Funeral Food: What’s on the Menu Globally?

No matter where you are in the world, you’ll find that eating before or after a funeral is a tradition. From wakes to receptions, people gather to share memories and commune over food. The fare varies from culture to culture, and food can be comforting, symbolic, or both.

  • In Vietnam, it is traditional to have a wake. During the wake, the mouth of the person who has died is propped open with a chopstick so visitors can drop in grains of rice. A feast is served at the wake because the amount of food, drink, and music provided is believed to demonstrate the depth of respect the family has for the loved one who has died. On the 49th and 100th days after death, the family gathers to eat a special meal. Bun Ho, a Vietnamese soup made with vermicelli and beef, is often served.
  • At a traditional Irish wake, there’s alcohol and abundant food. The wake is typically held at the home of the person who has died or at the home of a close relative over a period of two to three nights. Even though death is a sad occasion, a traditional Irish wake is a celebratory gathering. Friends and family share memories and funny stories as well as food and drink. The food served includes tea and sandwiches, and typically a wake cake, which resembles something between a pound cake and a cheesecake. Friends and neighbors often bring plates of food because the “wake house” can get very busy with visitors.
  • It’s British custom to hold a funeral tea after the service. There’s tea, of course, as well as coffee, finger sandwiches, sausage rolls, and delicate cakes and biscuits. One of the most popular traditional components of the funeral tea is a ham. In fact, it’s so common that Brits are often said to be “buried with ham.”
  • In Japan, a funeral meal known as an Otoki is offered by relatives after the cremation. Otoki is made up of light refreshments including rice crackers (Senbei), Japanese cakes (Manju), cookies, tea, coffee and cold drinks. Before guests leave, the family sprinkles salt on mourners’ shoulders to remove the threat of death.
  • In China, a great variety of ceremonial food and drink is featured at the wake and funeral. Foods served often include a whole pig, chicken, duck, jai, rice, fruit, tea and wine, all placed on a table facing the deceased. The food is consumed like a family meal to show respect to the one who has died, as if he or she is an honored guest.
  • In Russia, as in many countries, there’s a reception after the funeral. The memorial meal is called Pominki and features foods such as blini, fish pie and kolyva, a sweet dish made with wheat and fruit that symbolizes renewal.
  • The same dish, called Coliva, is served at Romanian wakes, which last for two nights. In Romania, grieving families also prepare several loaves of ring-shaped bread called colaci. At the cemetery, the colaci, a black hen, a candle, a jug of water, and a chunk of salt are passed back and forth over the open grave, then left as payment for the gravedigger.

Every culture has its own way to gather and mourn the dead, but what unifies all cultures is the need for the healing process to begin. At Chapel of the Chimes Hayward, we know how important a life-honoring ceremony can be. Let us help you plan a meaningful memorial that reflects your cultural heritage and honors your loved one. Call (510) 454-9107 to learn more.

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