Colours, costumes and fun, all scream Carnival or as it is known in some places, Mardi Gras. This fun event is being celebrated this weekend around many countries and it represents the period before Lent, which is associated with fasting and giving up on meats and sweets, and therefore people take the opportunity to make the most out of it, and pig out on delicious treats.
Carnival and Mardi Gras basically refer to the same celebrations, with the only difference that Mardi Gras usually refers to the Tuesday before Lent and Ash Wednesday, or as it is otherwise known, Shrove Tuesday. But it’s definitely not a celebration if there’s no food. In fact, some countries even have specific foods that they eat exclusively at this time of the year, and in this week’s I·ATE Food Term of the Week, we will focus on some of the sweet dishes that some countries prepare solely for this occasion. Most of the sweet dishes served on this occasion are really decadent and one can sometimes see a common trait amongst them, with most desserts being fried, including fried pieces of pastry and doughnuts, with the aim to stock up on as many calories before the fasting Lent period. Crepes and pancakes are also a popular sweet dish in many European countries at this time of year, and their cricular, disc-like shape serves as a a reminder of the sun and therefore of the return of light and longer days with the arrival of spring.
Semla – Sweden
Nordic countries, mainly Sweden, but not only, celebrate this time with a sweet bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream. Over the years, this dessert has become more and more popular and can be found in most Swedish bakeries through all of winter. Initially, this dessert was simply a bun soaked in milk, however the Swedes grew tired of its simplicity and the strict observance of lent and added cream and almond paste to the mix. The Semla is eaten first on Shrove Tuesday and every Tuesday thereafter until Easter.
Fritule – Croatia
Croatians typically eat these small fried dough balls covered in icing sugar, similar to mini doughnuts on two particular occasions: Christmas Eve and Carnival season. These small fritters are the perfect easier version to doughnuts as they are much easier to make, thanks to baking powder in the dough unlike the yeast in the doughnuts which would require much more time to prove and reach their desired consistency. These Croatian delights that are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside are made all along the coast, from the North down to the region of Dubrovnik. There are some variations to the classic recipe where rum or brandy is added to avoid soaking too much oil, and in some cases raisins are also added to the batter.
Prinjolata and Perlini – Malta
The tiny island of Malta has a long history of Carnival, as it dates back to the 16th century, under the rule of the Knights of St. John. This colourful celebration always includes people in costumes, dancing parades, colourful floats led by the ‘King of the Carnival’ float and obviously a lot of food. People in Malta usually eat colourful sugar coated almonds called perlini, and it was a custom for these candies to be given out from the floats roaming the streets of Valletta to the enthusiastic public visiting the capital. During this time, before the fasting period of Lent, which a lot of Maltese still take it very seriously, a dome shaped cake makes its annual appearance. It’s called prinjolata, from the word ‘prinjol’ meaning pine nuts, which is one of the decorative ingredients on this cake. The prinjolata is made from a mixture of sponge cake, biscuits, citrus, nuts, cherries and vermouth and then is typically covered in an egg white based cream, chocolate drizzle, candied cherries and pine nuts, hence the name prinjolata.
Struffoli and Chiacchiere – Italy
The numerous Italian desserts made specifically for this time of the year, mostly focuses on fried dough, in different shapes and sizes and decorated in a multitude of ways. The struffoli are tiny dough balls that are then fried and drenched in honey and decorated with sprinkles. However, this dessert can be found under many different names, depending on the Italian region it comes from. They are sometimes named pignolata, cicerata, cicerchiata, porceddhuzzi, amongst many others. This dessert is often served shaped as a dome on a platter, and in others shaped as a wreath. In Naples, the Struffoli are still considered a Christmas time dessert, however in other parts of Italy, this is prepared for the Carnival period. Another typical Italian dessert at Carnival, that also has many different names is the Chiacchiere meaning chatter or chit-chat. It is basically a fried piece of rectangular dough with incisions in the middle and served with a generous sprinkle of icing sugar. Their name vary from region to region and are also known as bugie, donzelle and frappe amongst many other names.
- ‘Mardi Gras’, Wikipedia, available here [accessed 09/02/2018]
- ‘World Flavuors: Carnival’, Alimentarium, available here [accessed 08/02/2018]
- ‘Semla – More than just a bun’, Sweden, available here [accessed 09/02/2018]
- ‘Fritule’, Wikipedia, available here [accessed 08/02/2018]
- ‘Fritule (Croatioan Fritters), Kitchen Nostalgia, available here [accessed 09/02/2018]
- ‘Prinjolata’, Aceline Entertainment, available here [accessed 08/02/2018]
- ‘Struffoli recipe and history’, Philos Kitchen, available here [accessed 07/02/2018]
- ‘Carnevale Dolce’, Maghetta, available here [accessed 07/02/2018]
- ‘Ricette di Carnevale – Chiacchiere’, Giallo Zafferano, available here [accessed 08/02/2018]
Written by Veronica Lynn Mizzi : Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg). Graduate in the Maltese Language and Communication, and Master’s graduate in Translation and Terminology Studies from the University of Malta. Former journalist