03 Nov Eat Around the World
What do mealtimes mean to you and your family? Maybe mealtimes are pure necessity to you or perhaps they’re an opportunity for family bonding. The beauty of food consumption is that the practices are unique to every family around the world.
Vietnam – Tien and Yen, parents of Anne
Tien: We generally gather for our family dinners around 7 to 8pm, as that’s when everyone’s finally home. When our daughter was still in school, dinner would be 6.30pm on the dot, so they’d have their homework done and be ready for bed by 9pm. There’s nothing like bonding during family dinner. Mum’s at work during the day, I work a night shift, and we have different schedules on weekends. It’s nice to talk to each other.
Yen: If I’m cooking a specialty dish, which can take hours, I start it the night before or in the morning so I can just plate up in time for the meal. Some of the specialty Vietnamese dishes I cook for my family are Pho, duck & bamboo shoots in broth & rice noodles, crab rice drop soup, five spice braised beef stew, yellow chicken curry and rice rolls.
Our kids are very much involved with the food preparation. We believe it’s a good life skill and an educational experience. They learn to follow instructions. They learn the value of food – where it comes from and why we shouldn’t waste it, which is a very big philosophy in our culture. They spend time with us.
They appreciate the meal more because they feel accomplished that they helped.
It gets them very excited to eat something they helped prepare. They ask all kinds of questions and want to know stuff.
Tien: I think kids are very tactile and like to get stuck into things. Some parents overlook this because they think kids shouldn’t play with food, but they’re learning about texture, taste, colour and smell. Kids can wash and prep veggies or mix ingredients or cook rice. There’s a lot more to do than just setting the table, which can become a chore because you’re not doing anything new.
Yen: It is seen as good manners for the children to invite parents and elders to start a meal though. Everyone would be seated and the child would say something along the lines of “Everyone, please start the meal.” Respect for your elders and familial hierarchy is very important in Vietnamese culture, so you don’t start eating before someone older than you has started.
India – Srilekha, mother of Sohini
We have dinner at 9pm, and it’s the most important meal of the day. All other meals are on the go, but dinner is when the family can sit together. It usually takes about an hour and a half each to prepare brunch and dinner each day. Bengali food, which comes from the West Bengal region, focuses heavily on fish dishes. Our family has a live-in cook who prepares brunch and dinner. Tea and coffee is made by whoever wants it. Usually, someone would let the cook know what items will be prepared the night before so that the cook can head out and do grocery shopping in the morning. Produce, meat and fish are bought fresh each day as the menu requires.
The kids aren’t generally involved with the food prep, and they might eat brunch at a different time to the adults depending on their school schedule. But we all eat dinner together. When planning the meal courses, it’s important to include a dessert course with dinner.
People look forward to sharing stories about their days.
Before eating brunch and dinner, people offer their food first to the gods before taking a bite themselves. This just involves saying a silent prayer to God to tell them this food is for them and that you are grateful for the food and ask for God’s blessings.
Russia – Elena, mother of Irina and Maksim
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for us – a warm solid meal with a decent cup of hot milk tea is a must, especially during the cold winters with temperatures down to minus 40 plus. I cook every day in the evenings, as we often take leftovers for lunch to work. My boy is in childcare at the moment, where he receives all his meals. Schools have canteens that provide warm lunches for children.
Specialty dishes in Russia include famous Russian pancakes, pirozhki (pastry with savoury and sweet fillings), pelmeni (Russian dumplings), different types of bread, pickles and conserves. I cook for the family – my husband can prepare some meals, he’s good at firing an outside grill, but it’s mostly women who prepare meals. We try to eat together whenever possible.
Food is very important to us.
Getting together always involves eating tonnes of homemade food and drinking.
I cook most meals from scratch, although there’s a huge selection of premade and frozen supermarket meals, but they’re very expensive and don’t taste that great. But occasionally we use them when it gets too hectic.
My husband and I work long hours, so it’s nice, especially on weekends, to prepare a good meal and eat together. Often we have family (my daughter and nephew) and friends over or go to my mum’s place to cook and eat there.
America – Luke, father of Yeva
We live in New Hampshire, near Boston, but we used to live together in Saint Petersburg, Russia and also Istanbul, Turkey. We try to eat breakfast all together if I don’t have to leave for work too early. We always aim for an early dinner about 5pm. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for us, on weekends we always eat a big late breakfast. A big meal for a new day!
Inga tends to do most of the cooking. For the past two years she’s been home pregnant and then with the baby. It always depends on her mood – sometimes she’ll whip something up quickly, but a couple times a week she spends maybe two hours working on a big meal. She’s Russian and brings the Russian classics to the table – borscht (a beet soup), herring ‘in a fur coat’ (a thick salad) and blini (similar to French crepes, but often savory).
We don’t usually eat separate meals to our daughter Yeva, if we’re eating something too wild for her we’ll make her a smoothie with greens and yoghurt. We like to reflect on our day during dinner. We also like to be vocally thankful. Inga and I both try to take about half a minute of silence after serving ourselves and before putting food in our mouth. But it often doesn’t happen because of the baby.
A few times a month we find a sitter and go out and enjoy ourselves. We usually get home late. On these occasions, before bed, we will make ourselves something small and nice… usually an avocado pastrami sandwich for me and a salad with mango for Inga… and we will eat very slowly and very quietly before continuing the night’s conversations and ramblings at a normal pace. What a treasure to really behold the beauty of eating while the world is asleep.
Words by Melissa Cowan / Image by Ali Inay