Wedding season is upon us, which means you’re likely deep in negotiations with your plus-one about what you want to have for dinner six weeks from now. But there’s so much more to wedding edibles than choosing between the fish and the tri-tip; just take a look at these international wedding food traditions for proof.
wedding celebrations around the world, from the ceremony—where rings aren’t the only thing exchanged by the couple, as they often share symbolic food or drink—to the rice thrown at the newlyweds as they leave the ceremony (to encourage fertility) and the Jordan almonds often given as a party favor (which are bitter and sweet, like life itself).Food is a major player in
Each of the items below adds flavor to weddings in specific cultures—and because they’re instrumental in auspicious rituals, each one comes with a side of good luck as well.
Keep scrolling to see them all, or use the menu below to jump to your favorite food group.
The food-based wedding ritual you’ve probably seen most often is the tossing of rice at the newlyweds. It’s meant to bring them prosperity and fertility because rice is a grain, and grains are associated with growth, abundance, and plentiful harvests. Lobbing grains and seeds at just-marrieds has been a custom since ancient Greece and Rome, but today, what’s being tossed—and when—varies between cultures.
In France, guests throw wheat and in the Czech Republic, Moravians hurl peas. In much of Italy, candy and Jordan almonds are tossed to invite a sweet life, but in Sicily, it’s barley to make sure the pair has a baby boy, and wheat for a baby girl. In Morocco, attendees throw figs and raisins (also fertility symbols) at the pair, but the toss happens when they’re leaving the reception, not the ceremony. And in Greece, rice and rose petals are thrown during the ceremony as the couple walks around the altar in the third and final circle of a ritual known as the Dance of Isaiah; it’s the moment when they’re considered truly married, and the uproar is a sign of celebration.
There was a toss controversy in the United States a few decades ago, when a rumor spread that rice expands in birds’ stomachs, causing them to die painful deaths, and people started blowing bubbles at couples instead. In 2002, a professor at the University of Kentucky conducted a study that finally put that falsehood to rest, and rice is back on the menu.
But rice isn’t a one-trick wedding food, solely relegated to tossing at the new Mr. and Mrs. (or Mr. and Mr. or Mrs. and Mrs.). Sikh weddings end with a ritual called the doli, in which the bride’s relatives dress her in new clothes and jewelry, and she throws rice behind her before the pair sets up, to show she’s leaving her old life behind. In parts of India, during a ceremony ritual called talambralu, the bride and groom hold turmeric-spiced rice (turmeric represents abundance) in their cupped hands, then throw it over each other’s heads, showering each other with blessings.
At an Indonesian wedding, the couple sits under an umbrella as turmeric-spiced rice is poured over them, and, after the wedding, the bride’s parents serve her turmeric sticky rice topped with chicken as the last meal they will feed her; she cooks the same dish as the first meal in her new home. And on the Greek island of Crete, the most anticipated dish at the reception is gamopilafo, or “wedding rice,” a slow-cooked risotto in lamb’s broth served with lamb, goat, or another type of meat.
Their long shapes make noodles a symbol of longevity in East Asia, where they’re a popular dish for Chinese New Year, but also for weddings. In Korea, the main dish at a wedding reception, known as a kook soo sang, or “noodle banquet,” is janchi-guksu, “celebration noodles.” Made of wheat flour in a light, anchovy-stock broth, janchi-guksu are topped with foods in the colors that represent the five natural elements which are the key to Eastern medicine—wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Often those are green zucchini for wood, reddish carrot for fire, an egg to cover both yellow for earth and white for metal, and black seaweed for water.
At the end of Chinese wedding banquets, after the heavier fowl and seafood dishes, comes yi mein, “long-life noodles,” egg noodles with mushrooms and chives, to invite a long and happy marriage for the couple. (When you’re digging in, be warned—it’s considered bad luck to cut a noodle with a knife.) And in Thailand, noodles make up the traditional wedding dessert. Foy thong, or “golden silk threads,” are strips of egg yolks and sugar, which are strained through a special cone and boiled in hot syrup to create noodle-like strands meant to usher in long life and everlasting love.
Asia hasn’t cornered the market on wedding noodles. They’re a main element in hochzeitssuppe “wedding soup,” served at the start of a German reception. A chicken soup filled with spiral egg noodles, meatballs, chicken, carrots, and peas, it’s so labor-intensive to make that its reserved almost exclusively for receptions.
In China, steamed whole fish—that’s head-on, tail-on—are served during wedding banquets because yu, the word for fish, sounds very similar to the one for abundance, and fish on the menu is meant to ensure the newlyweds live a prosperous life.
Similarly, at Japanese weddings, sea bream is considered lucky because its name, tai, sounds like the word “medetai” which means auspicious or fortunate. To make the dish even luckier, red rice (made with red azuki beans) will be served with white sea bream, as red and white, the colors of luck and new beginnings, are the traditional wedding palette in Japan. Red tuna and white rice are popular for the same reason, and fish roe is also a big hit as the many tiny eggs are symbols of fertility. There is one caveat to the fish fandom, though; in Greece, where fish is served at funeral meals, it’s seldom offered at weddings.
The most lavish of food-related wedding traditions has to be the Persian “ceremony spread” or sofreh aghd, laid out on a decorated table which the couple sits in front of to exchange vows. All the edible items are meticulously arranged along with a mirror (which the couple looks into together to show that they will be looking at each other, and looking forward together, for eternity), a needle and thread (which indicates that the two are stitching their lives, and families, together), coins (for prosperity), candles (for illumination), and a holy book either from the pair’s religious tradition (Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and so on) or the “Hafez,” a collection of classic Persian poetry. Wild rue is burned for purification during the ceremony, and rosewater is also on the table to perfume the air.
There are seven sacred spices which combat the evil eye—poppy seeds, wild rice, angelica, salt, nigella seeds, black tea, and frankincense—and life-giving essentials including bread, cheese, and greens, to represent the celebrations to come in the couple’s new life together, plus eggs and walnuts with decorated shells, and apples and pomegranates, all of which symbolize fertility. Rock candy, honey, sugar, and pastries on the table signify the sweetness of married life. Happily married women hold the tureh ghand, or “sugar cloth,” over the couple’s heads, while another happily married woman crumbles the decorated cones of sugar over the cloth, showering newlyweds with sweetness. Next comes the vow exchange, and, at the end of the ceremony, the groom dips his pinkie in the honey and offers it to the bride, then she does the same for him in a unity ritual meant to invite still more sweetness into the marriage.
Bread, Wine, Honey, and Salt
In Bulgaria, it’s the groom’s mom who greets the bride at the pair at the party with wine and a loaf of honey-drizzled pitka, the “butter bread” the bride, her mother, and other women in the family bake on the Thursday before the wedding. The rising dough represents the growing family, and at the reception, the pair tear it in a wishbone-like contest; whoever gets the larger half is said to have the upper hand in the family.
In Russia, the bride’s parents hand her bread and salt as she leaves home for the ceremony, and at the reception, the bride and groom compete to see who can take the bigger bite. In the Ukraine, Russia, and Poland, wedding breads called korovai are baked especially for the occasion, covered in flowers, sheaves of wheat, and other lucky symbols crafted out of dough.
And on the Greek island of Corfu, the bride throws the decorated wedding bread behind her like a bouquet; the woman who catches it is said to be the next to marry.
wedding cake is the ultimate reception dessert in the vast majority of cultures for a reason. It’s a frosted fertility symbol, a combination of flour (usually made of wheat, a cross-cultural sign of abundance) and sugar, which is associated with wishes for a sweet life. The tiered cake we know today may date back to 17th century France, when a baker frosted a tower of sweet buns, starting a trend, or to 18th century London, when cakemaker William Rich created a cake inspired by the spires of St. Bride’s Church in order to impress his true love.You know a certain food is a big deal when it gets its own spotlit ritual. Say what you will about Instagrammable doughnut walls, pastry-laden Viennese tables, cookie tables (here’s looking at you, Pittsburgh), pie buffets, and ice cream sundae bars, a
But back in ancient Rome wedding cake was made of wheat, and broken over the bride’s head, representing the end of her old life, then passed out to attendees. Happily, with wedding hair and makeup costing what it does today, that custom fell out of favor millennia ago.
The traditional wedding favor, candy coated almonds are also known as dragées in French, bruid suikas (“bride’s sweets”) in Dutch, confetti in Italian, koufeta in Greek, and mlabas in Arabic. An early prototype of them—almonds dipped in sugar, was given at weddings and other important banquets in Ancient Rome. Today, in Holland, they’re presented to guests along with bruidstranen, a mulled wine flecked with gold and silver leaf that is said to stand in for the bride’s tears, which give it its name. In Italy, confetti, usually wrapped in tulle bags, are always offered in groups of five to represent five blessings: health, fertility, longevity, happiness, and wealth.
In some regions, the couple goes from table to table at the reception distributing them and greeting their guests. And Greeks give decorative bundles of koufeta that contain a prime number (3,5,7,11), which is indivisible, so that the couple will never be divided. They also display them in a tray at the altar, and it’s said that if a single woman takes some of those and sleeps with them under their pillow, she’ll dream of her future spouses. One more reason to give Jordan almonds to guests? In the Middle East, they’re believed to be an aphrodisiac.
A sign of celebration since it was the main draw for festivals to the ancient Greek god Dionysus, wine grows better with age, like marriage should. Wine and its sparkling counterparts are the central element in toasts at the wedding reception, but when drunk from a common cup during Orthodox Christian and Jewish wedding ceremonies, shared wine represents a joint future.
The ritualized sharing of rice wine is also part of the Buddhist ritual called san-san-kudo, or “three-three-nine.” Each member of the couple sips sake from three special sakazuki cups, drinking from each one three times. (Sharing a drink as a symbol of unity is also practiced in cultures where drinking alcohol is not commonly practiced; in Java, couples split a glass of sweet tea instead, and in Bangladesh, it’s borhani, a yogurt drink.)
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At receptions in France, newlyweds sip from an elaborate coupe de mariage, often made of engraved silver, which may contain a blend of wine from the region each member of the couple hails from. And at the end of many Korean wedding parties, the family performs a ritual called p’yebaek, in which the bride offers her in-laws dates and chestnuts, which symbolize children. Then they pour her a glass of soju rice wine in return, and throw the nuts and dates at her while she tries to catch them in her skirt.
Wine or Champagne are also the key element in toasts offered at a wedding reception. The most dramatic way to serve them is to incorporate the ritual of sabrage, slicing off the top of a bottle of Champagne with a sword. It’s said to have been invented by Napoleon’s army celebrating a victory, but has moved from war to love, and is especially popular at military weddings. (If that seems a little overly theatrical, consider that Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas cut their 18-foot cake with a sword.)
Aficionados love drinking this corn-based whiskey, but at weddings bourbon is most useful as the star of a pre-wedding ritual meant to ensure good weather. In the American South, it’s traditional to bury a bottle of bourbon upside down at the wedding site to guarantee sunny skies the day of—no one’s sure exactly why, unless it’s to bribe Mother Nature with bourbon. There’s even a song to go along with the custom: “Bury a bottle a month to the day, in order to keep the rain away,” and while some couples do just that, others perform the interment the day of the wedding, while the photographer takes pictures, or dig it up after the ceremony, then share a round of shots in celebration (and for an Instagrammable photo opp).
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