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Sneha Pillai
Sneha Pillai


More than just food


Sugar and spice and many things nice are what food superstitions are made of

In the culinary world, garlic could be facing an identity crisis as a vegetable, spice and herb, but many superstitions vouch for garlic's power against vampires. A pinch of salt could not only turn bland food into a delicious treat, but also blind a devil lurking behind your back. Here are some common food superstitions from around the world.

Lemon and chillies

If asked to describe Indian food in one word, perhaps, spicy would be it. We, Indians, love our chillies and the fiery zest it adds to our food. Who would have thought that the exotic import of chillies to India by the Portuguese in the 15th century would have had such a lasting impact on our taste buds as well as on our belief systems. 'Nazar-battu', a string of lemon and chillies, is common sight in most parts of the country. You can find it hanging on the doors of homes and shops to stop Alakshmi (goddess of poverty) from entering the space. It is believed that unlike Goddess Lakshmi, who likes everything beautiful and sweet, her sister Alakshmi is attracted to sour and spice and would stop at the door to savour the 'lemon-chilli' treat. Nazar battu can also be seen hanging on vehicles to repel the evil eye. Also, it can be a one-stop cure for chronic illnesses. The same lemon-chillies string, when circled around the cursed one's head and left on the crossroad, can pass on the evil eye curse to the one who steps on it. This is why the advice to stay away from lemon-chillies strings left on the roads is taken seriously. Smoke from burning dried red chillies also hold the power to detect if a person is under the evil-eye curse. Any discomfort in the face of the fiery smoke could declare you cursed.



For ages, Indians have turned to curd for good health and as natural cure for many digestive problems. Besides, curd is considered to be one of the best coolants for the stomach. Ayurveda recommends addition of sugar or honey to curd before consumption to neutralise the sour taste. Also, curd and sugar together make an instant energiser with a cooling effect on the body. Guess this explains the superstition that having curd mixed with sugar before leaving the house for the task at hand would bring good luck and ensure the work is done with best results. But, keep in mind that the good nature of curd goes foul after sunset and giving someone curd in the evening could result in a terrible fight between the two parties.



In China, long noodles symbolise long life. Which explains the popular superstition that cutting noodles means cutting life short. So, traditionally, you should not cut noodles into smaller pieces before eating for it would shorten your life. Serving it to guests would mean you wish them shorter life. Not just that, you should avoid breaking noodles while picking it up using chopsticks or cutting it with your teeth before the entire strands are inside the mouth. Basically, you should just slurp your noodles before chewing it. On birthdays and special occasions such as Lunar New Year, Chinese eat special longevity noodles called Chang Shou Mian for long life and good luck.



If you are a Potter books fan, you would know how Professor Trelawney could read tea leaves to make prophecies. In reality, many cultures still use tea leaves as a divination tool. The tea is brewed with tea leaves and is then poured out by the person who seeks 'sight' into his future. A lot of leaves left in the bottom mean bad omen, while evenly spread tea leaves is a good omen. Also, in England, spilling of tea leaves is considered to bring good luck. People would scatter tea leaves outside their homes to protect the family from evil forces. Also, there are superstitions surrounding how and with whom you share your tea. According to an English superstition, if two women are having tea, the one who pours the tea would become a mother in a year. If a man and woman are having tea and take turns to pour, then they are most likely to have a child together. Besides, one should not pour two cups of tea from the same pot for that could lead to an argument between the two tea drinkers. Also, if the tea is too weak it means a fall out with a close friend, and too strong a tea means you will make a new friend. Going by a Scottish superstition, it is bad luck to stir tea with anything other than a spoon.



Possibly, Dracula author Bram Stoker was the first to use garlic against vampires, making it a shield to protect oneself from the 'undead'. For centuries, garlic has been appreciated not only for its powerful flavour and strong aroma, but also for its medicinal properties. For centuries, it has been used to cure a wide range of infections and health conditions, especially cold, cough, high cholesterol, worm infections and digestive problems. It could have been curing properties of garlic that got it the distinction of being an effective vampire repellent. Among Filipinos, garlic is believed to be an excellent tool to ward off manananggal and aswang, mythical creatures that resemble vampires. How to use it? Going by the Stoker way, you should wear garlic bulbs around the neck, hang it on the windows or rub it on chimneys, keyholes and doors to thwart vampires. If you seek protection against manananggal and aswang, then carry crushed garlic, mixed with salt, at all times.



Remember the story of a princess who loved her father like salt? The angry king banished her for her love looked too menial compared to the metaphors used his other two daughters. After all, where does a pinch of salt stand when compared to stars and the moon and all the wealth in the world. However, it is this humble commodity, the salt, that laid roads to civilisation and led men to many wars. Once a prized possession, salt continues to be in the centre of popular myths and superstitions. Salt is believed to bring prosperity. Gifting salt on new year or to newly-marrieds means you wish them well. You could carry a little salt at all times to ensure great protection from the evil forces. Spilling salt could mean bad luck and awakening a devil. As a quick fix, take some salt in your right hand and throw it over your left shoulder to blind the devil that could attack you from behind. Want a pinch of salt for that?



In many cultures, eggs symbolise life and fertility. In Europe, farmers bury eggs in the fields or scatter egg shells between the rows of crop to attract good luck and for abundant harvest. The superstition could have cropped from the fact that egg shells, rich in calcium, are particularly good for some crops. Also, breaking open a double-yolk egg is believed to indicate that someone you know will either get married soon or will get pregnant, specifically with twins. For Wiccan tribes and Pagans, double-yolk egg means good fortune. Besides, it is believed that staring at eggs while whisking could affect the fluffiness of the mixture. And, if you plan to bake a cake, you should do it while the sun is up and not discard egg shells until the cake is baked. If an egg cracks while boiling, you could expect unannounced guests. And come what may, you must crush the ends of the egg to avoid a witch from collecting them to build a boat and starting a storm at sea.

Birthday cake


Ever wondered why we cut a cake on our birthday? While some historians believe that the custom originated in ancient Greece, where people paid tribute to Artemis, Greek goddess of the moon, on their birthdays. They baked round honey cakes, symbolising the moon, and put candles on it to represent the glow of the moon. Meanwhile, another school of thought gives credit for introducing birthday cakes to Germans. The theory claims cakes, with candles, made their first appearance at Kinderfest in 18th century Germany. Each candle, on the cake, represented one year of life lived. The smoke from blowing out the candles was believed to carry the birthday wish to the gods. The tradition not only got popular across the world, but also found its way to modern times. Today, we believe that if you blow all the candles on the cake in one breath, your wish would come true. In many parts of Europe, birthday cakes are baked with hidden objects, such as rings and coins, which mean good luck in general, and marriage for the one who finds the ring and wealth for the one who gets the coin.

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