How do the locals celebrate Mardi Gras? With red beans and rice, jambalaya and Hurricanes

February 2016
By: Beth D'Addono, For The Inquirer

Hungry visitors to New Orleans usually associate the city with storied Creole restaurants like Arnaud's, Galatoire's, and Commander's Palace, white-tablecloth shrines to such age-old dishes as trout meunière, filet gumbo, and frog legs Provencale.

But come Carnival season, fancy fare is shelved in favor of rib-sticking, crowd-pleasing dishes that fuel long hours of parade-watching along St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street.

Locals set up barbecue grills along the route, hosting street parties with pots of gumbo and trays of jambalaya, with plenty of libations on the side. That kind of joyous celebration - with traditional food and drink, high school marching bands, and a sense of neighborhood and city pride - is at the heart of what makes Mardi Gras season so magical.

When Alon Shaya moved from Philadelphia to New Orleans to work with chef John Besh in 2003, he didn't know a thing about Mardi Gras. For the first few years, Shaya, last year's James Beard winner for best chef in the South, was too busy cooking to enjoy the party. "I popped out on Canal Street a few times and was just overwhelmed," said the Harriton High grad. "A few years later, when I could take time off, I really fell in love with the traditions."