Chicken, goat meat and seafood are a big part of most of our traditions. Whether as foods that are typically eaten during the festive season or for their symbolic meaning, their cultural significance is undeniable. Weddings, feasts, celebrations, religious occasions, often feature fish and poultry. Here are some such traditions from across the globe that are incomplete without a fish, chicken or mutton offering:
1. Fish during Friday fast
As a religious custom, various Christian denominations fast on Friday. This fast consists of a diet that includes fish. Christians abstain from eating meat on Fridays as penance for the crucifixion of Christ. However, although the meat of a warm-blooded animal is not allowed they are permitted to eat cold-blooded fish. Some say that this is because of the ‘miraculous catch of fish’ incident in which Jesus blessed his disciples with a large catch of fish. While few others are of the view that this custom was inherited from the Jewish community as they believe that God created fish on the fifth day of the week. Irrespective what the reason was that led to this tradition, Friday Fast is now closely associated with the consumption of fish in the Christian community.
Fish fillet works well during the Friday Fast.
2. Fish as a Bengali wedding tatta
Like with most other communities, gift giving between the families of the bride and the groom is a common practice during Bengali weddings. This custom is known as tatta. One of the gifts presented as a part of this custom is a Rohu fish. The fish is decorated like a bride and presented along with the other items of the tatta. Since Bengalis love their fish it is only natural that it should be a part of one of the most important events of their life, their marriage ceremony. Symbolically speaking,is also considered auspicious by Bengalis.
What better gift than a fish!
3. Oysters during the holiday season in France
The French love to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve with oysters. They enjoy oysters all year round, however, during the holiday season, it becomes one of the important features of their festive feasts. Hence a LOT of oysters are consumed during this time. The exact number of oysters that are eaten in the country during this time is not confirmed but some estimate it to be way over fifty percent of their annual consumption. Oysters are a big part of French culture hence feature in most of their traditional celebrations.
Oysters: a French gourmet delight!
4. Feast of the seven fishes
Like everything else that they do, Italians fast in style. Come Christmas Eve, Italian-Americans cook a feast that features seven (more or less) seafood dishes. As mentioned earlier, Christians fast during certain days that have a religious significance. And, fish is a part of their fast. This could have led to this tradition of eating seafood specialities on Christmas Eve. This grand seafood affair is known as La Vagilia di Natale or FestadeiSettePesci in Italian. Cod fish, shrimp, squid, scallops, anchovy, clams, mussels, sardines, lobster, one can make dishes with these or any other seafood. This tradition perhaps originated because seven is a biblical number.
A seafood feast fit for a king.
5. Pickled herring during Christmas in Finland
Pickled herring is a popular dish in Northern Europe. Each country uses a different set of ingredients to add flavour to the herring after curing it. The most common method involves using vinegar, salt, onions and sugar. To this mix, a combination of spices like pepper, clove, bay leaves, fennel seeds, star anise can be added. This herring is traditionally had during Christmas and Easter in Scandinavian countries as well as their neighbours like Poland and other countries that were formerly Soviet states.
Pickled herring is a widespread Christmas tradition in Europe.
6. Lutefisk during Christmas in Norway
Lutefisk is a Norwegian fish dish that is made with dried cod. It is a lengthy process that requires the fish to be first dried then rehydrated before it is cooked. Like with most other traditions, there are many myths and tales surrounding how this preparation originated. One such story is that ages ago some Vikings after looting a fishing village set the place on fire. The surviving villagers put the fire out by pouring water on everything. This included the wooden racks on which they had hung cod to dry. Later, it rained and the ash-covered fish absorbed that rainwater. This is how the villagers discovered this new recipe for making cod.
Norwegians everywhere customarily enjoy lutefisk during Christmas celebrations.
7. Minangkabau Mutton Rendang
The Minangkabau community in Indonesia is responsible for giving us this yummy recipe. This Indonesian favourite has also made its way to Malaysia and Thailand and is now a bonafidespeciality of Southeast-Asian cuisine. This mutton dish requires a fairly long preparation time and is made by slow cooking the meat in coconut milk and a special spice mix. The Rendang has long been a favourite at all Minangkabau festivals and celebrations. It also is one of the main dishes that are served at weddings in Malaysia.
The rendang is a semi-dry curry.
8. Chicken Hallaca during Christmas in Venezuela
This dish is popular in most South American countries. Chicken along with some vegetables and other meats like pork are used as a filling in a cornmeal wrapping that is covered and tied together with a string in a banana leaf and then cooked. Each culture has their own special method and set of ingredients for making this dish. In Venezuela, although every region and family have their own take on this recipe, typically onions, capers, olives and raisins are used with chicken and pork for the stuffing. It is a Christmas tradition to celebrate with Hallaca in Venezuela.
Hallaca is like a dumpling.
9. Christmas herring in Lithuania
In Lithuania, they celebrate Christmas with not one but multiple herring dishes. Herring with carrots, herring with potatoes, herring with beet, herring with mushrooms, any of these dishes and/or some other herring offerings are traditionally a part of the Christmas Eve spread.
The more herring the better!
10. Fish during Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year, which is based on the lunar calendar, is a two-week long celebration. On New Year’s Eve, families come together for a grand meal. This feast is known as the reunion dinner. At this dinner, a variety of dishes that are a part of the Chinese culinary tradition and are considered to be auspicious are served. Fish, of course, is one of them. Fish is served as it meant to bring good luck and prosperity. It is an important custom to not consume the entire fish and leave some of it as that conveys the wish for a surplus in the coming year.
Fish symbolises prosperity.
11. KoshaMangsho during Durga Puja
Back home, in Bengal, India, Durga Puja is celebrated with a special goat meat preparation that is known as koshamangsho. This mangsho is slow cooked with a combination of spices. It is eaten with either luchis (puris made from maida) or rice. All Bengalis and Bengali food aficionados know that this is dish is not be missed during the festival at the pandals.
Bengali mutton curry: A Durga Puja delicacy.
12. Fish soup and fried carp during Christmas in the Czech Republic
The Czech Republic celebrates Christmas with two main fish dishes. Traditionally, on Christmas Eve, fish soup and fried carp are served with potato salad, bread and cookies. This custom is supposed to be fairly new as it is said to have started not before the nineteenth century. However, since then it isn’t a Christmas feast in a Czech household unless they have carp and fish soup.
Czech traditional Christmas fish soup
There are many such traditions, small and big, in different parts of the world that include seafood, chicken and mutton as a custom. Even ones like having chicken broth when one is down with a cold is a practice that many people indulge in. Whether it is because the soup cures the cold or just provides comforts the fact is that a large number of people like to have it when they are suffering from the sniffles. Similarly, each household, community, culture and country has such practices that are centredaround fish, goat meat and poultry. For example, in mobster language, receiving a dead fish from another mobster means you are done! Irrespective of what the exact tradition is the fact is that these foods have a symbolic significance that cuts across all cultures.