Whenever you travel, you encounter new foods. Most dishes are rooted in the produce that’s easily grown locally. Rice in Asia, meats in South America, breads in Europe, corn in Mexico, are all examples of how climate affects the cuisine of a particular culture.
Some cultures, though, have traditions that are about more than just rainfall and soil quality. When you visit a country, you encounter a different way of living. That extends to long rooted traditions. Eating is a way of engaging in a culture’s traditions. Fascinating food customs exist all over the world. Here are some traditions you may encounter.
This old Chinese delicacy roots back to the days on the Silk Road, when weary travelers would find their way into Chinese tea houses. There, merchants would share dim sum with their hungry visitors, in an effort to both feed, and connect travelers with community. The Chinese believed the tea aided with digestion, and so dim sum, which are typically dumplings with various fillings, is served with tea. Now, the Chinese have dim sum tea brunch, the culture of which varies slightly depending on region, but the effect is the same – to bring people together for a traditional meal.
Siesta – Spain
That feeling you get after a hearty lunch isn’t just you. The Spanish acknowledge the issue with the perfect solution: the siesta. The origins of the siesta don’t root from food coma, though, rather the region reached its peak in heat by midday. It made sense for workers to take a break during this time, and get a hearty meal, away from the heat. While they were at it, they took a nap. The tradition continues, now in effort to maintain a work-life balance. Spaniards see the siesta as a time to reconnect with family, to ease the mind from stresses of work, and rest. Those who work too far from home take siesta with co-workers, and build bonds with work friends.
Sabbat – Israel
Even God rested on the seventh day, and the Jewish tradition believes God’s creation should, too. And so, the Jewish holy day being Saturday, Jewish people all over the world, not just in Israel, turn off the lights just before sundown and have a candlelit dinner. The idea is to unplug, quite literally, until just after sunrise on Saturday, in honor of a day of rest. The sabbat is a day of family, of communicating and connecting over traditional challah bread at dinner, and a nice glass of wine. An ancient tradition, it’s sentimentally kept alive in honor of heritage and upholding strong values.
High or Afternoon Tea – Britain
Like the siesta or dim sum, the idea behind high tea was to nourish tired workers after their labor. Served between three and four in the afternoon, workers knocked off work and stood or sat at a tall stool (note high tea), and partook in hearty foods like meats and vegetables, and, of course, tea.
Afternoon tea is slightly different, though, and you could get in trouble for confusing the two. A posh affair, afternoon tea became popular with the Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, who liked to take tea around four o’clock, before she went to the theater or to play cards. It was practical, dinner wasn’t going to be served for quite some time. It became the activity of the leisure class, comprised of scones, cakes, cheese with bread – which soon turned to meat, and the sandwich was born. Today, most people don’t have the time to take tea in the middle of the day. Instead, tea is reserved for special occasions and holidays.
Bento Box – Japan
Here’s an old tradition – bento boxes were used in Japan as early as the 1300s. A portable lunch, as in a lunch box, bentos were brought along to hanami, or tea parties, in wooden boxes. The box became useful to children, too, by the 1800s, when schools didn’t provide lunch for students. These were not your typical peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunches, although western bentos did exist. Rather, rice, fish, picked vegetables, egg, and tempura were the typical lunch. A little more involved. Bentos could be bought at train stations for a time, as well.
By the mid-20th century, schools supplied lunch, and bentos tended to show class level, based on the contents, and so were shunned. However, bento boxes are popular again, and are encouraged by mothers, who, as is tradition, make silly animal shapes with the food as a way to connect with her child during times.
History speaks for itself with food culture. What cultures cherish about their food is the root of the tradition. Most originate from a lifestyle that no longer exists, so there’s a romantic notion to keep it alive, which is exactly why you should partake in their traditions. It might be the best way to learn about a new place.
Have you ever had a meal that’s uniquely cultural? Tell us about it!