Recipe by Nick Malgieri: "You may be surprised to learn, however, that every year the Swiss city of Basel puts on an impressive three-day carnival bash called Fasnacht, in which its citizens party all night, watch fabulous parades and costumes, and indulge in the best in traditional food and drink.
Baslers have been doing Fasnacht since the Middle Ages, but with a twist: After the Reformation, Protestant Basel moved its carnival to the Monday after Ash Wednesday, asserting its religious independence from Rome.
Fastnacht gets underway at Morgestraich ("morning strike"), a thrilling moment to witness. People start milling around the city center's market square around 2 a.m., and you can feel the excitement and anticipation building. By 3:30 the square is as packed as Times Square on New Year's Eve. Precisely at 4, all the lights go out as a cry of celebration rumbles through the crowd.
Then the faint sound of drums and piccolos wafts into the square as the fife, drum, and lantern-toting cliques, the official carnival societies, begin to converge from all sides. The pre-dawn darkness is illuminated only by the lanterns atop the drummers' and piccolo players' masks, though each clique also sports a single 5-foot high rectangular lantern depicting its yearly theme in words and pictures.
As the day begins to dawn, the lights come back on and many head to a favorite restaurant or Kaeller (the cliques' private headquarters, open to the public during Fasnacht) for a fortifying meal. Delicacies include Maehlsuppe (brown flour soup), an unappetizing name for a really delicious onion soup; Kaeswaie or cheese tart (see recipe below); and Ziebelewaie or onion tart, first cousins of the quiche, only better.
All that salty food needs to be washed down with plenty of beer, which flows more generously during Fasnacht than the Rhine, the storied river that divides Basel in half. Good Baslers look forward to Fasnacht every year to also eat Kiechli, a deep-fried pastry like a funnel cake covered with sugar, and Faschtewaie, a buttery roll sprinkled with caraway seeds.
Later that day after everyone has had a fortifying nap, followed by much parading by cliques, their members decked out in fantastic get-up. Tuesday is Kinderfasnacht or children's carnival during the day, with fanciful costumes and lots of Kiechli. Tuesday evening, the cathedral square is the scene of the reading of the lanterns. Each clique writes satirical, sarcastic or critical verses on its main lantern. They may be about events in Basel, Switzerland or elsewhere in the world, but are always hilarious.
Wednesday afternoon is another parade as on Monday, though throughout Fasnacht portions of cliques march around the city 24 hours a day, keeping the upbeat mood from flagging. Wednesday evening, as Fasnacht begins to draw to a close, there is the famous brass concert in the Barfuesserplatz. One player carries the melody and all the others play out of tune sending most observers for something a little stronger than Maehlsuppe! Fasnacht officially ends at daylight on Thursday, when the normally staid and formal Baslers return to work and their regimented daily lives."