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Food and Ritual: 5 Table Rituals from Around the World

Since it is central in all our lives, food becomes an essential part of a lot of religious, national and spiritual rituals gathering all friends and family members. We pay special attention to food preparation on those celebratory days: at some tables, it is a golden-roasted turkey, others have special bread, and sometimes, there are yummy dates.

Suhoor and Iftar

Have you ever heard of these food rituals? Your answer is highly likely “no.” But you might have heard of Ramadan, an Islamic ritual of fasting a whole month where Muslims are forbidden to eat or drink during the day. Suhoor and iftar refer to special eating rituals during the month of Ramadan. Suhoor is the last meal before sunrise and thus, before the beginning of the fasting day. It is mostly recommended to keep suhoor light and full of fiber, proteins, complex carbs and hydrating foods. After sunset at iftar time, people usually break their fast with soft yummy dates, olives or water. Ramadan is a special month for Muslims to come to peace with themselves and their communities and at different levels: the body, mind and soul. On the body level, people learn patience for food and water, more about self-control and develop empathy for those who do not have easy access to food.


Thanksgiving

Winter weather is already here, and one of the tastiest holidays, Thanksgiving, has come and gone. It’s a celebration that is a reason for joy and togetherness. Though it has historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, Thanksgiving has been a national holiday for as long as many of us can remember. According to the original story, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in the autumn of 1621, 53 men, women and children celebrated their first harvest in the New World. That marked the first Thanksgiving. Today, many countries celebrate the holiday, with each country enjoying the holiday in its own way this time of the year. In Germany, people decorate carts with seasonal vegetables, cereals and sweets, with freshly harvested gifts thrown from the moving carts toward the waiting crowd. In the USA and Canada, Thanksgiving tables feature the famously stuffed turkey. Other delicacies that are on the table might include cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and sweet potato puree. Many people celebrate Thanksgiving with their loved ones and eat a turkey to follow an ancient tradition. You can do the same with your friends at Friendsgiving tables. Friendsgiving is an extension of or alternative to Thanksgiving to socialize with friends over the holiday. It is an excellent way to get rid of the stress of the holidays mostly because dear friends surround you, and everyone is responsible for bringing a dish.

Bento

Bento box

The Japanese tradition of bento is increasingly popular in Europe. The practical lunchboxes are not a novelty, either — in Japan, they have been in existence since the 5th century. The Japanese term “bento” has two different meanings: first, it means the dish itself and the container in which the dish comes, the so-called “bento box.” When filling the bento boxes, the rule of thumb is 4:2:1: four parts of carbohydrates (mostly rice), two parts of proteins (fish, meat, egg, etc.) and some other ingredients, such as vegetables and fruits. What to put in a bento box is basically up to you. However, if you would like to follow some traditional rules, keep the portions small and light to eat with chopsticks or your fingers and make the handmade food look attractive and appetizing.

Shabbat

In the Jewish tradition, Shabbat is a day of rest that lasts from sundown on Friday evening through nightfall on Saturday night. Shabbat joy includes three meals where people can increase their family bond and spirituality. For the first two meals — Friday night and Shabbat day — everyone gathers around a well-filled table with special dishes. The end of the third Shabbat meal is usually a small light snack. But it is not only an eating ceremony. The Shabbat dining table is also usually covered with an elegant white tablecloth, decorated with Shabbat candles, beautiful dishes and challah loaves baked before Shabbat and kept warm on a hot plate until the meal.

The Day of the Dead

Mexicans have a multiday holiday where they focus on remembering their deceased family members and friends and help them on their spiritual journey. It is the Day of the Dead (“Día de Muertos” in Spanish). The preparation time for the festivities begins mid-October celebrated from the All Saints’ Eve to the memory of All Souls on November 2nd. According to popular belief, the souls of the deceased return to their families on those days to visit them, thereby keeping the memory of the deceased alive. But do not mistake the Day of the Dead as a mourning event: it is a colorful folk festival. As a demonstration of the celebration, the decorated streets feature flowers, symbols of death and transience, skeletons and skulls in various designs placed in the shop windows — everywhere you see pictures of La Catrina. Patisseries produce Calaveras (skulls of sugar, chocolate or marzipan), which bear the names of the dead on the front. Pan de Muertos (the bread of the dead) and tamales, which is made of dough steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf, are other important treats during Día de Muertos.

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