Food Traditions Around the World: Birthdays
As part of our series examining international food traditions related to celebrations and important holidays, today we take a look at traditional birthday foods from around the world.
Birthdays are an important way of marking time. Plus, who doesn’t love to be the center of attention for a day? For kids, especially, birthdays can be a very big deal indeed, so it’s not surprising that some food traditions have sprung up to mark the occasion. When North Americans think of birthday foods, the obvious one that comes to mind is everybody’s birthday favorite – cake! Let’s take a look at some of the foods used to mark birthdays around the world.
Traditional Birthday Foods from Across the Globe
Noodles and Soup
- In China, long, skinny noodles are cooked in soup to indicate the birthday celebrant’s long life to come.
- In Korea, new mothers eat miyeok guk, a soup made with seaweed, which is high in iron and is thought to clean the blood. In reference to this tradition, the soup is served at birthday meals as well.
In North America, of course, the main birthday staple is a birthday cake topped with candles. How is birthday cake handled in other areas of the world?
- The tradition of using candles to mark the celebrant’s age may actually have begun in Germany in the late 1700s – though there the candles are placed in a wooden ring rather than on the cake itself and are meant to burn all day long.
- In many areas of the world, an extra candle is placed on the cake (the age plus one) to see the celebrant through to the next year safely.
- In some parts of Canada, coins are baked into the birthday cake, which is called a “fortune cake.” The person who gets the slice with the highest-value coin with have the best luck that year.
- In the Netherlands, you’re expected to bake your own cake on your birthday and serve it to your guests. That “cake” will probably actually be some variation on a fruit tart with whipped cream.
- The traditional Swedish birthday cake is a pound cake covered and filled with whipped cream and strawberries.
- In China, parties celebrating an infant’s birth (held either one month or 100 days after birth) will always include “red eggs.” Chicken eggs are hard boiled, and then the shells are dyed with red food coloring. The Chinese associate red with good fortune, and eggs symbolize birth. Other major milestone birthdays, like the 70th birthday, may also be celebrated by serving red eggs.
- In China, a steamed bun filled with a sweet bean paste filling is a must for birthday meals.
- In Russia, pies, rather than cakes, are the main birthday dessert.
- In Brazil, birthday celebrations feature brigadeiro, candies made from sweetened condensed milk and chocolate.
- In Mexico, a piñata is filled with candies. The children hit it with sticks until it spills its contents for all to share.
- On Ecuadorian birthdays, sugar cookies are served with tea.
- In India, birthday parties feature payesh, which is a type of rice pudding.
- In Great Britain, in addition to the cake, they serve Jello topped with ice cream and sprinkles.
- In Australia, children’s birthday parties feature fairy bread – sliced white bread coated in butter and sprinkles.
The Bottom Line
Well, it looks like birthday foods are not the healthiest of foods! But a birthday is, after all. something to celebrate. Of course, it’s a big world out there, and there are many more birthday traditions than we could cover here (and in many places in the world, birthdays are not celebrated at all).
Tell us: What are some of the birthday food traditions in your family or culture? Let us know in the comments.
Alumni: University of Victoria – Christina Newberry is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in national and local magazines and newspapers. With a Bachelor’s degree in English and Anthropology from the University of Victoria and a Journalism Certificate from Langara College, Christina brings keen curiosity and the love of a good story to her work with HealthCastle.com.
Christina is a passionate traveler and urban gardener with an interest in vegetarian eating and making good, tasty food from scratch. Sharing lessons learned from her own experiences, Christina writes about lifestyle topics for HealthCastle, with a focus on eating well at home and on the road.