Lenten foods from around the world
By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
For many Mexicans and Mexican Americans, the Lenten period brings about many traditional goodies that come about but once a year. For the one billion Catholics around the world, the comfort foods run the gamut from the ever-popular lentils to anything that does not contain meat. Meatless Fridays are observed throughout the world, except in the United States military, where GIs are allowed to eat meat even on Fridays. But for laypeople, the rules are strict and must be observed at all costs.
In a Mexican kitchen, Catholics not only prefer the lentils to meat, but, they also prepare other concoctions such as little tortitas made of camaron (shrimp), tortitas made of papas (potatoes), and other foods containing fish – safe to eat during the 40-day fasting in Mexican and Mexican-American households. Top it all off with a pan-ful of Capirotada, and your Lenten celebration is complete. Capirotada is a sort of bread pudding made of many ingredients, such as French bread, bananas, peanuts, apricots, prunes, and many other products that are considered safe to eat and delicious.
But, of course, Mexico isn’t the only spot in the world that observes Lent, which runs from Ash Wednesday – this year’s celebration started Feb. 25 and runs through Easter, March 31. Easter Sunday is a Christian festival and holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day of his crucifixion atop Calvary as described in the New Testament. Easter also marks the culmination of the Passion of Christ, preceded by Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer and penance. Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as its position on the calendar In many languages, the words Easter or Passover are related. Easter customs vary across the Christian world, and are celebrated by coloring Easter eggs, symbolic of the empty tomb from which Christ resurrected, Additional customs include egg hunting, the Easter bunny and Easter parades.
While observances vary, the foodstuffs are the most widely observed in different parts of the world. For example, during Lent, Russian Orthodox Christians omit meat of any kind, including fish and fowl, as well as animal byproducts, such as milk and eggs. During the strictest days of Lent, oil and wine are eschewed. The idea is to not focus on food. “We’re focusing on prayer. We’re focusing on bettering ourselves,” says the Rev. Seraphim Holland. Meals during Lent are simple, such as cabbage soup, called shchi , and borscht, which is shchi plus beets. Boiled potatoes, beans, lentils, rice, onions and bread are also common. In addition to the people of Russia, other food favorites in other countries are:
*Ukraine – Catholics in this country abstain from eating meat on Fridays, and they are encouraged to give up meat throughout the year. They break their fast on Easter Sunday with such fare as sausages, ham, eggs and cheese. Ukranians also eat a lot of pickled herring, since fish is allowed.
*Greece – Greek Orthodox Christians also give up all meat and animal products during Lent. But, they do eat numerous bean dishes during this period. They also eat tomatoes and pasta. There is also tabouleh, falafel, and hummus, as well as fresh fruit and4 olives and pita bread. Cookies and cakes are adjusted to omit the dairy products. The Greek break Lent with an enormous Easter feast that can last well into the morning, with lamb being the central dish, served with bean salads, vegetables, rice, seafood and a lemony soup called magiritsa.
*India – In India’s western state of Goa, there’s a strong Catholic community that dates back to Portuguese colonialism in the 15th century. Spicy fish, cooked with vinegar, is popular during Lent.
So, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, Lent is observed in different way. As tastes vary, so do the foods which make up the holiday. For one billion Catholics and other Christians, they are as varied as they are delicious. So, enjoy.