This Mardi Gras, New Orleans bakeries are playing around with the city’s beloved traditions.
If tradition is good for anything, it’s knowing when we can break from it. Don’t listen to purists—when it comes to our food, the most fun creations are happening at the margins, shunning orthodoxy. And in New Orleans, that means futzing with our beloved seasonal dessert, the king cake.
As the popularity of king cakes rises, so does the range of flavors and styles available, including those that break from tradition by offering savory options. A notable example is the king cake muffuletta, which fuses two beloved New Orleans staples.
I discovered this delightful treat when a tweet showcasing its unique blend of flavors caught my eye. You might be wondering: what exactly is a king cake muffuletta? Is it a sandwich? A cake stuffed with deli meats? You can find out for yourself at Zuppardo’s, a grocery store conveniently located in nearby Metairie.
Interestingly, the tweet also references a fictional chef from a series of satirical videos in the 2010s, who famously created outlandish king cakes – the “Larry Ragusa prophecy”
King cake is a staple of Carnival season, the span of time between the Catholic holidays of Epiphany (January 6) and Fat Tuesday (February 21 this year). The dessert matches the season: a sweet, colorful treat meant to be shared.
The history of the king cake is long, beginning in Catholic Europe “associated with Epiphany during the Middle Ages.” And while today we might think of New Orleans as having French history, Spaniards were here too (and Brits, but they’re famously not Catholic). And king cake is more closely related to its Spanish cousin, rosca de reyes, than its French one, galette des rois.
The muffuletta is a contribution to New Orleans food culture from another group of Catholic Europeans: Sicilians.