Be it Christmas eve or the auspicious Eid al-Fitr, be it the birthday of a kid in the family or a housewarming party- what is an occasion without food! The buffet tables or the starter corners are never given a miss by anyone who ‘lives to eat’ or ‘eats to live.’ Even if it is a homely gathering of friends and family members talking about recent movies or the ups and downs of politics, tea and samosa never forget to make their way onto the table. So, how important is food for every occasion? Let’s binge.
Food reflects the culture
Food is the umbrella that takes both religion and tradition under it when it comes to culture. From the point of view of religious culture, food is the means of showing respect among the communities while abiding by the religious commandments. Again, traditions vary from one part of the globe to another, which reflects in the food choices of the people living in those places. Hence, the difference of culture becomes prominent not only through the activities or rituals but also through food. It’s the food blended with the lifestyle of people that makes a place inhabited by multiple communities culturally diverse.
If you attend a Bengali marriage ceremony, you will find a wide variety of fish and meat dishes. But if you are visiting the same Bengali family on a day of any Puja at their home, you will only find veg items, even sans onion or garlic.
Again, if you chance upon a meeting with a Gujarati family, you will find veg items entirely different from the Bengali ones. The foods in these two states from two parts of the country use the same ingredients, but the outcome is different.
This is not a common thing within the borders of India only. If you consider Japanese culture or Jewish culture, you will find some stark differences. While Fugu (puffer) fish is not ‘kosher’ and is a strict no-no on Jewish occasions, the Japanese would literally die for the very item.
So, you can see food is affected by the culture and affects the culture as well. From family beliefs to religious rituals, when food is spread out on occasion, it reflects the cultural background, authenticity, and ethnicity that the community belongs to.
Food brings everyone closer
On occasion, when a few hundreds of people are coming together at a place, the common interest is not only the reason for the occasion but also the food. As everyone eats together, a sense of community is brought forth. Food is definitely the survival source for every human being, but when it is an occasion, fellow-feeling and a feeling of togetherness overpower everything else.
During the times of pandemics, there were restrictions on gathering. After around two years, when people worldwide are coping with the ‘new normal’ and coming together again instead of only Zoom calls, food is the common tie among them. Since lockdown periods, how long has it been since you didn’t have ‘ghar ka khana’? So, even if it is simply your homecoming, there will be food, a lot of it. You bring everyone together over the dining table, and that’s a perfect picture of how food brings everyone closer.
Sometimes, cooking enthusiasts share recipes among them. Sometimes, cultures get crossed, and due to that cross-cultural development, different foods are created as ingredients and processes go through different changes. The Arabs, in the beginning, did not eat rice much. But when they started doing business with Indian and Persian traders, the exchange of ideas, commodities, and food habits began. That is how today you get Shawarma at a roadside vendor, and Machboos, a rice-based dish, has made its place permanent in Emirati cuisine.
This is how food brings the east and the west, the north and the south together. This is how foods and their ideas get shared on occasion, and people come closer through it.
Food is an expression of emotion
Ever seen how the face of the bride’s father lights up when someone appreciates the food at his daughter’s wedding? On their kid’s birthday, the parents leave no stones unturned to make sure the food for the little ones invited and their parents match the best level of quality and taste. And when the invited ones on any occasion actually want one item twice or openly say it has met all expectations, the satisfaction of the host is beyond words.
All these are because food is a means of expressing emotion. Every occasion is a celebration of some emotion or other. Even a disheartening situation like a funeral does not go without an elaborate food arrangement. So, besides the laughter and tears, the food offered also facilitates emotional expression.
From time immemorial, food has been an integral part of any occasion anywhere across the globe. With a pledge of not wasting any, food will always be the centre of attraction for everyone.