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Traditional funeral food around the world

A selection of traditional funeral food from around the world

Food has always been an important part of a funeral. There’s something about coming together with friends and family to break bread and share a meal that’s comforting and welcome during times of grief.

Around the world, funeral wake food and meals to remember loved ones are as varied as they are delicious.

Vegetable samosas

Triangle-shaped pastries filled with spicy vegetables, often served at Hindu funerals Photo by Aotearoa

In many branches of Hinduism, mourners are not allowed to eat meat for a set period after the death of a loved one. This means that the bereaved family are often given baskets of fruit, vegetarian dishes and vegetable samosas as a sympathy gift.

A traditional Indian samosa is a triangular shaped pastry with a savory filling such as potato, peas, onions and spices. The samosa is deep-fried and usually eaten with chutney.

Koliva

Lots of bowls of Koliva on a table, decorated with candy and candles Photo by Nicubunu

Koliva, sometimes spelled kolyva, is a mixture of grains and seeds sweetened with honey or sugar. This symbolic food is a part of important Orthodox Christian rituals, across Russia, Eastern Europe and Greece, and is blessed by a priest during the funeral service.

Koliva is often formed into a dome cake-like shape and decorated with seeds, dried fruit or candy. The patterns can be quite elaborate, often in the shape of crucifixes, or the koliva might be kept plain and simple.

Hard-boiled eggs

A basket of eggs

Immediately after a Jewish person is laid to rest, the family will partake in a first meal, called seudat havara’ah, meaning ‘meal of comfort’. This is a private time for close family. Although seudat havara’ah can nowadays consist of any kind of food, traditionally Jewish families would eat hard-boiled eggs.

Sometimes they may prepare hamine eggs, an old Jewish-Egyptian technique that involves cooking eggs for six to 18 hours. This makes the egg white turn brown and gives it a nutty flavor.

Pan de muerto

Bread rolls with a cross on top, representing food for people who have died Photo by Bart Everson

Although pan de muerto aren’t specifically a funeral food, these sweet bread rolls are eaten on the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. As part of the colorful remembrance festival, families visit their loved one’s graves and traditionally eat pan de muerto and share them as an ofendra, or offering, to the spirit of their loved ones.

There are various regional variations on the pan de muerto throughout Mexico and Central America, but the most common shape is a simple circle with a cross on top. In some places they are dusted with pink or sugar or decorated with candy.

Mormon funeral potatoes

A casserole dish of Mormon funeral potatoes

Mormon funeral potatoes are a traditional casserole commonly served at after-funeral dinners for Latter Day Saints. The all-American dish involves cubed potatoes, cheese, onions, cream sauce and a topping of butter with corn flakes or potato chips.

The combination of rich, creamy sauce and crunchy topping makes this casserole the very definition of comfort food – ideal when people need filling, satisfying food to soothe the soul.

Yukgaejang

A steaming bowl of beef soup, a common Korean funeral food Photo by LW Yang

Food is a significant part of Korean funerals. During the ritual, the person who has died is offered bowls of rice and three spoonsful are placed inside their mouth.

For those attending the funeral and paying their respects, traditional Korean dishes like Yukgaejang are served. Yukgaejang is a spicy beef soup containing scallions, bean sprouts, garlic, sweet potatoes and chili. It’s a traditional dish that’s often served at funerals with a bowl of rice and kimchi, fermented cabbage.

Cabbage rolls

A plate of stuffed cabbage rolls Photo by Christo

In Estonia and other parts of Eastern Europe, mourners are given pastries and bread at the gravesite immediately after they lay their loved one to rest. They may also toast their memory before returning to the family home for the funeral reception.

Traditional Estonian dishes like roast pork and cabbage rolls are served. Cabbage leaves are stuffed with ground beef or veal and rice, cooked in a broth.

Irish wake cake

A traditional Irish fruit cake eaten at funeral wakes Photo by James Petts

Irish wakes, where family members watch over their loved one’s body until the funeral, can last days. It’s a time for people to come together, offer comfort, and share food and drink.

Irish wake cake is a traditional recipe that uses cream cheese and dried fruits to give it a rich texture and delicious taste. Although traditional Irish wakes are becoming less common in Ireland, wake cake can still be a slice of home-baked comfort during times of grief.

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