Monday, May 7, 2012

A Feast Culture

Feasting or festive eating with friends if you so prefer is a universal human pleasure.  People enjoy communal meals throughout the world, no matter how rich or poor the country, family, or land is. Of course, the food on the menu is clearly localized, generally including native and highly-valued delicacies. A more subtle difference between feasts is their styles.
For example, an American feast, such as Thanksgiving, is primarily judged on the size of the food: the bigger, the better.  People brag about the weight of the Turkey, the number of pans of sweet potatoes, and the diameter of the apple pies.  Of course, the settings, including the plates, knife, fork, spoons, and napkins, should be as festive as possible, ideally with some Thanksgiving motif.  People sit properly in their shares and stuff their face elegantly so to speak.  (I would add that they watch the Detroit Lions lose a football game, but that is not necessarily true now).
A French feast is a different scene entirely.  Not only are the settings fancy, but the food is measured by its fanciness and creativeness, defined as putting together foods and tastes that I never thought would go together.  What is lacking in quantity is easily made up in esthetics and time.  Enjoying food involves all of the senses, taking one’s time to appreciate each culinary work of art.  Of course, wine provides the transition from hors d’oeuvre to soup to main dish to salad to bread and cheese to desert to coffee.  The ideal meal is signaled by the fact that the diner cannot decide what the piece de resistance of the occasion was.  Also, curiously, although the meal took over two hours and involved a respectable amount of food, the diner is neither hungry nor stuffed, but instead just right. (Somehow, on the way home, the guests discuss at which restaurant they will eat the next day.)
Israeli feasts, being Israeli, reflect the ethnic background of the host.  Yekke (German) and mainland French families will be more formal while Sephardic families tend to be more relaxed.  The key is the variety of foods.  An example of this is the issue of salads.  Israeli weddings and picnics are measured by the number of salads to choose from.  The term “too much” is mentioned but not meant seriously:  there is no such thing as too much salads.  Anything that goes with Pita bread is fine.  Pickled, garlicky, salty, hot and sweet, red, green, white and yellow, variety is the spice of life.  Of course, the salads, a meal in themselves, are followed by barbeque, preferably steak.  It would appear eating chicken is a sign of poverty.  In house parties, the emphasis is on the variety of main dishes: meat, chicken, and fish (for those fish lovers out there).  Cakes of all kinds are the preferred dessert as compared to pies.
So, there are numerous manners of overeating.  Feel free to share any local feast customs.

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