Although the French Quarter boasts several different markets, including the 24-hour Quartermaster (affectionately known as the Nelly Deli), there is really only one grocery store: the Rouses Supermarket at the corner of St. Peter and Royal streets. So, whenever Dan and I stay in the Quarter, that becomes our grocery, too.
Despite the store's small size, the employees make supreme use of the space, squeezing as much as they can wherever they can. One of my favorite aspects of the place is the pair of windows alongside Royal Street, which are often decorated appropriately for the season. The last time I checked, Saints paraphernalia occupied one window display while Christmas decorations occupied the other.
Indeed, there's another season upon us – once Christmas is over and done with, Mardi Gras will soon be on its way. And it isn't just the calendar that hints to this. On a rack near the front door of Rouses are the treats of the season: king cakes! Of course, these are Christmas in theme – with red and green sprinkles in lieu of purple, green, and gold – but they are basically the same yummy cake that will pepper the city come early January, in celebration of the period between the Feast of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday.
If you've never had one, a king cake is essentially a large cinnamon roll-style cake, shaped like a ring or an oval, and covered with white icing and/or purple, green, and gold sprinkles. Typically, there is a small plastic baby – supposedly meant to represent the baby Jesus – embedded somewhere in the cake. Per tradition, if you accept a piece containing the baby, you must bring a king cake to the next gathering – this is especially true in schools and office settings. Naturally, my stepbrother's oldest child begs to differ – he's already received the baby three times this season, and he emphatically refuses to provide a king cake of his own. (And people wonder why I have no children.)
Besides Rouses' skilled bakery, there are several local institutions known for their delicious king cakes – Randazzo's and Gambino's among them. But, wherever you find one, I wouldn't advise eating too much in one sitting. A little bit of this sweet tradition goes a long way – especially when you're on a diet like me.
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