13 Cursed Foods and Food-Related Superstitions from Bad Apples to Spilling the Tea
Federico Fellini once famously said that ‘life is a combination of magic and pasta’. We believe in magic, and we certainly believe in pasta, so we’re definitely in agreement with the legendary director. However, if we are to believe in ‘the magic of food,’ then should we also believe and follow food-related superstitions?
Can the way we eat certain foods change the course of our lives, bring luck, wealth, or prosperity, or alert us that something bad is going to happen?
There are many things we do when it comes to our eating habits and rituals that we don’t even realize we’re doing, or why.
Think about it; how many times have you thrown salt over your shoulder to ward off evil? Do you even know where this gesture comes from and what its true meaning is?
We’re taking a look at some of the most widespread food-related superstitions across the globe, and trying to find out how these superstitions came to exist. You might think it’s all make-believe, but it can’t hurt to be in the know about these things, can it? After all, a little bit of extra luck can’t hurt.
1. Whatever you Do, Don’t Drop the Tortilla!
Tortillas are super popular in Mexico, obviously – you might even say they’re a national treasure. So, naturally, there are quite a few tortilla-related superstitions going around, but one of them will definitely send shivers down your spine.
Apparently, dropping your tortilla on the ground is very bad juju. If you let yours slip from your fingers, be prepared for unwelcome guests to visit, in fact, your in-laws. Yeah, pretty scary stuff. But that’s not all.
Another superstition claims that if a tortilla puffs up in the pan as you’re cooking it, then you’re ready to marry. And just to rub it home, another superstition says that if your tortilla doesn’t puff up at all, you’re going to live with your parents forever! Not sure we even want to cook tortillas in a pan anymore, ever.
2. Eat Grapes on New Year’s Eve (Spain & Latin America)
You know how, in movies, everyone is quick to share a kiss as the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve?
Well, in Spain and other parts of Latin America, people don’t have time for that because they’re all busy stuffing themselves with grapes. While that might sound weird, there’s a common superstition that eating 12 grapes on New Year’s will keep bad luck away in the coming year.
So, come 12 o’clock at next New Year’s Eve, eat one grape each time the clock chimes, one for each month of the coming year, to ward off the bad juju.
If you don’t finish all your grapes before the final chime, it was all for nothing and you need to prepare for a year of bad luck.
3. Garlic Keeps Vampires at Bay
It’s universally known that vampires do not like garlic, which is a shame if you ask us because garlic is absolutely delicious and can elevate any dish.
But how did garlic become so inextricably linked to vampire mythology? According to National Geographic historian Mark Jenkins, a rampant rabies outbreak in the Balkans in the 1700s might have kickstarted the whole vampire phenomenon.
Vampires, or strigoi, as they’re known in Romanian mythology, exhibit similar symptoms to animals and people infected with rabies: the ‘same snarling, slobbering look about them’, a tendency to bite other people, and a hypersensitive response to intense smells – including garlic.
The pungent scent is what keeps many people from adding garlic to their foods, but if you take a trip to Hungary or Romania, you’ll find that people there have a cult-like appreciation for the smelly ingredient.
Might it be that they’re still trying to ward off vampires, or is it simply because garlic truly is too delicious to resist?
Either way, make sure you give mujdei a try, a commonly-loved sauce in Romania made from crushed garlic cloves, salt, water, sunflower oil, and sour cream. Not only will it spice up any dish, but it will also protect you from bat-winged creatures of the night.
4. Beware of Witches Sailing on Eggshells
There are various superstitions and myths about eggs out there, some dating back to as early as the 1600s. During this time in Ireland, it was not unusual for people to smash the bottom of an eggshell after eating the egg. This would prevent witches from using the shells to sail the seas and find the eater of the egg.
The peculiar superstition was noted in Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, published in 1584. Here, he writes that witches ‘can go in and out at anger holes, and sail in an eggshell, a cockle or mussel shell, through and under the tempestuous seas’.
Though it might sound far-fetched, Irish immigrants sailing to America in the 1800s took this warning very seriously, to keep mean witches at bay. To this day, you will find sailors and ship crews crushing their eggshells after a meal, so make sure you follow their lead, or else you might be blamed for bringing witches aboard.
But that’s not the only egg-related superstition making the round in homes across the world. Apparently, if you crack open a double-yolk egg, it’s a sign of fertility and might signal a pregnancy in the near future, or it might mean someone in the family will be getting married soon.
However, if you’re more into Norse mythology, then cracking a double-yolk egg is a bad omen and a warning that a death is to take place in the family. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on which superstition you choose to believe, fewer than 1 in 1,000 eggs contain two yolks, so it’s a very rare occurrence.
5. Keeping the Devil Away from Your Bread
One of the most commonly used ‘ingredients’ in households around the world is simple, harmless bread. Nevertheless, this humble meal can bring about a lot of bad luck if you’re not careful, or at least that’s what the legends say.
One of the most well-known superstitions regarding bread lies in its bubbles. It’s normal to cut a freshly baked loaf of bread to find air bubbles in it, but if you notice a large hole in the middle, then that’s a bad omen and it means someone you love will die.
Another well-known (and feared) superstition about bread is that the devil likes to sit on it and prevent it from rising as it bakes. To keep the mischievous devil off your bread, you should cut a cross into the top of the loaf before putting it in the oven. But it gets even creepier…
According to medieval folklore, you should never place a loaf of bread upside down on your counter or your plate. Doing so can trigger very bad juju; it can be a foreshadowing of a shipwreck, or can even be an invitation to bring evil forces into your home.
This superstition dates back to the Middle Ages, when bakers would set aside a loaf of bread for busy executioners, and place it upside down to distinguish this bread from the rest. Customers then knew to never touch the bread of the executioner, as they feared they would bring bad luck upon their family.
6. The Longer, the Better: Never Cut Your Noodles
Have you ever noticed how long noodles can be in Chinese dishes? That can sometimes be annoying, so you might be tempted to cut your noodles short to make them easier to eat and less messy. Unfortunately, that is a big no-no in Chinese culture, and here’s why.
In China, birthdays and other major life events are celebrated by preparing ‘longevity noodles’. This is a delicious, yet simple dish made with wheat noodles instead of rice noodles, as they don’t break as easily. The idea is that the long wheat noodles represent the length of your life, and thus by breaking or cutting your noodles, you’re actually cutting years from your own life.
Now, longevity is taken very seriously in Chinese culture. Taoism philosophy emphasizes the fact that without life, there is no meaning, and consequently having a long, prosperous life is the ultimate goal. There is even a Chinese God of Longevity, named Shou Xing, which means ‘Star of Longevity.’
People in Hong Kong actually have the highest life expectancy in the world, at 85 years, so maybe it’s not such a bad idea to leave those noodles alone.
7. Throw Salt over Your Left Shoulder
Most of us are already aware of the dangers of spilling the salt, so we quickly throw a bit of it over our left shoulder to make up for our clumsiness. Likely, many of us don’t even know why we’re doing this, but we know that if we don’t, bad luck will follow. So, where does this tradition, or superstition, come from?
Unfortunately, it’s hard to trace back the exact origins of this salt-throwing superstition, but some believe that it goes back to Leonardo Da Vinci. In his painting The Last Supper, Judas can be seen knocking over the salt, which might be a subtle warning that a betrayal is on the horizon.
Spilling salt is perceived as a bad omen, which could bring evil forces into one’s life, so it’s good to ward off the devil by throwing salt in his eyes and blinding him. That’s because the devil is said to be lurking around behind your left shoulder, while your guardian angel protects you from the right shoulder.
At least this is what Christopher Marlowe suggests in his 1592 play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. In the play, the Good Angel and the Bad Angel offer competing advice to the main character, as they rest on his right and left shoulders.
8. ‘Toss the Rice’ to Wish Luck upon Newly Wed Couples
In Celtic times, throwing rice at newlyweds was thought to bring wealth, luck, and fertility to new couples. It was not all about rice, though; different cultures used different grains to wish luck upon the bride and groom.
For instance, Ancient Romans used wheat, Italians used candies or nuts, and in Eastern India, it’s fairly common to throw flower petals.
The ‘rice toss’ tradition has continued well into modern times, even though nowadays guests are more likely to use confetti or not toss anything at all. Usually, the toss takes place after the wedding ceremony, as guests line up outside the church or chapel to congratulate the new couple.
But why don’t people use rice anymore? A while back, concern started to spread that the raw rice could be harmful to birds, which could fly in and pick up any leftover rice grains to eat. This theory remains up for debate; however, most couples prefer to go the eco-friendly route and use biodegradable confetti or dried flower petals instead.
9. Apples: Forbidden Fruit or Harbingers of Love?
They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. This saying has some truth in it, as apples are deliciously healthy and easy to include in your diet.
However, they are also a historically controversial ingredient. Think about it: an apple was the original forbidden fruit and got poor Adam and Eve thrown out of the Garden of Eden. A poisoned apple is what put Snow White into a deep sleep, convincing the Evil Queen she had finally succeeded in killing her beautiful stepdaughter.
Every year on Halloween, urban legends are brought back to life to warn children of razor blades hidden in candied apples given to them by strangers.
Apples might have gotten a bad rap, but in reality, apple-related superstitions are a lot less scary. In the 19th Century, people would cut an apple in half and count the fully-formed seeds within it. The number of seeds was said to show how many children one would have.
In Ancient Rome, people commonly used apples to find out whether the person they loved also loved them back. They would throw an apple seed into a fire while saying their loved one’s name out loud; if the apple seed popped in the fire, it meant that their love was returned. If the apple seed burned silently, then sadly, it meant that their love was unrequited.
Another apple-related myth dating back to the Celts was this: a girl would sit in front of her mirror at midnight and eat an apple while brushing her hair. After this ritual, the image of her future husband would appear behind her left shoulder in the mirror. Rather scary, isn’t it? Perhaps some things are better left to the imagination and mystery.
10. Take Financial Advice from the Bubbles in Your Coffee
We’ve all probably tried to read our futures in coffee grounds at some point in our lives. But did you know that even the tiny bubbles forming on top of your delicious coffee hold secrets?
In Finnish folklore, coffee bubbles coming towards you could signify that money and wealth will unexpectedly come into your life. However, if the bubbles look like they’re moving away from you, then it might be a sign that you’re about to lose money. We guess it depends on the way you look at it…
Icelandic superstitions warn you to never drink your coffee while it’s hot, otherwise, you might…turn ugly. We’re not even joking. Icelandic people believe drinking iced coffee is your best bet if you want to become more attractive. So you might want to wait for your hot cup of java to cool off a bit before drinking, just in case.
People in Iceland also have superstitions regarding the coffee bubbles forming at the top of your beverage. If you see those bubbles forming, drink from your mug before they disappear and you are likely to become filthy rich! However, if you wait and the bubbles dissipate, then you might have just lost a huge amount of money. Tough luck.
When it comes to tea, the rituals and traditions are even more important. For one, you should never put milk in your tea before sugar, unless you want to make French people very angry.
You should also never allow multiple people to pour the tea, as that brings bad luck; instead, just let one person be in charge of this delicate task.
In England, there’s this common belief that if two spoons are accidentally placed in the same teacup or on the same saucer, the drinker of the tea will give birth to twins, or marry twice in their lifetime. And, if spilling salt is usually considered a bad omen, spilling tea leaves brings good luck and protects you from evil spirits and intentions.
11. Uganda: Keep the Lights on When you Eat
We’re not sure why anyone would want to eat in total darkness – that doesn’t sound like a fun thing to do. Still, it might be that your power goes out just as you’re sitting down to dinner. In this case, it might be best to wait til later, when the lights come back on.
Why? Because if you eat in the dark, you’ll be sharing your meal with ghosts and demons! At least that’s the superstition found in Uganda.
Eating in the dark can be downright dangerous, as you might ‘accidentally’ eat something poisonous, choke on your food, or attract a whole lot of bad luck. So, next time you want to enjoy a nice meal out on the patio or have a snack while you wait for the power to come back on, stop at once. Stick to eating with the lights on or during the day, to make sure you’re not welcoming uninvited, invisible guests to lunch or dinner.
12. When in Rwanda, Stick to Orange Fanta
What could be more refreshing during summer than a nice, cool bottle of classic Fanta? That’s definitely one of our guilty pleasures when it comes to sugary drinks. However, if you’re traveling to Rwanda, you’ll need to be careful about which Fanta flavor you pick when you are out.
Apparently, orange Fanta is considered one of the ‘purest’ and ‘most chaste’ Fanta flavors in Rwanda – and it’s the only flavor virgins should drink!
If you’re unmarried and in a local bar, ordering anything other than orange Fanta might get you some disconcerting glances from those around you. It’s best to stick to orange Fanta if you want to make a good impression. That’s because chastity is still a pretty big deal in many African countries, especially for young, unmarried women.
13. Don’t Ever Place Your Bag on the Floor
This next one might not be entirely food-related, but it’s something that you might be familiar with if you dine out often. You might have noticed how women, wherever they are, tend to place their bags or purses right on the table as they enjoy a nice meal. And while that might seem rude, distasteful, or downright obnoxious to some, there is a good reason for it.
Apparently, placing your bag, purse, clutch, or even your wallet, on the floor could mean misfortune. In fact, anything that carries money or credit cards placed on the floor could mean that you will soon lose all of your wealth. This is one of the most common superstitions in Latin America, but it’s a popular one across Europe and the US, as well. It suggests that you are careless about your wealth and have no regard for financial security.
So, the next time you go out for dinner, hang your purse from your chair, use one of those portable bag holder hooks, or just place it on the table. Don’t worry about getting disapproving looks – it’s better than losing all your money!
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