If there’s ever any doubt about New Orleans’ status as one of the preeminent party capitals of the world, look no further for proof. People here will throw a party, plan a festival or march in a parade to celebrate just about anything including but not limited to a seemingly humble dish like red beans and rice, although “humble” might not be the right word to describe one of Louisiana’s most celebrated culinary traditions.
This dish filled with onions, peppers and celery; the holy trinity of cajun cooking, garlic, herbs and spices, ham or smoked sausage and topped with hot sauce gets its celebratory due during the festive Red Beans Parade rolling through the streets of New Orleans on Lundi Gras (the day before Mardi Gras) each year. Get the recipe for Red Beans and Rice.
History of the Red Bean Parade
This growing event began back in 2009, when the 20-member Krewe of Red Beans was formed, drawing on inspiration from several key elements of New Orleans culture: making suits inspired by the artistry of Mardi Gras Indians, second-lining like a Social Aid and Pleasure Club, and enjoying the beloved tradition of eating red beans on Mondays.
Today, Krewe members begin working on their “bean suits” right after Halloween to get ready for the big day, when more than 100 official Krewe members parade alongside thousands of unofficial revelers and spectators chanting “Red Beans Comin’!” – many of them fitting right in donned in their own elaborate bean costumes based on funny themes like “Beanior Citizen” or “Bean-once Knowles.”
They’re led through the streets by a custom-decorated “Beanmobile,” and a big highlight of the annual event is seeing the new theme it displays each year.
In addition to the size of the krewe and crowds, the parade itself has grown through the years. It starts in the Marigny at 2 p.m. on Lundi Gras Monday and marches toward Treme, where it now meets up with a second Dead Beans Parade (a skeletal-costumed spinoff of the Red Beans) that starts at the Pitot House on Bayou St. John and meanders through Mid-City to end in Treme as well.
Why Red Beans on Monday?
New Orleans is full of cherished food traditions, but few are more tied to the city’s identity than its love – OK, we admit it, obsession – with red beans.
Why? No one knows for sure – because it’s just been something that, well, has always been – but the most popular theory traces back to the fact that ham was traditionally served at Sunday suppers in New Orleans. The leftover ham bone, of course, still had tons of flavor, so it was often stewed with a big pot of red beans the next day (Monday was typically laundry day) so dinner could simmer on the stove all day while the women were tending to the day’s household chores. Read more about this red bean tradition.
Regardless of where or how it started, the city’s fascination for red beans knows no boundaries today and is now a beloved culinary tradition for all who live or visit here.
“Food unites with complete sincerity,” author Sara Roahen writes in Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table. “It harbors no ulterior motives; its power is irreversible. Red beans and rice is my best example.”
Ready to see – and taste – for yourself? Visit the Red Beans Parade website for more information and routes, then check out our Louisiana Red Beans and Rice recipe to enjoy this tasty tradition at home.