FOOD FOR THOUGHT
April is an important month on the religious calendar for millions of people around the world, with the Passover commencing on the 8th, Easter on the 10th and Ramadan on the 23rd. Like many of life’s important occasions, feasting on certain foods and beverages and abstaining from others is an important feature of each of these commemorations.
The Passover commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians. In the Bible book of Exodus, God inflicted 10 plagues upon the ancient Egyptians. To spare the Israelites from the final plague (the death of all Egyptian first-born sons), they were instructed to mark their doors with the blood of a spring lamb so God would know to pass over the first-born in these homes.
Israelis celebrate Passover with the Seder, a feast that marks the beginning of the multi-day festival. A traditional Seder would include discussing the biblical story, drinking four cups of wine (both men and women), partaking of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder Plate, and reclining in celebration of freedom.
A typical Passover Seder plate includes specific foods:
- Karpas (parsley or celery) symbolizes the initial flourishing of the Israelites in Egypt and the new spring
- Charoset (mixture of fresh or dried fruit, nuts, spices honey and sometimes wine) represents the mortar that the Israelite slaves used to construct buildings for the Pharaoh
- Maror (a bitter herb, often horseradish) represents the bitterness of slavery
- Chazeret (a second bitter herb, often romaine)
- Z’roa (roasted lamb shank bone) symbolizes the lamb that the Israelites sacrificed in the Temple of Jerusalem
- Beitzah (roasted, hard-boiled egg) symbolizes the sacrifice that would be offered every holiday, and whose roundness represents the cycle of life.
- Three pieces of matzah and a container of salt water or vinegar are also on the Seder table.
Matzah is an unleavened flatbread made of wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt flour and water. It is eaten in order to remind Israelites of how quickly their ancestors fled Egypt (no time to let the bread rise). Additionally, matzah is meant to symbolize the “poor man’s bread,” a reminder to be humble and not to forget what life was like for those enslaved.
On the other hand, Chametz, any food product that has come into contact with water and been allowed to ferment and rise, is not to be consumed during Passover.
Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ and freedom from sin and death. It is preceded by a series of holy days commemorating Jesus’s path to his crucifixion. Described in the Bible’s New Testament as having occurred on the third day after his burial following his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD on what is now known as Good Friday. It is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus, preceded by Lent, a period of fasting, prayer, and penance.
In Western Christianity, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts 40 days (counting does not include Sundays). Eggs, butter, milk, meat and/or cheese were historically the common foods that people avoided during the Lent period.
- Depending on where you live, specific foods are consumed during the Easter holiday period:
- Boiled eggs were one of the most popular foods associated with Easter. They are a long-standing symbol of fertility and new life, and in Christianity, represent the tomb in which Jesus was buried after his crucifixion.
- Chocolate Easter eggs were first created in the 19th century. Picking up on the tradition for decorating real eggs at Easter, the Cadbury brothers worked with chocolate to make it easier to melt and shape. The first decorated Easter eggs were covered with marzipan (sugar almond paste) flowers and filled with sugared almonds.
- Pretzels are commonly enjoyed in Europe from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. They also have a religious meaning as the looped bread is seen to symbolise the crossing of arms during prayer.
- Hot Cross Buns (a rich, spiced tea cake with a cross on top as a symbol of the crucifixion) are traditionally eaten on Good Friday. Easter Sunday:
Boiled eggs are traditionally served at breakfast. Roast lamb, which is the main dish at the Passover Seder, is the traditional meat for the main meal on Easter Sunday in many parts of the world and is usually consumed at lunch time. Ham is a popular Easter meal in America where lamb isn’t a commonly eaten meat.
Simnel cake (a fruit cake with a flat layer of marzipan on top and decorated with 11 marzipan balls representing the 12 apostles minus Judas, who betrayed Christ) is baked for supper time.
Easter Biscuits are sometimes called “Cakes”, and are eaten on Easter Sunday. They contain spices, currants and sometimes grated lemon rind.
Ramadan commemorates when the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad as he meditated in a cavern outside the Holy city of Mecca. It is observed by Muslims in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar year. In Arabic, Ramadan means ‘Scorching heat’ because the holiday falls in a time when the temperatures are quite hot in the Middle East.
There is a common misconception that Muslims don’t eat or drink at all for the 29-30 days of Ramadan. The only time Muslims are not required to eat and drink is during the fasting hours – from sunrise to sunset. However, they can eat before dawn also known as Suhoor (morning meal) and after sunset called Iftar (evening meal). There are no restrictions on what they can eat, except for the already prohibited foods like pork products and alcohol.
Some traditional meals for Suhoor are:
- Egg Brik – whole egg in a triangular pastry pocket with chopped onion, tuna, harissa and parsley
- Ful Ramadaan – a traditional bean stew made from cooked fava beans with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic
- Aloo ki Bhujia – made with spiced potatoes
Some traditional meals for Iftar include:
- Mahshi – rice stuffed into eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and zucchini
- Biryani – a mixed rice dish made with spices, egg, meat and vegetables
- Tabbouleh – salad made of soaked bulgur, parsley, mint and tomatoes
- Harira – a rich brown soup made of lentils, chickpeas, rice and meat stock
- Maqluba – meat, rice, and fried vegetables placed in a pot, which is then flipped upside down
- Mansaf – lamb cooked in yogurt, served over rice and garnished with almonds and pine nuts
Muslims break their Ramadan fasting by sharing meals with family and friends in a three-day festival known as Eid al-Fitr or the Feast of Fast-Breaking.
Some traditional Eid foods include:
- Ma’amoul – shortbread pastries filled with dates, pistachios or walnuts
- Laasida – buttered couscous served for breakfast
- Seviyan – vermicelli noodles made with milk and sugar and flavoured with cardamom
- Kuih – colourful bite-sized cakes made with butter, wheat, eggs and sugar
- Kahk – cookies filled with honey, walnuts and pistachios