Things are beginning to get weird. I am not talking about the “I thought I left my keys on the sideboard, but now they are in the bathroom” sort of weird. I am not talking about “the actor Elijah Wood is really odd-looking, and he kind of creeps me out” sort of weird.
I am talking about Carnival weird.
I have lived here 46 years. I first “rode” in a parade when I was 10. A number of folks in my neighborhood somehow got a float in the “truck parade” that followed Rex. Our theme was “Let’s Get Physical,” and our costumes were grey sweat suits on which someone had embossed stick figures that, I believe, were supposed to look like they were exercising. It is very difficult to communicate movement through the medium of stick figures, is one lesson I learned that day.
Another lesson I learned is that Olivia Newton John may be a credit to Australia, but if you listen to “Let’s Get Physical” 200 times in a single day, you will want to murder her.
One thing I didn’t need to learn was that certain foods are more naturally compatible with Carnival, whether you’re riding on a float or watching them pass from the neutral ground. First and foremost is fried chicken.
I’m not going to tell you it’s good for you, and I’m not going to tell you it’s gourmet, but I will tell you they fry some good chicken at Popeye’s. And I will also tell you that despite all reason and logic, that stuff stays tasty for longer than you’d expect. We ate Popeye’s throughout the long hours we were on that truck, and maybe it was in an ice chest at some point? Maybe not? My memories are mainly of the huge speakers at the back of the float, playing that same song over and over and over.
When I first rode on a float as an “adult,” we did not have Popeye’s. In fact, in my fuzzy memory we did not have anything organized at all. Some of my fellow travelers had sandwiches, some had chips, and some had what appeared to be but could not have been flasks of strong brown liquor, as that is contrary to the rules.
That first ride did not, I confess, end well for me. I believe I was upright for the majority, but I did not enjoy the experience as I should have. I made corrections thereafter, one of which was ensuring that I had something to eat before I climbed the ladder to my place on the float. I found that po-boys were a good choice, and there are no shortage of places to find that particular local delicacy. The issue, of course, is finding them in advance of the event.
Most places will let you order ahead, and if you have a friend or family member who doesn’t ride, you have a built-in delivery service. Domilise’s, Guy’s, Johnny’s and any number of other joints will do you right if you have the foresight to order early.
And speaking as a member of a Krewe that rolls Uptown, you’re never far from a supermarket as you begin to mount up. There’s a Rouse’s at Tchoupitoulas and Napoleon, for God’s sake, and they have everything you could possibly want, including things you want but should not have just before you get onto your float. (You may think you need that extra beer before you start the ride, but my friend, you do not. Let me put it this way – have you ever, as you end the evening, thought “man, I wish I’d had more alcohol?” I rest my case.)
Then there are things do not work as parade fare. Sushi, though it can be excellent hand-food, is problematic after about an hour. Hollandaise sauce presents a similar problem, as does anything semi-liquid when you factor in the constant movement one experiences on a moving float, and the ability of bacteria to reproduce in the generally warm weather we normally have during Carnival. Soup is right out, unless you plan to consume it in a covered container through a straw, and that’s nobody’s idea of good eating.
Keep it simple, is my advice, but I’m curious about what you, dear readers, consider the perfect parade food, whether you’re riding or watching. Please leave your recommendations in the comments below.