How The World Remembers Its Dead Through Food on All Souls Day
Image Credit: Sopaipillas

Around the world, people have found ways to celebrate the memory of their departed loved ones through food, the common language of love. All Souls Day is a day to remember the dead and food customs to honour the dead are followed in different ways  - from soul caking in Ireland to Swiss dry bone cookies and picnics for the dead in the Mexican tradition.

A Mexican picnic for the dead

The Mexican traditions surrounding All Souls Day are most widely known. El Dia de Los Muertos or ‘The Day of the Dead’ is celebrated by visiting graveyards, picnicking and laying out food for relatives on their onward journey to heaven. 

The most traditional food on this commemorative feast is Pan de Yema (a sweet spongy, yeast-based egg bread  shaped as a man, woman, or child). Corn tamales filled with grasshoppers, Pozoles (a kind of savoury meat stew) tortilla soup are also characteristic foods enjoyed on the occasion. Sopaipillas (a fried dough dessert)  and candied pumpkin made using pumpkin chunks, cinnamon and cane or brown sugar, served with ice cream are popular desserts. 

Irish soul-caking 

In Ireland, families prepare for the arrival of the dead person by sweeping the floor and lighting a  fire. A bowl of spring water is put out on the dinner table and designated places set for each of the deceased relatives. Soul caking is an interesting tradition associated with the day, where Irish children visit neighbours, begging for cakes with a promise of prayers for their departed loved ones in exchange. 

Roman beans that symbolise the souls of the dead

In Ancient Roman times, black broad beans were believed to symbolise the souls of the dead. Accordingly, they were a part of funeral rights and tossed over the shoulders of the mourning as a mark of respect for the dead. In fact, until recent times, it was common practice to put out bowls with road beans on the windowsill of a home and at street corners.

In modern times, the beans have been replaced by fave dei morti, a type of small cinnamon flavoured almond cookie, made on All Souls Day or ‘La commemorazione dei defunti’ as it is traditionally called in Italy. 

Undas in the Philippines 

The sombre occasion of Undas is balanced by the joy of meeting relatives and loved ones in the Philippines.These family reunions typically take place at cemeteries, with relatives sometimes seeing each other after months, or in some cases since the Undas of the year before. 

Similar to the Mexicans, Filipino families prepare food and bring it to the cemeteries to share with each other. They also often try to make special dishes that the loved ones used to enjoy and serve it on their graves. It is a gesture to honour the dead and show that they may have left this world, but are not forgotten. 

Unsurprisingly, Undas has the same level of anticipation for many Filipinos as Christmas in western countries. Children look forward to getting money from elders on the occasion which they use to buy snacks like calamares (deep-fried squid rings), puto (steamed rice cakes) and cassava cake (a moist dessert flavoured by shaved coconut and cassava) from vendors outside the cemeteries. 

Swiss dry bone cookie

This macabre sounding Swiss delicacy is anything but. Traditionally called ‘Bones of the Dead’ these All Soul’s cookies have a hard crunchy texture and are found in bakeries all over Switzerland. Made with ground almonds, sugar and all purpose flour and scented with sweet-smelling rose water and aromatic spices, its a Swiss treat believed to have Italian origins. 

Ecuadorian bread dolls or bread babies

In Ecuador, November 2nd, is celebrated as Día de los Difuntos or the Day of the Deceased. This day marks an opportunity for the living and dead to come together and share in eating, drinking and praying. 

Shaped in the form of babies and decorated with piped icing or colored dough, the Ecuadorian “guaguas de pan,” is a type of bread prepared on the occasion of All Soul’s Day.  Some believe that the form of a baby is chosen because a person regains the innocence of an infant after death. The bread is served with an accompanying purple coloured drink called “colada morada,” which symbolises the blood of the deceased. The drink is made with blue or black corn flour, Andean blackberries, rind of pineapple, and tiny sour blueberries called mortiños. 

Drinking with the ancestors in East Timor

After ceremonies of sowing flowers, prayers and lighting candles, the menfolk offer a cup of holy liquor on the graves of their dead. Preparation of the liquor and betel nut to be consumed before the meal is undertaken by the men, while the women busy themselves with the meals to be shared with the family at the cemetery - meat and fish is a must along with sweet potato, cassava and other snacks. 

All Souls Day is one of the most important days of observance in the Christian faith. But beyond its religious significance, it is one day in the year when the living can connect with the dead, in some way, once again.