February 2010 Issue: Cascarones for Carnival
If you have a keen eye you may have spotted the signs on houses that say se vende cascarones de huevo (egg shells sold here). What could this possibly mean? Have we been eating the wrong part of the egg all along? Are egg shells currency in another part of the country? Is this an ingenious way to pawn off garbage on unsuspecting tourists a la se vende papel higénico usado? Actually, none of the above, the signs in question refer to the creation of a Guatemalan tradition, cascarones.
Cascarones are brightly decorated egg shells filled with confetti that are then smashed upon the unsuspecting head of a friend/victim to celebrate Carnival (or Carnaval in Spanish) a.k.a. Mardi Gras, the final Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent. Usually for a handful of change you can get a large number of cascarones, which are easily hidden in your pockets for surprise smashing pleasure. On Carnival good-natured egg-crushing fun can be found all around the city, and it is generally acceptable to break a cascarón in a public outdoor space. A word of caution, however, around the cemetery: that part of town attracts general ruffians who throw flour, regular eggs and worse – so avoid that.
If you are staying with a family that is making cascarones you may notice that eggs are taking a little longer to prepare these days. That’s because not just any egg shells will do. It is easiest to make cascarones when the majority of the egg is intact, so folks will try and open eggs through the narrow tip. Egg shells are then washed out and filled with confetti (of flour if you are malcriado) and then the original hole in the egg is covered up with crepe paper. The final touch is a little bit of egg dye to be festive—and to avoid the possibility of confusing fake eggs for real eggs and accidentally pouring confetti onto a hot frying pan.
Where can you buy these wonderful eggs? The closer you get to Carnival, the more signs you will see, but generally they are easily found in any of the markets—but especially in La Demo. In 2009 there was a high concentration along 15 Avenida, but because they are a seasonal item they might be somewhere else this year. One Quetzal should buy you either three or four cascarones depending on the seller.
Final word of advice: the author of this piece will be buying at least one hundred cascarones, so be prepared for revenge if you try anything funny.
-Guest editorial by Steve Mullaney