Food Superstitions

Would You Like Protection Against Witches with That?

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Bad luck, good luck, success in love, unexpected money: Superstitions are our irrational attempts to make the world more rational. If, after spilling salt, flinging some over your left shoulder 'into the devil's eye' wards off back luck, then luck itself must exist and can be invoked to explain other things, for better or worse. Here are some food-based superstitions from various countries.

ENGLAND

Superstition: After eating a boiled egg, push the spoon through the bottom of the empty shell to let out the devil.

Possible basis: The devil seeks hard-boiled eggs because sulfurous smell of yolk reminds him of home (that is, hell).

Comment: Suggested experiment: Don't crush shell. Put it in disposal and grind the devil to powder. (Not applicable in New York City, where disposals were illegal until recently.)

Superstition: To cut bread unevenly is a sign you've been telling lies.

Possible basis: Jitters that accompany telling untruths result in lack of knife control.

Comment: Uneven slices of bread are probably not admissible in a British court of law.

Superstition: If you spill pepper, you will have a serious argument with your best friend.

Possible basis: Spill is the result of distraction over worry about some serious topic, for which you seek consolation from best friend, who is not much help, leading to a quarrel.

Comment: Process can be streamlined by spilling pepper directly onto best friend.

CHINA

Superstition: It's bad luck to pass food with your chopsticks directly to someone else's chopsticks.

Possible basis: At funerals, the bones of the cremated body are passed that way from person to person.

Comment: Note, as usual, the reliable wisdom of the ancient Chinese. It would be impossible to pass cremated bones from person to person using a knife and fork.

INDONESIA

Superstition: Avoid eating rice from a small plate, as this will cause your close relations to spurn you.

Possible basis: Your close relations are at the table, waiting to share your food. If you're eating off a small plate, there's nothing for them. Who wouldn't spurn you?

Comment: Not valid in Spain, home of tapas!

Superstition: Children should eat a lot of chicken wings if they wish to travel overseas someday.

Possible basis: Because if they try to eat the legs, thighs, or breasts, there won't be enough for their adult relatives.

Comment: Wings also suggest flight, which evokes travel. But mainly it's to keep the brats out of the legs, thighs, and breasts.

Superstition: A person who chews gum at night eats the flesh of a dead body.

Possible basis: Who cares?

Comment: Just don't do it, period.

Reprinted from the fun-loving food magazine Chow (Sept./Oct. 2005); www.chowmag.com.