Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Little-known New Orleans Flemish Mardi Gras Traditions

The following is purported to have been translated and excerpted without permission from Flemish Life in the New World, by Anke Vandermeersch  published in Ghent, 1893

Mik van de Koningen

The large Flemish community in New Orleans has a centuries-long tradition at Vette Dinsdag (or Mardi Gras) of which far too few “outsiders” are aware. This tradition, parts of which were copied by the French Acadian refugees (also called Cajuns) when they arrived here in the deep South, is that of the festive Mik van de Koningen, now called in French the Miche des Rois (sometimes altered to Galette des Rois – the King Cake).

At the end of Epiphany, each Flemish household would endeavour to rid itself of all the soon-to-be-outlawed items, such as fat and flesh. Unlike their French neighbours, the Flemish – reputedly a somewhat “thrifty” or “frugal” race – were seldom overstocked in the fat area, but rather in that of meat: hence the Mik van de Koningen, the Loaf of the Kings.

The loaf traditionally consists of a mixture of ground beef, oatmeal, crushed tomatoes, and eggs. Typical additions would include diced onions or other aromatics, salt, pepper, possibly nutmeg, and a sauce known to Latin America as salsa inglesa - the venerable Worcestershire Sauce.

No Flemish Vette Dinsdag celebration is complete without the round loaf, festively decorated in the three colours of the kings – Purple for justice, Gold for power, and Green for faith. Adding even more to the anticipation is the hope each celebrant harbours of finding the tiny, hidden representation of the Christ Child in his or her piece of the loaf. Tradition dictates that the finder of the child, if of suitable and legal age, must host the party the next year, and provide the loaf or the beer – a sometimes difficult choice to make in that zymurgic culture!

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