band came all the way from California!), street car bands, and floats of all types.
Of course they had to pay tribute to the New Orleans Saints! People started setting up camp for Endymion about 4-5 hours before the parade even started, so I knew it was going to be big. If you're going to Mardi Gras, you must attend the parades! It wouldn't be the same without it.
Okay, as a food enthusiast, I was beyond excited to be venturing to the south for food. I love everything there is to love about southern food, and since I had never had a true taste of southern classics, I was prepared to feast. To be honest, I didn't want to eat anything other than southern food, and I didn't! Here is my food diary:
Fried gator (left) and BBQ shrimp po' boy (right) from The Chimes (Baton Rouge, LA)
Jambalaya and half a fried chicken with turnip greens and red beans & rice (left) from Mother's Restaurant (New Orleans, LA)
During one of the parades, a woman sold homemade mac & cheese, baked chicken, potato salad, and a bottle of water for only $5 (right). It was delicious! (New Orleans, LA)
Mango daquiri, crawfish mac & cheese, and stuffed chicken wings (left) and Bloomin' Onion (right) from street food vendors (New Orleans, LA)
Beignets and cafe au lait from Café du Monde (New Orleans, LA)
Soft-shell crab, hush puppies, fried shrimp, fried catfish, and chargrilled oysters (left) and blackened gator and red beans & rice with andouille sausage (right) from Felix's Restaurant and Oyster Bar (New Orleans, LA)
Acme Oyster House is also a popular oyster spot, and it's right across the street!
Crawfish Sauté omelet (left) and Crabcake benedict (right) from Riccobono's Panola Street Cafe (New Orleans, LA)
Chargrilled oysters (left) and Barbqued Drum and dirty rice (top) and Andouille Encrusted Fresh Fish served over satueed crawfish, mushrooms, and andouille cream with garlic mashed potatoes (bottom) (right) from Parrain's Seafood (Baton Rouge, LA)
Everything I ate was spectacular, and the food is definitely one of the things I miss most about Louisiana. I can't wait to go back to try more food!
All in all, I think Mardi Gras in New Orleans should be on everyone's bucket list. If you want to have fun and eat amazing food, this is the perfect event to attend. Make sure you stay bundled up, though! It was sunny, but temperatures only reached high 50s when I was there. We stayed at an Airbnb both nights, but I highly recommend staying in the French Quarter because streets will be blocked off, so even if you hail a taxi or request an Uber, you will end up walking to your destination.
Happy Mardi Gras!