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Food & meal superstitions, customs, symbols, etc.

I know there are a lot of superstitions, customs and symbolism related to food/eating out there that are both logical (or historically logical) or not apparent. Superstitions and symbols have always fascinated me in an odd way, their meaning or reason.

The one symbol I always remember (esp. since Chinese New Year is upon us) is the Chinese superstition/image of a solo set on chopsticks resting on top of an empty rice bowl is a symbol of death. I always took this as the symbol of the ultimate foodie...I'm done, it's over, i.e., you're dead when you finish eating. I have no idea of the real meaning...but if anyone knows, I'm interested in hearing it.

I've also heard several superstitions related to knives. The one I remember best one from a Turkish friend. When I first met her I remember her saying, "I can't take the knife from you like that if we're going to be friends." I asked why and the response was, "In Turkey friends never hand each other knives, you put it on the table and I take it." I don't know if it was true but it reminded me of the concept of handing off scissors handle first so it made sense.

There must be a million superstitions for different cultures and it would be interesting to hear them which in turn gives a slightly better understanding of food and where ti comes from and who prepares it.

So, do you know of any superstitions related to food or eating?

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  1. I've been told that if you drop a fork it means company's coming, but if you drop a knife it means someones going to die. I try not to worry about it too much, since people are always visiting and dying, hopefully not in that order.
    I always hated the spilled salt superstition, you have to throw it over your (left?) shoulder or you're cursed, something to do with the devil? but I got in the habit of doing this after working with someone at a deli that always did it (for some reason she spilled a lot of salt).

    1. I've heard the closer you hold the chopsticks to the bottom, the closer to home you're going to marry.

      1. I had always heard that a pair of chopsticks UPRIGHT in a bowl of rice was symbolic of death, because (a) they look like sticks of incense at a Buddhist funeral; and/or (b) because that's the traditional way of 'serving' the deceased on the family altar.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ricepad

          Me too, I thought chopsticks sticking out of a bowl was gauche. Resting across is wrong too? I'm in trouble...

        2. Breaking pasta. I believe it's a Chinese custom that long pasta noodles represent long life (or something like that). Anyway, I hate to see it when people break spaghetti (linguini, fettucini, etc.) before putting it into boiling water. Or who cut their served pasta noodles with their fork to eat them.

          1. I learned somewhere that you're never supposed to put a knife on the table so it's pointing at anyone. I forget if it means they're going to die, or if it's an indication that you hope they will.

            Also that if you chew with your mouth open &/or talk with your mouth full, it means you were raised by wolves. (Oh, wait a sec... :-/ )

            4 Replies
            1. re: misterbrucie

              ah...but in many parts of asia, it is ok to chew and talk with food in your mouth and in japan it is polite to slurp your noodles.

              1. re: justagthing

                Yeah, but try telling that to my mom. Better yet, try it when you're 10 years old.

              2. re: misterbrucie

                It's going to be tough to put down and knife and NOT have it pointing at anyone.

                1. re: PeterL

                  Just point it at the person you like the least!