Wedding foods around the world
Published date: 14th August 2019 | Author: Hollie Bond
However sophisticated and modern your wedding may be, it almost certainly contains moments of symbolism that in some cases are links with ceremonies going back scores of generations. Elsewhere we have written about the wider superstitions associated with weddings, here let’s look at what wedding foods mean, not just in Britain but around the globe.
The first topic, perhaps inevitably, is sex. Cutting the cake together is a significant moment, a breaking with the past and opening of the future, for our ancestors the image of what would happen in the wedding bed that night. The Romans broke a barley loaf over the bride’s head during the ceremony for similar reasons; and we may wonder if the spiced wine called ‘bride’s tears’ served in Holland has any link. More intriguingly, the French wedding-cake custom of serving a tower of cream filled pastry horns, the croque-en-bouche (crispy in the mouth) perhaps has multiple layers of meaning!
And along with sex it is hard to avoid fertility and fecundity, or it used to be! In Malaysia guests will be given a hard-boiled egg to symbolise fertility; in Russia the bride gets a raw egg for the same reason. The Danes do it with a bit more style, their cornucopia wedding-cake filled with many different goodies. But we have our own fecundity tradition associated with the cake – some couples keep the top tier as a christening cake for their first born.
It’s not just the bridal bouquet that foretells the future at weddings: it used to be the custom here to put a ring in the cake, the lucky recipient (if they didn’t choke) the next to marry; in Canada a nutmeg served the same purpose; and some still believe that a piece of wedding cake beneath the pillow will bring dreams of one’s future spouse. A specifically Yorkshire custom has it that after the ceremony a plate with a slice of cake was thrown from an upper window: it breaks for good luck, stays whole for bad. And some reckon the design of the cake, rising well above the table, is to do with another lucky custom: in medieval times the bride and groom kissed above a tower of bread rolls, not knocking it down bringing good fortune; the French do the same still with their croque-en-bouche, and it is not unknown in Britain for the happy couple to do the same over their wedding-cake (so don’t make it too high!).
Some customs have seemingly little to them than bringing a smile to our faces: at the Ufruf event in Jewish culture, where the groom announces his forthcoming nuptials to the synagogue, it is usual to pelt him with sweets. The French are very keen on the sheer joy of eating at weddings, country couplings seeing feasting lasting well into the night, and often begun anew the next day – the couple on their first married morning together given onion soup as a restorative.
Longevity and togetherness in a marriage are of course much to be desired, hence the many food customs related to those ideals. At Jewish and Italian weddings glasses are smashed by the couple, the many shards representing their many years together. In Germany, the night before the ceremony, guests break crockery before the couple’s future home with the same meaning. The Chinese serve gingko nuts dyed red for luck, the ‘living fossil’ gingko trees a symbol of long life. Thai people serve very long Foy Thong noodles made from egg and sugar syrup to bring longevity. The same people serve a braided bread, Khanom Kareaw, as do Jewish couples with the egg-rich challah at the centre of a blessing. The Japanese have an elegant idea from nature in the same regard: they often serve hamaguri clams at weddings as it is said that only the originally joined halves will fit, no other can do so perfectly. More simply the French wedding couple drink a toast together from a two-handled wedding goblet, the coupe de marriage.
In our culture few go hungry, but elsewhere around the world hunger remains a threat, the wedding feast a symbol of hoped for prosperity; and for the lucky it is a good excuse to display their wealth and that of their family. A money-fish is seen at some Chinese and other East Asian weddings. For centuries the Norwegians have had a bread-like wedding cake central to their feasting, the white flour in it once a rare luxury; perhaps for the same reason Fijians sometimes have cake within the ceremony itself. In Malaysia a groom has to send a procession bearing many gifts, including foods, to his wife’s house before their ceremony. In Elizabethan times in England peacock served at a wedding banquet was enough to show the family was not without. And of course the duration of the festivities can make the same point – Italians serving 12 or more courses and the French with their two day feast put in the shade by the Chinese where the eating and drinking can last a full week.
Some customs just seem eminently practical. Jewish couples often fast before the ceremony, the private break during it when they can eat some chicken soup a welcome one. The strengthening qualities of the Hochzeitssuppe early in the wedding meal in much of Germany fulfils the same function. And after the ceremony in Egypt the bride’s family will cook for the first week of the marriage to allow the couple to ‘relax’ at their leisure. The Irish honeymoon where the couple hid from the world to drink mead and get acquainted also had an eminently practical purpose – by the end of the month any objections from the bride’s family – especially had the pair eloped – would it was hoped be pretty academic.
We hope that has given you some ideas and the occasional chuckle, and that you will want to talk to caterers, planner if you have one, or your partner, about them.