Carnival food in Italy & facts you (probably) didn’t know

Italian Carnival food

Today I’ll be talking about the typical Italian Carnival food. The tradition of the Carnival started in Venice in the Middle Ages and later developed in all Italy. The Carnival was a period of great celebrations. People could enjoy life, eat, drink, and party. Also, wearing masks allowed people to break all social rules.

Celebrations culminate with the Fat Tuesday. Read the article (or glance at the image) and you’ll get immediately why it’s “fat”!

Italian Carnival food

The day after Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, it’s the start of the Lent, 40 days before Easter. During this time Catholics should give up their pleasures. It’s nothing like the Islamic Ramadan, when people don’t eat or drink during the day. To make an example, I remember that when I was a child my religion teacher asked us to give up each week a little thing that we enjoyed. For instance, no candies (but we could get away with fewer candies too).

Therefore, considering how much Italians love food, we have to get plenty of it during Carnival so we can give up candies later, right?

Chiacchiere – Carnival food

chiacchiere carnival food

The most famous Carnival food is “Chiacchiere” – mind that in Italian ‘ch’ is the equivalent of ‘k’. The word literally means “chat”. The origin is not clear and there are various recipes, but in all variant chiacchiere are very simple and cheap to make, hence they became very popular.

Tortelli – Carnival food

tortelli carnival food

“Tortelli” are also very popular in Lombardy, in northern Italy. There are similar variants in other Italian regions, although they get a different name. Tortelli can come empty or filled in with cream or chocolate.

A curious fact about Milan: the Ambrosian Carnival

While all Italy ends its parties on Fat Tuesday, Milan and only Milan keeps celebrating 4 days longer, until the so called Fat Saturday. This tradition is very ancient and not clear at all. There are various legends but they are all link to Saint Ambrose. He was the bishop of Milan in the 4th century AD, at the very beginning of the Middle Ages.

Saint Ambrose Milan Carnival

According to a legend, he was in a pilgrimage and returned to Milan when Lent had already started. The people of Milan, out of respect for the bishop, waited for his return to celebrate the Carnival.

Another legend states that Milan had been devastated by a plague, which was finally overcome at the beginning of the Lent. But Lent is a period of sacrifice, and in the Middle Ages it required more than giving up a few candies. So the bishop convinced the Pope to allow Milan to celebrate the Carnival four more days.

In the following centuries, various rulers tried to forbid the additional days of party, but it didn’t go very well, and the tradition continues. Today it’s mostly a celebration for children.

I myself have very good memories of Carnival in my childhood. I’ve found this old pic in a dusty photo album. Amazingly enough, I’m still best friend with the little girl with me in the picture.

Carnival customs
Goodbye from a Carnival in the 90s!


Have your say