It is fair to say that Americans have an interesting love of food, but our relationship with it is a tumultuous one.
We all hail from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and all have personal limitations on what we do and don’t eat. We generally believe in stringent table manners at a formal dinner, and wouldn’t consider eating anything that could be a domestic animal. The things we consider taboos can vary due to our melting pot roots, but around the world there are some rules that apply to etiquette and actual food consumption as a nation, rules.
Something we like to refer to as “food taboos.”
Taboos are technically defined as a practice “proscribed by society as improper or unacceptable.” But what makes something taboo isn’t as concrete. Whether social, religious or cultural, culinary customs are commonly associated with a multitude of nationally accepted “rules.”
For Brazilians, it is considered taboo for those who are ill to consume predatory fish. Jamaicans generally believe it is taboo for children to eat certain foods and feel it affects who they will be as an adult. Other cultures like Japanese and French have strict ideas about what makes dining etiquette taboo.
Whatever it is that makes something taboo, it’s important to know the local customs if you happen to be traveling through any of these countries. So you can avoid making some of these food flubs, we compiled a list of some of the most interesting and prominent food don’ts around the world.
See below to learn which taboos to watch out for.
1. Papua New Guinea Taboos
For women tribal members in Papua New Guinea in the middle of their menstrual cycles, there are a number of food taboos they must adhere too. Since they are thought to be in a “sickly” state, women are not allowed fresh meat, juicy bananas or any red colored fruits.
Furthermore, anyone who eats the food a menstruating woman cooks or even steps over, that person, — particularly the husband — will become "ill with cough and possibly die.” And while older women are also not supposed to eat fish eggs when pregnant, unmarried young men will receive the best food and do not have many food taboos.
2. Brazilian Taboos
Seafood is a staple of the Brazilian diet. But not all fish are enjoyed by all Brazilians. Predatory fish, like piranhas and bottom feeders are considered taboo for the ill to eat. Those who are ill though, are recommended to eat fish that are omnivorous.
3. Chinese Taboos
If you happen to be traveling to China, minding your chopsticks is the same as minding your manners. After finishing a meal at a restaurant, do not leave your chopsticks sticking up in the left-over rice at the bottom of your bowl. That practice is employed when families offer a meal to their ancestors' ghosts at family shrines but Chinese people believe that doing so in a restaurant would plague the proprietor with a terrible curse.
4. Japanese Taboos
Sharing is not necessarily caring in Japanese culture. If you do plan on sharing your meal, you must place the tasting morsel on a small plate and then pass it to the recipient. Why? Because passing food from chopstick to chopstick irreverently references the Japanese custom of sifting through a family member’s cremated ashes to handle their loved ones’ bones.
5. Russian Taboos
Old world traditions are very much alive in Russia when it comes to traditional dating. If you are hoping to court a lady at a restaurant, do not expect to go dutch. As the initiator of the date, you are expected to pay for everything, as most Russian women won’t even bring their wallets on a formal date.
For more global food taboos, check out the full list.
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