Food, Grief And Symbolism: Cultural Importance Of Funeral Foods
Image Credit: Funeral food in India can range from veg to non-veg dishes.

In India, it is common for families to provide a meal for mourners after a funeral. The Iyengars of Tamil Nadu serve a meal known as "shraddh," a simple menu of funeral food that consists of simple dishes that are typical of the community's fare. In Hindu tradition, it is believed that the deceased are still present in the world and can be fed through the offerings made during the shraddh. The exactness of dishes that are served as a part of the meal varies from place to place; that said, most households serve typical south Indian fare such as vada, puri, rasam, chutney, bhindi, et al.

Most Hindu communities across the country serve similar plates of simple vegetarian food during the mourning period. Muslim communities in the country refrain from cooking food in accordance with the teachings of the Quran and buy nonvegetarian fare from vendors. Islamic communities consume preparations such as bhaati, bhagara rice, and naan during the days of the last rites, served with rich accompaniments such as haleem and ghost. What kind of food is served at funerals depends on where you live, as it does in most places in the country.

Asian countries like Japan have a long history of consuming symbolic foods during times of mourning. Sushi is a common choice for funeral food in Japan, with the round shape of the sushi representing the cyclical nature of life. The color white, often associated with funerals in Japanese culture, is also represented in the white rice used in sushi. Other traditional funeral foods in Japan include beans, which are believed to bring good luck, and sea bream, which is seen as a symbol of a long life. It is common for Japanese people to get drunk on nearly every night of the mourning period, as a means of revisiting the good times they shared with the deceased. The neighboring country of Korea mourns in a similar manner: friends and family gather together and celebrate the deceased, toasting throughout the day with alcohol and meat-based dishes that are similar to what one would eat on a night out.

In Europe, the traditions surrounding funeral food vary from country to country. In Italy, it is common for families to provide a meal for mourners after the funeral, with dishes such as pasta, meatballs, and sandwiches being served. In Spain, it is customary for families to hold a "wake" or "velorio," during which food and drinks are served to mourners. The menu for a velorio can include a variety of dishes, such as tapas, bread, and cured meats.

In the United States, funeral food often takes the form of a potluck, with mourners bringing dishes to share. Southern comfort food, such as fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, is a common choice. Some communities in the country may have niche funeral foods; the Amish are known to serve a funeral pie made with raisins or dried fruit; the pastry has been served during memorial gatherings for centuries and is still commonplace in states with large Amish populations. Funeral potatoes are a staple of the midwestern part of the country. The dish consists of cubed potatoes topped with a white sauce or soup and crumbed with corn flakes before being baked in an oven. In the United Kingdom, it is traditional for families to serve "wake tea," a light meal of sandwiches, cakes, and tea, after a funeral.

In many cultures, funeral food is more than just a way to nourish the body; communal meals are seen as a means for people to show solidarity and help one another through a trying time. Whether it is a simple meal of rice and lentils in India or a spread of comfort food in the United States, funeral foods are an important part of the grieving process and offer a sense of comfort and tradition in the face of loss.