New Orleans mainstay Cafe Du Monde is always filled with a swarm of people waiting for their beignets and searching for a table that's free (and most likely covered in powdered sugar). This overwhelming number of people accompanied with the long lines can feel daunting, but don't let this keep you away from sampling their iconic beignets. What is a beignet? If you're planning a trip to the Big Easy but aren't sure what all the fuss is about, here's a brief history lesson on this classic, doughy treat. 

History of the Beignet

Mardi Gras, originally a pagan celebration of spring and fertility, was incorporated into the Christian faith when this new religion began to flourish in Rome. Religious leaders who were integrating the the Christian faith into Rome's pagan society decided to keep the celebration of Mardi Gras rather than try and stop the pagan tradition. Over time, Mardi Gras became a prelude to the Lenten season.

When Christianity began to spread to other parts of the world, so did the celebration of Mardi Gras. Characterized by "excess and debauchery," Mardi Gras was a time to eat rich, fatty foods prior to the start of Lent. The French incorporated indulgent balls of fried dough into the celebration

When French-Catholic colonists settled close to New Orleans, they brought their religious tradition and their cuisine along with them. Eventually, Mardis Gras and its associations spread to New Orleans. Thus the birth of the beignet in New Orleans. 

What Is a Beignet, Though?

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Sarah Yanofsky

Now that you've had a brief history lesson, you're still probably wondering, "what is a beignet?" Technically speaking, the word beignet is French for "fritter" or "doughnut." Traditional French beignets are a member of the French choux pastry family, which are raised in steam and have a hollow center. This method gives French beignets a light and pillowy texture.

The famous New Orleans beignets vary from the traditional French choux pastry beignet because they're raised with yeast instead of steam. Despite this discrepancy, New Orleans's beignets are still an irresistible form of fried dough. 

According to the Cafe du Monde website, New Orleans beignets are square pieces of dough that are deep fried and topped with powdered sugar. They're usually served with cafe au lait, which is equal parts strong coffee and milk.

Where to Buy a Beignet

It would be hard not to want a beignet after hearing exactly what they are (and seeing the mouthwatering pictures), so here are three places that consistently make people's list for the best beignets in New Orleans.  

1. Cafe Du Monde  

Perhaps the most famous beignet spot in America, the original Cafe Du Monde first opened in 1862. Located in the French Quarter, it serves fresh beignets and coffee 24/7. In addition to their original location, Cafe Du Monde has eight other shops around New Orleans, making it hard not to pass by one as you stroll through the city. 

2. Cafe Beignet 

This cafe has three locations in New Orleans and offers a more extensive menu than Cafe Du Monde. Cafe Beignet would be a good place to go if you're looking for some omelets or classic New Orleans fare to accompany your beignets. 

3. Morning Call Coffee Stand 

Open since 1870, Morning Call is the best of both worlds. It offers 24/7 service and New Orleans fare alongside their beignets. They have two locations, but be sure to bring cash since they don't accept credit or debit cards.  

Wishing you lived in New Orleans now? Well, New Orleans-style beignets aren't just served up in the Big Easy. For those of you who don't live close to America's beignet hometown, local donuts shops often sell treats very similar to the Big Easy's classic treat. 

If you can't find beignets anywhere around you, or just want to make these babies on your own, they're well worth the physical labor required to make them. You can always make homemade beignets when you need a warm, fried dough fix.