No dancing in the streets, but plenty of treats to celebrate carnival

No dancing in the streets, but plenty of treats to celebrate carnival

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Fasching, Fasnet, Carnevale— carnival goes by many different names, but the way it’s celebrated across Europe has many similarities. It’s a time to eat, drink and make merry in the streets. While populations from Spain to Sweden remain under stay-at-home orders in attempts to beat back the pandemic, celebrations this year will range from online-only or drastically muted to non-existent. But there’s one part of the carnival tradition that will remain regardless: eating all those sweet and savory treats associated with what is, for many communities, one of the most hedonistic times of the year.

In centuries past, carnival season was the last hurrah for indulgent eating, before the dietary strictures ushered in by Lent put rich foods such as eggs, fats, dairy and animal products off the menu for 40 days. Although these days, most of those who choose to observe Lent will only cut meat from their diets, the pancakes, doughnuts and other fried foods that signified extravagance in the past live on as part of carnival tradition.

Here we take a look at some of the items traditionally eaten at carnival time in many places close to our military communities. With luck, you might even be able to get your hands on some of these tasty treats in the form of a to-go order. You can also try your hand at replicating these foods at home.  

England: Although there’s not much of a carnival tradition here to speak of, Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, is also known as Pancake Day. In England, pancakes are made thin and topped with golden syrup or lemon juice and caster sugar.

Belgium: No Gilles in their ostrich-plumed hats will be marching through the streets of Binche this year, meaning you won’t be able to catch one of the oranges they toss into the crowds. In the absence of this good luck charm, you can make yourself the typical fare enjoyed during the street celebrations, the cheese-filled crepes known as les doubles. To make your own, you’ll need equal quantities of buckwheat flour, white flour, blond Saint-Feuillien beer, yeast, peanut oil, salt and pepper. The typical filling is Herve cheese or fromage blanc. For a recipe, visit this website on Belgian cuisine.

Germany: Carnival season means doughnut time, and even without the parades, local bakeries are selling these traditional treats to take away. Although the taste and appearance of what Americans would recognize as a jelly- or custard-filled doughnut don’t vary greatly from region to region, there is a big difference in what they’re called. In Bavaria, these are known as Krapfen; in Hesse, you’re after a Kreppel or a Kräppel, and in the Rhineland, a Berliner is what you seek. If you’re looking for a doughnut-like tasty treat in Swabia, ask for a Fasnetskiachla in the local dialect and you’re sure to impress. Fillings range from tangy jams to a cream made with egg liqueur.

Greece: Apokries, or carnival in Crete, is at its liveliest in Rethymnon, known for its treasure hunts, grand parade and burning of the carnival king, in which a float is set aflame (not an actual human). In the weeks leading up to Lent, grilled meat and sausages are consumed enthusiastically. On the first day of Lent, known as Clean Monday, look for lagana, halvas and taramas, Crete’s three most traditional carnival dishes. Lagana is an unleavened flatbread made of anise and tahini and is a cousin of the Italian focaccia. Halvas, or halva, is a confection of sesame, sugar, water and oil. Taramas, the Greek answer to caviar, is the roe of cod or carp.

Italy: Venice’s carnival serves up a slew of treats, the most beloved of which include frittelle, a fried pastry filled with raisin, cream, chocolate or apple slices; galani, an irregularly shaped pastry with zigzag edges; and castagnole, small doughballs rolled in sugar.

Sicily: The island’s biggest carnival takes place in Acireale, where treats of the season include pignolata, fried balls of goodness dipped in pine nuts and honey; these are also known as impannuccati. The crispelle here are traditionally filled with fresh ricotta or anchovies.

Spain: Cadiz’s carnival culinary traditions are definitely on the fishy side of things, where food vendors sell sea urchins, oysters and other fish and seafood. Try a tortillita de camarones, in which baby shrimp are mixed directly into a wheat flour and chickpea batter and fried in olive oil. Wash it down with manzanilla, the dry and delicate fino sherry typical to the area.

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