Foodways is when food meets culture, tradition, and history. Foodways are especially prevalent in end of life ceremonies when tradition is especially important. Food and grief are interlinked in various cultures across the world because the creation and eating of funeral foods can be a comfort to grieving families and even a religious experience. With this in mind, we bring you our top ten foods most commonly associated with funerals.
1. Funeral Potatoes – USA
Funeral potatoes are prevalent in the Midwest of the United States. This is a casserole which consists of cubed potatoes (or what Southern Americans call “tater tots”), sour cream, butter, cheese and cream of chicken or mushroom soup. The entire dish is then topped with cornflakes or crumbled crisps and popped into the oven. Yum.
Funeral Potatoes are commonly associated with Utah and the Church of Latter-day Saints. They remain a popular dish after memorials. In fact, funeral potatoes are such a staple in Utah that they were included on a commemorative pin for the Salt Lake City Olympics back in 2002.
2. Halva – Popular in the Balkans and the Middle East
While there are a variety of different ways to prepare Halva, it is often a sweet, dense confection. This dish is very popular in the Balkans and the Middle East. It can be eaten at any time, of course, but Halva is especially popular to eat in Iran, Turkey, and Armenia in times of mourning.
3. Borsok – Kyrgyzstan
Many funeral dishes are meant to soothe the living, but borsok is made and eaten to remember the one who has passed. Originally from Kyrgyzstan, borsok is associated with both celebrations and funeral rites. In Kyrgyzstan, borsok are fried dough balls made with flour, salt, sugar, and butter.
Some people think that the process of frying the dough essentially “feeds” the dead with the scent of the oil. In fact, the translation of the ritual’s name “jyt chygaruu” actually means “releasing the smell.”
Once the borsok has finished cooking, they are scattered across the table. The family then recites verses from the Koran and prays for the person who has passed away. At the end of the ritual, they then eat the borsok as a sign of respect.
4. Koliva – Greece
Koliva is a wheat and berry based dish, used in the Eastern Orthodox Church to commemorate a loved one who has passed away. It’s especially prominent in Greece and is used for both for funerals and memorial services. Koliva is made by boiling wheat berries (unrefined kernels of wheat) until they’re soft and porridge-like then adding flavours such as raisins, honey, and pomegranate.
Once the Koliva is ready, it is shaped into a mound that looks like a grave. It’s then covered with powdered sugar, normally they make an outline of the loved one’s initials and a cross on top. Koliva plays an important role in memorial rituals and is meant to be eaten with respect.
5. Amish Funeral Pie – USA (Pennsylvania)
Amish funeral pie plays a key role in the history of Amish in Pennsylvania. Its filling is made from sugar, raisins, flour, eggs, and spice, which are common pantry staples.
The pie could be made in short notice and it’s sweetness meant it traveled well and could survive long journeys to a funeral. Today, the funeral pie continues to be a common tradition at memorial gatherings in Pennsylvania.
6. Goat Curry – Jamaica
In Jamaica, it is traditional for a goat curry to be served at any kind of family gathering.
It is usually served with rice and beans and is seasoned well, with plenty of spice. It’s a wholesome dish and can be made in large quantities, which is why it is often chosen for funerals.
In Jamaica, funeral traditions last for 9 nights. At the end of the 9 nights it is believed that the spirit of the deceased passes through the memorial gathering food and saying goodbye before continuing on to its resting final place. On this night a ceremonial table is set up with food for the loved one, but no one is allowed to eat from it before midnight. This is believed to be the time when the spirit passes through.
7. Pan de Muerto – Mexico
Pan de muerto is a type of pan dulce traditionally baked in Mexico during the weeks leading up to the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is celebrated in early November.
It is made out of sweetened soft bread and often decorated with bone-shaped pieces of bread on top.The bones represent the deceased one and a teardrop is baked into bread to signify the goddess Chīmalmā’s tears for the living. The bones are presented in a circle to portray the circle of life.
8. Ireland – Wake Cake
Irish wake cakes are made to signify a celebration of life. The cake can be altered to represent the loved one’s interests and to honour the deceased, some people even soak theirs in Guinness. The homemade cake is similar to a pound cake and has a rich consistency, similar to cheesecake.
9. Bread for Sin-Eating – England and Wales
The tradition of sin-eating was not uncommon in parts of England and Wales during the 18th and 19th centuries, however, it is no longer practised today.
When a loved one passed away, families would place a loaf of bread or roll upon the body of the deceased. They believed the bread would then absorb all of the sins of that person’s life. They would then pay a “sin-eater” to eat this bread and take on the loved one’s sins.
They believed that this allowed the deceased loved one’s soul to be relinquished of the sin, and make it safely into heaven.
10. Num Om Saum – Cambodia
On Pchum Ben or “Ancestors’ Day,” Cambodians believe the ghosts of their dead relatives return to earth. They often choose to offer the spirits Num Om Saum, a sticky rice cake wrapped in banana leaves.
It is believed that when the hungry ghosts eat the rice cakes, their souls are satisfied and they will bless the country’s rice fields. At the end of the festival, they are thrown out into the water of the rice fields. This is a fertility ritual that dates back to ancient times.
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