Essay on Traditional Food

Students are often asked to write an essay on Traditional Food in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Traditional Food


Traditional food is a significant part of our culture that reflects our heritage. It is the food that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Traditional food plays a vital role in preserving our cultural identity. It connects us to our roots and gives us a sense of belonging.


The preparation of traditional food involves unique methods and ingredients that are native to a particular region.

Every culture has its own traditional food. This diversity in traditional food makes our world a flavorful place.

In conclusion, traditional food is not just about taste, it’s about culture, history, and identity.

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250 Words Essay on Traditional Food

Introduction to traditional food.

Traditional food is an integral part of our cultural identity, encapsulating centuries of history, customs, and rituals. It forms the bedrock of our culinary heritage, providing a unique lens to appreciate our ancestors’ wisdom and creativity.

Significance of Traditional Food

Traditional foods are often nutrient-dense, prepared from locally sourced, seasonally available ingredients, thus promoting sustainability. They are typically unprocessed and free from artificial additives, which contributes to their nutritional superiority over fast or processed foods.

Traditional Food and Cultural Identity

Food traditions are intertwined with cultural identity. They are a form of non-verbal communication that conveys social norms, family values, and regional characteristics. For instance, the Japanese tea ceremony, an embodiment of Zen philosophy, showcases the nation’s respect for tranquility and simplicity.

Threats to Traditional Food

Despite their significance, traditional foods are under threat due to globalization and the rise of fast-food culture. The homogenization of diets has led to the erosion of food diversity, posing a risk to our culinary heritage.

Preserving traditional food is not merely about safeguarding recipes but about preserving our cultural identity and promoting a sustainable lifestyle. Embracing traditional food is a step towards a healthier and more sustainable future, replete with a rich tapestry of diverse culinary experiences.

500 Words Essay on Traditional Food

The essence of traditional food.

Traditional food, often viewed as a cultural artifact, is a reflection of a community’s history, environment, and values. It not only satiates one’s hunger but also connects us to our roots, providing a sense of belonging and identity. As the world turns into a global village, the significance of traditional food has become more evident than ever.

Traditional Food as Cultural Identity

Every region has its unique traditional food, shaped by local resources, climate, and historical events. These foods tell a story – a narrative of survival, adaptation, and innovation. For instance, the Japanese cuisine, known for its simplicity and respect for natural flavors, is a testament to Japan’s minimalist aesthetic and reverence for nature. Similarly, the spice-laden Indian cuisine reflects the country’s diverse cultures and the historical spice trade. These foods, hence, are more than just sustenance; they are a symbol of cultural identity.

Health Benefits of Traditional Food

Traditional foods are typically made from whole, unprocessed ingredients. They are often nutritionally balanced, containing a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats necessary for human health. Furthermore, traditional diets are usually adapted to local conditions and are therefore more sustainable. For example, the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, and olive oil, is associated with longevity and reduced risk of chronic diseases. It is a diet perfectly adapted to the sunny, coastal regions where these foods are easily grown.

The Role of Traditional Food in Sustainable Development

Traditional food systems can contribute significantly to sustainable development. They promote biodiversity by using a variety of local crops, thus ensuring the conservation of indigenous plant species. Traditional farming methods are often more environmentally friendly, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. By supporting local food production and consumption, traditional food systems also help to reduce carbon emissions associated with food transportation.

Preservation and Promotion of Traditional Food

Despite the myriad benefits of traditional food, it is threatened by the homogenizing effects of globalization and the rise of fast food culture. Therefore, it is imperative to preserve and promote traditional food. This can be achieved through education, culinary tourism, and policy measures. For instance, schools can incorporate food education in their curriculum, teaching students about the cultural and nutritional significance of traditional food. Culinary tourism can help promote traditional food by showcasing it as a unique cultural experience. On the policy front, governments can provide incentives for local food production and consumption.

Traditional food is a treasure trove of cultural heritage, nutritional wisdom, and sustainable practices. Its preservation and promotion is not just about maintaining cultural diversity but also about ensuring our health and the health of our planet. As we move forward in this globalized world, let us not forget the value of our traditional food, the stories it tells, and the connections it nurtures.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

If you’re looking for more, here are essays on other interesting topics:

  • Essay on Save Food
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  • Essay on How to Reduce Food Waste

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SLO Food Bank

Food as Culture: Cuisine, Food Customs, and Cultural Identity

Posted July 19, 2023 by Savannah Evans

Food as Culture | SLO Food Bank

Food is an essential part of every culture. It’s more than just a means of sustenance, but a way of expressing oneself, connecting with others, and passing on rich cultural heritage. Food is deeply ingrained in our cultural identity and serves as a representation of our heritage, history, and values. Here’s an in-depth look at food as culture .

Intangible Cultural Heritage

Food is considered a part of intangible cultural heritage, a way of life that is passed down from generation to generation. Traditional recipes, cooking techniques, and dining etiquette can reflect the values and beliefs of different communities and are all vital parts of cultural heritage. The UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list includes many dishes and food-related customs and traditions, including:

  • Al-Mansaf, a festive banquet in Jordan
  • Harissa from Tunisia
  • Traditional tea processing techniques and social practices in China
  • Culture of Ukrainian borscht cooking
  • Palov culture and tradition in Uzbekistan
  • Arabic coffee, a symbol of generosity in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE

Traditional Food and Local Cuisine

Traditional food is an integral part of cultural identity. The food itself and the associated preparation techniques and social customs serve as a reminder of the past and provide a connection to historic and cultural roots.

In Italy, for example, food is not just about sustenance, but also about family, community, and tradition. Italians have a rich culinary history that dates back to ancient times, with important traditional dishes such as pasta and pizza. The Italian food experience centers not only on taste, but on sharing meals with loved ones, the pleasure of cooking, and pride in their culinary heritage.

Similarly, in Japan, food and cultural identity are closely tied. Japanese cuisine is known for its simplicity, elegance, and attention to detail. The preparation and presentation of traditional Japanese dishes like sushi, tempura, and ramen are considered an art form. Japanese food culture pays attention to the aesthetics and symbolism of food, and honors culturally rooted respect for nature and tradition.

Countries may also find their culture defined by a certain food— a national dish. A national dish is a culinary dish that is widely considered to be a country’s most representative or iconic food. It’s strongly associated with a particular country and its culture, and often has a long history and deep cultural significance. National dishes may have regional variations, but are generally recognized and enjoyed throughout the country. Examples of national dishes include sushi in Japan, paella in Spain, pizza in Italy, and hamburgers in the United States.

In these ways, food can define and perpetuate culture. Yet food customs and dining etiquette are not only important for preserving cultural identity, but also for promoting cultural diversity and understanding. Food can serve as a bridge between different cultures, allowing people to learn about and appreciate other ways of life.

In the US, immigrants have brought their traditional dishes and culinary practices with them, enriching American cuisine and creating a cultural melting pot. Foods such as pizza, tacos, and sushi have become staples of American cuisine, reflecting the diverse backgrounds of its citizens. This cultural blending can also lead to unique local cuisine and traditions, like the Cajun and Creole cuisines of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Dining Etiquette and Sharing Meals

Food also plays a significant role in social interactions and rituals. It is often the centerpiece of celebrations and gatherings, such as weddings, birthdays, and holidays. Traditional dishes are passed down from generation to generation, and family recipes are cherished and kept secret. The preparation and sharing of food can bring people together and create a sense of community and belonging.

In addition to fostering cultural preservation and belonging, cultural foods and traditional food customs can also promote good nutrition and health. Traditional foods are often made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients and prepared using traditional cooking methods that have been passed down for generations. As a result, they tend to be healthier and more nutrient-dense than processed or fast foods. Traditional diets are also typically rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, which can help lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

To keep traditional food and dining etiquette alive, it is important to educate and pass down these practices to future generations. Schools and cultural organizations can offer cooking classes and workshops to teach traditional recipes and techniques. Families can share their recipes and cooking traditions with their children and grandchildren, ensuring that they are passed down to future generations. Traditional restaurants and markets can also play a role in preserving cultural heritage by promoting traditional dishes and ingredients.

Honoring Cultural Foods and Heritage Through Food Bank Services

Food Banks should pay special attention to the link between food and culture to ensure that everyone has access to fresh, healthy, and culturally significant food. Traditional foods and customs are an essential part of cultural identity and heritage, and should be accessible to keep cultural heritage alive and create a more diverse and inclusive society.

While traditionally viewed as providers of emergency sustenance, food banks like the SLO Food Bank are increasingly embracing the role of preserving and honoring cultural foods and heritage. Recognizing the vital role that food plays in cultural identity and comfort, many food banks now source a diverse range of culturally specific foods from different global cuisines.

This shift is not just about hunger alleviation; it’s about providing food that nourishes the body and the soul, acknowledging and respecting the cultural diversity of our communities. By doing so, food banks affirm the importance of cultural foods and heritage, fostering a sense of community and belonging among the recipients.

Here at the SLO Food Bank, we:

  • Source fresh foods from a variety of sources: We source food from wholesalers, USDA commodities, and more, while also rescuing food from local farms, households, and grocery stores. This wide network allows us to bring in the greatest variety of food so that we can offer food choice whenever possible.
  • Encourage choice-based services with Agency Partners: We work with our Agency Partners and Hunger Relief Network to encourage programs, meals, and pantries to offer a variety of choices, if possible, for neighbors to pick up foods that work best for their lifestyle and culture.
  • Share recipes and educational resources to support nutrition across global cuisines: Our seasonal recipes include a range of cultural dishes, such as Rice and Beans With Carnitas , Canned Salmon Sushi Rolls , and Shakshuka . We also offer information for nutrition education, including Spanish language resources . These offerings help us reach the breadth of our community and foster principles of inclusion and food justice.
  • Connect people with vital financial resources for food: We aim to connect our community with essential resources like CalFresh, which can support food budgets and empower people to partake in the meals and foods that connect them to their culture, heritage, and identity.

The accessibility of culturally specific foods plays a key role in the preservation of heritage and the expression of identity. Food is often deeply intertwined with traditions, customs, and memories, and can serve as an important touchstone for individuals navigating multicultural landscapes. Food access is not just a matter of nutrition and physical health, but also a vital component of cultural continuity, community belonging, and personal identity. Here at the SLO Food Bank, we are committed to providing that access and supporting the rich cultural diversity and health of the community we all call home.

About the SLO Food Bank

We at the SLO Food Bank believe that everyone has the right to nutritious food. That’s why we work hard to ensure access to fresh food for everyone in our community. We structure our programs in a few different ways to make fresh produce more accessible and affordable for those who need it. We also promote food assistance programs like CalFresh , while also hosting food distributions in the most rural areas of our county, where a grocery store may be more than 50 miles away.

With our network of community partners in San Luis Obispo, we strive to alleviate hunger and to build a healthier community. If you’re in the area, check out our Food Locator to find food sources near you, or support our cause through volunteer opportunities or donations , if you are able to give. With reliable access to wholesome food, we are all healthier, happier, and more productive members of our communities. Donate today to help us bring health and happiness to San Luis Obispo County!

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Food Essay for Students and Children

500+ words essay on food.

Food is the basic human need to stay alive. Moreover, it is the need of every living organism . Therefore it is important that we should not waste food. Our world consists of different types of cultures. These cultures have varieties of dishes of food in them.

Food essay

Thus, all the dishes have different taste. Furthermore, our nature provides us a variety of food. From fruits to vegetables, from Dairy food to seafood everything is available. Different countries have their own specialty of dishes. Therefore some of them are below:

World-famous Cuisines

Italian Cuisines – Italian cuisines is one of the most popular cuisines around the world. Moreover, it is widely available in our India too. Dishes like pizza, pasta, and lasagna own a special place in the hearts’ of people.

Furthermore, restaurants like Dominos and Pizza hut are available all over the country. People of every age love the taste of these Italian dishes. Also, Italian dishes are famous for their’ cheese filling. Every dish is load with cheese. Which enhances the taste of these Italian dishes.

Indian cuisine – Indian cuisine is always filled with a lot of herbs and spices. Furthermore, the specialty of Indian dishes is, it is always filled with curries. Whether veg or non-veg the dishes are in curry form. Moreover, Indian cuisine has so many varieties of food that has further branches. The Branch consists of Mughal cuisine which is mostly of non-vegetarian dishes. Also, almost every Indian love Muglia dishes.

Chinese Cuisine – Chinese cuisine in India is also very popular. There are many Chinese theme-based restaurants here. Moreover, in these restaurants Chinese are preferable chefs because they can only give the perfect Chinese blend. Chinese cuisines have a wide variety of dishes. Some of them are Chinese noodles, fried rice, Dumplings, etc. Dumplings have a different name here. They go by the name of momos in India and people love the taste of it.

These were some of the favorites of Indian people. Moreover, these are in almost every part of the city. You can find it anywhere, whether be it in 5-star restaurants or at the side of the street as street foods.

Get the huge list of more than 500 Essay Topics and Ideas

Importance of Food in Our Life

We cannot deny the importance of food in our lives. As it is the basic need to survive. Yet some people waste not thinking that there are still some people that do not get any of it. We should always be careful while taking a meal on our plates.

In other words, we should take only that much that our stomach can allow. Or else there will be wasting of food . In India there are many people living in slums, they do not have proper shelter. Moreover, they are not able to have even a one-time meal. They starve for days and are always in a state of sickness.

Many children are there on roads who are laboring to get a daily meal. After seeing conditions like these people should not dare to waste food. Moreover, we should always provide food to the needy ones as much as we can.

Q1. Name any two different types of cuisines available in India.

A1. The two different types of cuisines available in India are Italian and Chinese cuisine. These are famous apart from Indian cuisine.

Q2. How can we not waste food?

A2. You cannot waste food by taking only a sufficient amount of it. Moreover, people should seal pack the leftover food and give it to the beggars. So that they can at least stay healthy and not starve.

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Six brilliant student essays on the power of food to spark social change.

Read winning essays from our fall 2018 “Feeding Ourselves, Feeding Our Revolutions,” student writing contest.


For the Fall 2018 student writing competition, “Feeding Ourselves, Feeding Our Revolutions,” we invited students to read the YES! Magazine article, “Cooking Stirs the Pot for Social Change,”   by Korsha Wilson and respond to this writing prompt: If you were to host a potluck or dinner to discuss a challenge facing your community or country, what food would you cook? Whom would you invite? On what issue would you deliberate? 

The Winners

From the hundreds of essays written, these six—on anti-Semitism, cultural identity, death row prisoners, coming out as transgender, climate change, and addiction—were chosen as essay winners.  Be sure to read the literary gems and catchy titles that caught our eye.

Middle School Winner: India Brown High School Winner: Grace Williams University Winner: Lillia Borodkin Powerful Voice Winner: Paisley Regester Powerful Voice Winner: Emma Lingo Powerful Voice Winner: Hayden Wilson

Literary Gems Clever Titles

Middle School Winner: India Brown  

A Feast for the Future

Close your eyes and imagine the not too distant future: The Statue of Liberty is up to her knees in water, the streets of lower Manhattan resemble the canals of Venice, and hurricanes arrive in the fall and stay until summer. Now, open your eyes and see the beautiful planet that we will destroy if we do not do something. Now is the time for change. Our future is in our control if we take actions, ranging from small steps, such as not using plastic straws, to large ones, such as reducing fossil fuel consumption and electing leaders who take the problem seriously.

 Hosting a dinner party is an extraordinary way to publicize what is at stake. At my potluck, I would serve linguini with clams. The clams would be sautéed in white wine sauce. The pasta tossed with a light coat of butter and topped with freshly shredded parmesan. I choose this meal because it cannot be made if global warming’s patterns persist. Soon enough, the ocean will be too warm to cultivate clams, vineyards will be too sweltering to grow grapes, and wheat fields will dry out, leaving us without pasta.

I think that giving my guests a delicious meal and then breaking the news to them that its ingredients would be unattainable if Earth continues to get hotter is a creative strategy to initiate action. Plus, on the off chance the conversation gets drastically tense, pasta is a relatively difficult food to throw.

In YES! Magazine’s article, “Cooking Stirs the Pot for Social Change,” Korsha Wilson says “…beyond the narrow definition of what cooking is, you can see that cooking is and has always been an act of resistance.” I hope that my dish inspires people to be aware of what’s at stake with increasing greenhouse gas emissions and work toward creating a clean energy future.

 My guest list for the potluck would include two groups of people: local farmers, who are directly and personally affected by rising temperatures, increased carbon dioxide, drought, and flooding, and people who either do not believe in human-caused climate change or don’t think it affects anyone. I would invite the farmers or farm owners because their jobs and crops are dependent on the weather. I hope that after hearing a farmer’s perspective, climate-deniers would be awakened by the truth and more receptive to the effort to reverse these catastrophic trends.

Earth is a beautiful planet that provides everything we’ll ever need, but because of our pattern of living—wasteful consumption, fossil fuel burning, and greenhouse gas emissions— our habitat is rapidly deteriorating. Whether you are a farmer, a long-shower-taking teenager, a worker in a pollution-producing factory, or a climate-denier, the future of humankind is in our hands. The choices we make and the actions we take will forever affect planet Earth.

 India Brown is an eighth grader who lives in New York City with her parents and older brother. She enjoys spending time with her friends, walking her dog, Morty, playing volleyball and lacrosse, and swimming.

High School Winner: Grace Williams

essay about traditional food

Apple Pie Embrace

It’s 1:47 a.m. Thanksgiving smells fill the kitchen. The sweet aroma of sugar-covered apples and buttery dough swirls into my nostrils. Fragrant orange and rosemary permeate the room and every corner smells like a stroll past the open door of a French bakery. My eleven-year-old eyes water, red with drowsiness, and refocus on the oven timer counting down. Behind me, my mom and aunt chat to no end, fueled by the seemingly self-replenishable coffee pot stashed in the corner. Their hands work fast, mashing potatoes, crumbling cornbread, and covering finished dishes in a thin layer of plastic wrap. The most my tired body can do is sit slouched on the backless wooden footstool. I bask in the heat escaping under the oven door.

 As a child, I enjoyed Thanksgiving and the preparations that came with it, but it seemed like more of a bridge between my birthday and Christmas than an actual holiday. Now, it’s a time of year I look forward to, dedicated to family, memories, and, most importantly, food. What I realized as I grew older was that my homemade Thanksgiving apple pie was more than its flaky crust and soft-fruit center. This American food symbolized a rite of passage, my Iraqi family’s ticket to assimilation. 

 Some argue that by adopting American customs like the apple pie, we lose our culture. I would argue that while American culture influences what my family eats and celebrates, it doesn’t define our character. In my family, we eat Iraqi dishes like mesta and tahini, but we also eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast. This doesn’t mean we favor one culture over the other; instead, we create a beautiful blend of the two, adapting traditions to make them our own.

 That said, my family has always been more than the “mashed potatoes and turkey” type.

My mom’s family immigrated to the United States in 1976. Upon their arrival, they encountered a deeply divided America. Racism thrived, even after the significant freedoms gained from the Civil Rights Movement a few years before. Here, my family was thrust into a completely unknown world: they didn’t speak the language, they didn’t dress normally, and dinners like riza maraka seemed strange in comparison to the Pop Tarts and Oreos lining grocery store shelves.

 If I were to host a dinner party, it would be like Thanksgiving with my Chaldean family. The guests, my extended family, are a diverse people, distinct ingredients in a sweet potato casserole, coming together to create a delicious dish.

In her article “Cooking Stirs the Pot for Social Change,” Korsha Wilson writes, “each ingredient that we use, every technique, every spice tells a story about our access, our privilege, our heritage, and our culture.” Voices around the room will echo off the walls into the late hours of the night while the hot apple pie steams at the table’s center.

We will play concan on the blanketed floor and I’ll try to understand my Toto, who, after forty years, still speaks broken English. I’ll listen to my elders as they tell stories about growing up in Unionville, Michigan, a predominately white town where they always felt like outsiders, stories of racism that I have the privilege not to experience. While snacking on sunflower seeds and salted pistachios, we’ll talk about the news- how thousands of people across the country are protesting for justice among immigrants. No one protested to give my family a voice.

Our Thanksgiving food is more than just sustenance, it is a physical representation of my family ’s blended and ever-changing culture, even after 40 years in the United States. No matter how the food on our plates changes, it will always symbolize our sense of family—immediate and extended—and our unbreakable bond.

Grace Williams, a student at Kirkwood High School in Kirkwood, Missouri, enjoys playing tennis, baking, and spending time with her family. Grace also enjoys her time as a writing editor for her school’s yearbook, the Pioneer. In the future, Grace hopes to continue her travels abroad, as well as live near extended family along the sunny beaches of La Jolla, California.

University Winner: Lillia Borodkin

essay about traditional food

Nourishing Change After Tragedy Strikes

In the Jewish community, food is paramount. We often spend our holidays gathered around a table, sharing a meal and reveling in our people’s story. On other sacred days, we fast, focusing instead on reflection, atonement, and forgiveness.

As a child, I delighted in the comfort of matzo ball soup, the sweetness of hamantaschen, and the beauty of braided challah. But as I grew older and more knowledgeable about my faith, I learned that the origins of these foods are not rooted in joy, but in sacrifice.

The matzo of matzo balls was a necessity as the Jewish people did not have time for their bread to rise as they fled slavery in Egypt. The hamantaschen was an homage to the hat of Haman, the villain of the Purim story who plotted the Jewish people’s destruction. The unbaked portion of braided challah was tithed by commandment to the kohen  or priests. Our food is an expression of our history, commemorating both our struggles and our triumphs.

As I write this, only days have passed since eleven Jews were killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. These people, intending only to pray and celebrate the Sabbath with their community, were murdered simply for being Jewish. This brutal event, in a temple and city much like my own, is a reminder that anti-Semitism still exists in this country. A reminder that hatred of Jews, of me, my family, and my community, is alive and flourishing in America today. The thought that a difference in religion would make some believe that others do not have the right to exist is frightening and sickening.  

 This is why, if given the chance, I would sit down the entire Jewish American community at one giant Shabbat table. I’d serve matzo ball soup, pass around loaves of challah, and do my best to offer comfort. We would take time to remember the beautiful souls lost to anti-Semitism this October and the countless others who have been victims of such hatred in the past. I would then ask that we channel all we are feeling—all the fear, confusion, and anger —into the fight.

As suggested in Korsha Wilson’s “Cooking Stirs the Pot for Social Change,” I would urge my guests to direct our passion for justice and the comfort and care provided by the food we are eating into resisting anti-Semitism and hatred of all kinds.

We must use the courage this sustenance provides to create change and honor our people’s suffering and strength. We must remind our neighbors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, that anti-Semitism is alive and well today. We must shout and scream and vote until our elected leaders take this threat to our community seriously. And, we must stand with, support, and listen to other communities that are subjected to vengeful hate today in the same way that many of these groups have supported us in the wake of this tragedy.

This terrible shooting is not the first of its kind, and if conflict and loathing are permitted to grow, I fear it will not be the last. While political change may help, the best way to target this hate is through smaller-scale actions in our own communities.

It is critical that we as a Jewish people take time to congregate and heal together, but it is equally necessary to include those outside the Jewish community to build a powerful crusade against hatred and bigotry. While convening with these individuals, we will work to end the dangerous “otherizing” that plagues our society and seek to understand that we share far more in common than we thought. As disagreements arise during our discussions, we will learn to respect and treat each other with the fairness we each desire. Together, we shall share the comfort, strength, and courage that traditional Jewish foods provide and use them to fuel our revolution. 

We are not alone in the fight despite what extremists and anti-semites might like us to believe.  So, like any Jew would do, I invite you to join me at the Shabbat table. First, we will eat. Then, we will get to work.  

Lillia Borodkin is a senior at Kent State University majoring in Psychology with a concentration in Child Psychology. She plans to attend graduate school and become a school psychologist while continuing to pursue her passion for reading and writing. Outside of class, Lillia is involved in research in the psychology department and volunteers at the Women’s Center on campus.   

Powerful Voice Winner: Paisley Regester

essay about traditional food

As a kid, I remember asking my friends jokingly, ”If you were stuck on a deserted island, what single item of food would you bring?” Some of my friends answered practically and said they’d bring water. Others answered comically and said they’d bring snacks like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or a banana. However, most of my friends answered sentimentally and listed the foods that made them happy. This seems like fun and games, but what happens if the hypothetical changes? Imagine being asked, on the eve of your death, to choose the final meal you will ever eat. What food would you pick? Something practical? Comical? Sentimental?  

This situation is the reality for the 2,747 American prisoners who are currently awaiting execution on death row. The grim ritual of “last meals,” when prisoners choose their final meal before execution, can reveal a lot about these individuals and what they valued throughout their lives.

It is difficult for us to imagine someone eating steak, lobster tail, apple pie, and vanilla ice cream one moment and being killed by state-approved lethal injection the next. The prisoner can only hope that the apple pie he requested tastes as good as his mom’s. Surprisingly, many people in prison decline the option to request a special last meal. We often think of food as something that keeps us alive, so is there really any point to eating if someone knows they are going to die?

“Controlling food is a means of controlling power,” said chef Sean Sherman in the YES! Magazine article “Cooking Stirs the Pot for Social Change,” by Korsha Wilson. There are deeper stories that lie behind the final meals of individuals on death row.

I want to bring awareness to the complex and often controversial conditions of this country’s criminal justice system and change the common perception of prisoners as inhuman. To accomplish this, I would host a potluck where I would recreate the last meals of prisoners sentenced to death.

In front of each plate, there would be a place card with the prisoner’s full name, the date of execution, and the method of execution. These meals could range from a plate of fried chicken, peas with butter, apple pie, and a Dr. Pepper, reminiscent of a Sunday dinner at Grandma’s, to a single olive.

Seeing these meals up close, meals that many may eat at their own table or feed to their own kids, would force attendees to face the reality of the death penalty. It will urge my guests to look at these individuals not just as prisoners, assigned a number and a death date, but as people, capable of love and rehabilitation.  

This potluck is not only about realizing a prisoner’s humanity, but it is also about recognizing a flawed criminal justice system. Over the years, I have become skeptical of the American judicial system, especially when only seven states have judges who ethnically represent the people they serve. I was shocked when I found out that the officers who killed Michael Brown and Anthony Lamar Smith were exonerated for their actions. How could that be possible when so many teens and adults of color have spent years in prison, some even executed, for crimes they never committed?  

Lawmakers, police officers, city officials, and young constituents, along with former prisoners and their families, would be invited to my potluck to start an honest conversation about the role and application of inequality, dehumanization, and racism in the death penalty. Food served at the potluck would represent the humanity of prisoners and push people to acknowledge that many inmates are victims of a racist and corrupt judicial system.

Recognizing these injustices is only the first step towards a more equitable society. The second step would be acting on these injustices to ensure that every voice is heard, even ones separated from us by prison walls. Let’s leave that for the next potluck, where I plan to serve humble pie.

Paisley Regester is a high school senior and devotes her life to activism, the arts, and adventure. Inspired by her experiences traveling abroad to Nicaragua, Mexico, and Scotland, Paisley hopes to someday write about the diverse people and places she has encountered and share her stories with the rest of the world.

Powerful Voice Winner: Emma Lingo

essay about traditional food

The Empty Seat

“If you aren’t sober, then I don’t want to see you on Christmas.”

Harsh words for my father to hear from his daughter but words he needed to hear. Words I needed him to understand and words he seemed to consider as he fiddled with his wine glass at the head of the table. Our guests, my grandma, and her neighbors remained resolutely silent. They were not about to defend my drunken father–or Charles as I call him–from my anger or my ultimatum.

This was the first dinner we had had together in a year. The last meal we shared ended with Charles slopping his drink all over my birthday presents and my mother explaining heroin addiction to me. So, I wasn’t surprised when Charles threw down some liquid valor before dinner in anticipation of my anger. If he wanted to be welcomed on Christmas, he needed to be sober—or he needed to be gone.

Countless dinners, holidays, and birthdays taught me that my demands for sobriety would fall on deaf ears. But not this time. Charles gave me a gift—a one of a kind, limited edition, absolutely awkward treat. One that I didn’t know how to deal with at all. Charles went home that night, smacked a bright red bow on my father, and hand-delivered him to me on Christmas morning.

He arrived for breakfast freshly showered and looking flustered. He would remember this day for once only because his daughter had scolded him into sobriety. Dad teetered between happiness and shame. Grandma distracted us from Dad’s presence by bringing the piping hot bacon and biscuits from the kitchen to the table, theatrically announcing their arrival. Although these foods were the alleged focus of the meal, the real spotlight shined on the unopened liquor cabinet in my grandma’s kitchen—the cabinet I know Charles was begging Dad to open.

I’ve isolated myself from Charles. My family has too. It means we don’t see Dad, but it’s the best way to avoid confrontation and heartache. Sometimes I find myself wondering what it would be like if we talked with him more or if he still lived nearby. Would he be less inclined to use? If all families with an addict tried to hang on to a relationship with the user, would there be fewer addicts in the world? Christmas breakfast with Dad was followed by Charles whisking him away to Colorado where pot had just been legalized. I haven’t talked to Dad since that Christmas.

As Korsha Wilson stated in her YES! Magazine article, “Cooking Stirs the Pot for Social Change,” “Sometimes what we don’t cook says more than what we do cook.” When it comes to addiction, what isn’t served is more important than what is. In quiet moments, I like to imagine a meal with my family–including Dad. He’d have a spot at the table in my little fantasy. No alcohol would push him out of his chair, the cigarettes would remain seated in his back pocket, and the stench of weed wouldn’t invade the dining room. Fruit salad and gumbo would fill the table—foods that Dad likes. We’d talk about trivial matters in life, like how school is going and what we watched last night on TV.

Dad would feel loved. We would connect. He would feel less alone. At the end of the night, he’d walk me to the door and promise to see me again soon. And I would believe him.

Emma Lingo spends her time working as an editor for her school paper, reading, and being vocal about social justice issues. Emma is active with many clubs such as Youth and Government, KHS Cares, and Peer Helpers. She hopes to be a journalist one day and to be able to continue helping out people by volunteering at local nonprofits.

Powerful Voice Winner: Hayden Wilson

essay about traditional food

Bittersweet Reunion

I close my eyes and envision a dinner of my wildest dreams. I would invite all of my relatives. Not just my sister who doesn’t ask how I am anymore. Not just my nephews who I’m told are too young to understand me. No, I would gather all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins to introduce them to the me they haven’t met.

For almost two years, I’ve gone by a different name that most of my family refuses to acknowledge. My aunt, a nun of 40 years, told me at a recent birthday dinner that she’d heard of my “nickname.” I didn’t want to start a fight, so I decided not to correct her. Even the ones who’ve adjusted to my name have yet to recognize the bigger issue.

Last year on Facebook, I announced to my friends and family that I am transgender. No one in my family has talked to me about it, but they have plenty to say to my parents. I feel as if this is about my parents more than me—that they’ve made some big parenting mistake. Maybe if I invited everyone to dinner and opened up a discussion, they would voice their concerns to me instead of my parents.

I would serve two different meals of comfort food to remind my family of our good times. For my dad’s family, I would cook heavily salted breakfast food, the kind my grandpa used to enjoy. He took all of his kids to IHOP every Sunday and ordered the least healthy option he could find, usually some combination of an overcooked omelet and a loaded Classic Burger. For my mom’s family, I would buy shakes and burgers from Hardee’s. In my grandma’s final weeks, she let aluminum tins of sympathy meals pile up on her dining table while she made my uncle take her to Hardee’s every day.

In her article on cooking and activism, food writer Korsha Wilson writes, “Everyone puts down their guard over a good meal, and in that space, change is possible.” Hopefully the same will apply to my guests.

When I first thought of this idea, my mind rushed to the endless negative possibilities. My nun-aunt and my two non-nun aunts who live like nuns would whip out their Bibles before I even finished my first sentence. My very liberal, state representative cousin would say how proud she is of the guy I’m becoming, but this would trigger my aunts to accuse her of corrupting my mind. My sister, who has never spoken to me about my genderidentity, would cover her children’s ears and rush them out of the house. My Great-Depression-raised grandparents would roll over in their graves, mumbling about how kids have it easy nowadays.

After mentally mapping out every imaginable terrible outcome this dinner could have, I realized a conversation is unavoidable if I want my family to accept who I am. I long to restore the deep connection I used to have with them. Though I often think these former relationships are out of reach, I won’t know until I try to repair them. For a year and a half, I’ve relied on Facebook and my parents to relay messages about my identity, but I need to tell my own story.

At first, I thought Korsha Wilson’s idea of a cooked meal leading the way to social change was too optimistic, but now I understand that I need to think more like her. Maybe, just maybe, my family could all gather around a table, enjoy some overpriced shakes, and be as close as we were when I was a little girl.

 Hayden Wilson is a 17-year-old high school junior from Missouri. He loves writing, making music, and painting. He’s a part of his school’s writing club, as well as the GSA and a few service clubs.

 Literary Gems

We received many outstanding essays for the Fall 2018 Writing Competition. Though not every participant can win the contest, we’d like to share some excerpts that caught our eye.

Thinking of the main staple of the dish—potatoes, the starchy vegetable that provides sustenance for people around the globe. The onion, the layers of sorrow and joy—a base for this dish served during the holidays.  The oil, symbolic of hope and perseverance. All of these elements come together to form this delicious oval pancake permeating with possibilities. I wonder about future possibilities as I flip the latkes.

—Nikki Markman, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, California

The egg is a treasure. It is a fragile heart of gold that once broken, flows over the blemishless surface of the egg white in dandelion colored streams, like ribbon unraveling from its spool.

—Kaylin Ku, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, Princeton Junction, New Jersey

If I were to bring one food to a potluck to create social change by addressing anti-Semitism, I would bring gefilte fish because it is different from other fish, just like the Jews are different from other people.  It looks more like a matzo ball than fish, smells extraordinarily fishy, and tastes like sweet brine with the consistency of a crab cake.

—Noah Glassman, Ethical Culture Fieldston School,  Bronx, New York

I would not only be serving them something to digest, I would serve them a one-of-a-kind taste of the past, a taste of fear that is felt in the souls of those whose home and land were taken away, a taste of ancestral power that still lives upon us, and a taste of the voices that want to be heard and that want the suffering of the Natives to end.

—Citlalic Anima Guevara, Wichita North High School, Wichita, Kansas

It’s the one thing that your parents make sure you have because they didn’t.  Food is what your mother gives you as she lies, telling you she already ate. It’s something not everybody is fortunate to have and it’s also what we throw away without hesitation.  Food is a blessing to me, but what is it to you?

—Mohamed Omar, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Missouri

Filleted and fried humphead wrasse, mangrove crab with coconut milk, pounded taro, a whole roast pig, and caramelized nuts—cuisines that will not be simplified to just “food.” Because what we eat is the diligence and pride of our people—a culture that has survived and continues to thrive.

—Mayumi Remengesau, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, California

Some people automatically think I’m kosher or ask me to say prayers in Hebrew.  However, guess what? I don’t know many prayers and I eat bacon.

—Hannah Reing, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, The Bronx, New York

Everything was placed before me. Rolling up my sleeves I started cracking eggs, mixing flour, and sampling some chocolate chips, because you can never be too sure. Three separate bowls. All different sizes. Carefully, I tipped the smallest, and the medium-sized bowls into the biggest. Next, I plugged in my hand-held mixer and flicked on the switch. The beaters whirl to life. I lowered it into the bowl and witnessed the creation of something magnificent. Cookie dough.

—Cassandra Amaya, Owen Goodnight Middle School, San Marcos, Texas

Biscuits and bisexuality are both things that are in my life…My grandmother’s biscuits are the best: the good old classic Southern biscuits, crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. Except it is mostly Southern people who don’t accept me.

—Jaden Huckaby, Arbor Montessori, Decatur, Georgia

We zest the bright yellow lemons and the peels of flavor fall lightly into the batter.  To make frosting, we keep adding more and more powdered sugar until it looks like fluffy clouds with raspberry seed rain.

—Jane Minus, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Bronx, New York

Tamales for my grandma, I can still remember her skillfully spreading the perfect layer of masa on every corn husk, looking at me pitifully as my young hands fumbled with the corn wrapper, always too thick or too thin.

—Brenna Eliaz, San Marcos High School, San Marcos, Texas

Just like fry bread, MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) remind New Orleanians and others affected by disasters of the devastation throughout our city and the little amount of help we got afterward.

—Madeline Johnson, Spring Hill College, Mobile, Alabama

I would bring cream corn and buckeyes and have a big debate on whether marijuana should be illegal or not.

—Lillian Martinez, Miller Middle School, San Marcos, Texas

We would finish the meal off with a delicious apple strudel, topped with schlag, schlag, schlag, more schlag, and a cherry, and finally…more schlag (in case you were wondering, schlag is like whipped cream, but 10 times better because it is heavier and sweeter).

—Morgan Sheehan, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Bronx, New York

Clever Titles

This year we decided to do something different. We were so impressed by the number of catchy titles that we decided to feature some of our favorites. 

“Eat Like a Baby: Why Shame Has No Place at a Baby’s Dinner Plate”

—Tate Miller, Wichita North High School, Wichita, Kansas 

“The Cheese in Between”

—Jedd Horowitz, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Bronx, New York

“Harvey, Michael, Florence or Katrina? Invite Them All Because Now We Are Prepared”

—Molly Mendoza, Spring Hill College, Mobile, Alabama

“Neglecting Our Children: From Broccoli to Bullets”

—Kylie Rollings, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Missouri  

“The Lasagna of Life”

—Max Williams, Wichita North High School, Wichita, Kansas

“Yum, Yum, Carbon Dioxide In Our Lungs”

—Melanie Eickmeyer, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Missouri

“My Potluck, My Choice”

—Francesca Grossberg, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Bronx, New York

“Trumping with Tacos”

—Maya Goncalves, Lincoln Middle School, Ypsilanti, Michigan

“Quiche and Climate Change”

—Bernie Waldman, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Bronx, New York

“Biscuits and Bisexuality”


—Miles Oshan, San Marcos High School, San Marcos, Texas

“Bubula, Come Eat!”

—Jordan Fienberg, Ethical Culture Fieldston School,  Bronx, New York

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14.4 The Globalization of Food

Learning outcomes.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe the impacts of globalization on food and food diversity.
  • Define food deserts and food oases.

Globalization of Food

Most people, when they think about food, consider it a local, individual choice based on personal preferences and economic possibilities. But food is a global commodity marketed by transnational corporations, health institutes, advertising campaigns, and subtle and not-so-subtle cultural messaging through global media such as movies, television, and online video. Most often, what people choose to eat is based on underlying structures that determine availability and cost. While there are now hothouse businesses growing year-round fruits and vegetables, affordability often prohibits everyone from having access to fresh, ripe foods. Instead, mainstream grocery stores most often stock foods imported across long distances. Most fruits and vegetables sold in the grocery store were harvested unripe (and often tasteless) so that they would last the days and weeks between harvesting and purchase.

In her work on food and globalization, anthropologist and food studies specialist Lynne Phillips points out the “crooked pathways” (2006, 38) that food takes to become a global commodity. Increasingly affected by transnational corporations, food today is marketed for endlessly higher profits. Food no longer goes simply from producer to consumer. There are many turns along the way.

Food globalization has numerous effects on our daily lives:

  • The food chains from producers to consumers are increasingly fragile as a small number of transnational corporations provide the basic foods that we eat daily. Failures in this food chain might come from contamination during production or breaks in the supply chain due to climate crises, tariffs, or trade negotiations between countries. Our dependence on global food chains makes the food supply to our communities more vulnerable to disruption and scarcity.
  • Our food cultures are less diverse and tend to revolve around a limited number of mass-produced meats or grains. With the loss of diversity, there is an accompanying loss not only of food knowledge but also of nutrition.
  • As foods become more globalized, we are increasingly dependent on food additives to enhance the appearance and taste of foods and to ensure their preservation during the long journey from factory farm to table. We are also increasingly exposed to steroids, antibiotics, and other medicines in the meat we eat. This exposure poses health risks to large numbers of people.
  • As plants and animals are subjected to ever more sophisticated forms of genetic engineering, there is an increasing monopoly on basic food items, allowing transnational companies to affect regulatory controls on food safety. As corporate laboratories develop patented seeds (such as the Monsanto Corporation’s genetically engineered corn) that are super-producers and able to withstand challenges such as harsh climate conditions and disease, growers become dependent on the seed sold by these corporations. No longer able to save seed from year to year, growers have little choice but to pay whatever price these corporations choose to charge for their genetic material.
  • Factory farming of all types, but especially large-scale animal farms, are major contributors to global warming. Not only do they produce large amounts of water and air pollution and contribute to worldwide deforestation, but as more and more forest is turned into pasture, the sheer number of livestock contributes significant levels of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. Worldwide, livestock account for around 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (Quinton 2019).

Food has long been an international commodity, even during the 17th and 18th centuries, when traders sought spice and trade routes connecting Europe and Asia. Today, however, food has become transnational, with production sometimes spanning many different countries and fresh and processed foods moving long distances from their original harvest or production. Because these migrating foods must be harvested early or packaged with preservatives that we may not know or even be able to pronounce, there has been a parallel development in local food movements, organic food movements, and farm-to-table establishments as people see the dangers of food globalization. In the very popular The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006), American author and food journalist Michael Pollan advocates that people should know the identity of the foods they eat and should make every effort to eat locally sourced products. Shortly after the book’s publication, chef and author Jessica Prentice coined the term locavore to refer to those who eat locally and know the origins of their foods. In 2007, locavore was chosen as the New Oxford American Dictionary word of the year.

Food Deserts and Oases

Worldwide, access to nutritious and affordable foods is growing increasingly unequal. Areas with inadequate or unreliable access to nutritious foods are sometimes called food deserts . Food deserts present serious challenges to health and wellness in multiple ways and have been linked to eating disorders, obesity, and malnutrition. In Western nations, food deserts frequently correspond to other areas of social inequality, such as low-income and minority communities. Reduced availability of healthy and economical food often exacerbates many of the challenges these communities face.

As the world population continues to grow ( currently at around 7.9 billion people ), climate change accelerates, and food production becomes more and more concentrated in the hands of a few corporations, access to food will become increasingly critical to our survival. The story of progress embraced by Western society tells us that globalization and agricultural developments have stabilized and secured our food chains, but anthropological studies of foragers suggest otherwise. Agricultural production is tied to access to arable land, clean water, stable climate, and a reliable workforce. Periodically, crops (and animals) fail due to disease, drought, and even disruption from warfare and extreme weather, leading to scarcity and famine in many parts of the world. In addition, as families and communities produce less and less of their own food and become more and more dependent on intermediaries to gain access to food, their vulnerabilities increase. While there are many differences between state societies and foragers, there are valuable lessons we can learn from them. Foragers, facing the same unstable conditions that we all face worldwide, have a more varied and flexible diet and are able to adjust their needs seasonally based on local availability. They eat locally, and they adjust their needs to what is available.

There are also food oases , areas that have high access to supermarkets and fresh foods, and these are growing in number. Some are in urban or suburban areas, and some are in rural areas where sustainable farming supports a local community or restaurant. In Harrodsburg, Kentucky, the Trustees’ Table serves food from the nearby Pleasant Hill Shaker gardens. Visitors to the Shaker site, a historic cloistered religious community, learn about the Shaker seed industry, plant varieties, and sustainable gardening techniques at Shaker Farm, then walk down to the Trustees’ Table to have a farm-to-table meal. The seasonal menu features local Kentucky dishes that would have been common fare during the period of Shaker occupation (1805–1910), such as garlic potatoes, warm or cold salads, vegetable pot pies, and apple pie. By utilizing the foods raised in the nearby gardens, the Trustees’ Table serves as a legacy restaurant that helps preserve and sustain Shaker research and farming on-site.

In Richmond, Virginia, an organization called Real Local RVA was founded in 2014 as a grassroots local food movement to support businesses and residential areas in the downtown area of the city. It expresses its core value as “collaboration over competition.” The group sponsors monthly meetings, local farm tours, and community events highlighting businesses and prominent figures in the local food movement. The participants are all farmers, independent grocers, or local restaurants that source local ingredients and products as part of their mission. Besides advocating for small farms and independent businesses, Real Local RVA also sponsors workshops and education on sustainable farming, does joint marketing and “storytelling” about its partnership and the values of local food networks, and provide a recognizable brand to identify participating members for the wider urban community.

Although local food movements are increasingly popular, most still primarily operate in more affluent areas. As we develop more of these healthy initiatives, we also must expand the zones in which they operate, especially in cities, to include all of our neighbors and neighborhoods. Food and sociality go hand in hand. As Michael Pollan writes, “The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from mere animal biology to an act of culture” (2008, 192).

The study of food in anthropology is important for many reasons. Food reveals cultural identities and physical vulnerabilities, and it helps build social networks and mark important life events. How often eating is prescribed, what foods are considered appropriate, who cooks, who serves whom, and what foods are most and least valued all vary across cultures. As anthropologists seek to understand human cultures, food is often a centerpiece ingredient in knowing who we are.

Mini-Fieldwork Activity

Food memories.

Food plays an important role in long-term memory, as it is linked to smell, taste, and texture and often is a central feature of social functions, whether they be family dinners or holiday feasts. In this project, you will interview two individuals who are likely to have different food memories than you; they may be older, they may be living in a different part of the country (or world), or they may have lived part of their lives in a specific environment (rural or urban) that is different from yours. Ask each person to share with you stories about special holiday meals prepared and served as part of their family life, whether as a child or an adult. What foods do they most identify with specific holidays? How did they prepare and consume those foods? Were there specific gender roles during the preparation and holiday meals? After collecting and writing up what you have learned, what conclusions can you make about the role of food in human social and cultural life?

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  • Review article
  • Open access
  • Published: 04 December 2020

Indigenous and traditional foods of Sri Lanka

  • Sachithra Mihiranie 1 ,
  • Jagath K. Jayasinghe 1 ,
  • Chamila V. L. Jayasinghe 2 &
  • Janitha P. D. Wanasundara   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-7491-8867 3  

Journal of Ethnic Foods volume  7 , Article number:  42 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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Indigenous and traditional foods of Sri Lanka inherit a long history and unique traditions continued from several thousands of years. Sri Lankan food tradition is strongly inter-wound with the nutritional, health-related, and therapeutic reasoning of the food ingredients and the methods of preparation. The diverse culinary traditions and preparations reflect multipurpose objectives combining in-depth knowledge of flora and fauna in relation to human well-being and therapeutic health benefits. Trans-generational knowledge dissemination related to indigenous and traditional food is now limited due to changing lifestyles, dwindling number of knowledge holders, and shrinking floral and faunal resources. Awareness on the relationship between non-communicable diseases and the diet has garnered the focus on traditional ingredients and foods by the consumers and major food producers in Sri Lanka. This review presents concise details on the indigenous and traditional foods of Sri Lanka, with scientific analysis when possible.


Indigenous and traditional foods of Sri Lanka present a perfect blend of cultural diversity with human wisdom that has been evolved through generations in establishing a cultural heritage and an identity. In the Sri Lankan culture, food is treated with the highest gratitude, respect, and generosity, expressed by sharing and offering to fellow humans, animals as well as the divine powers. Sri Lankans love to share foods with neighbors, family, and friends; house visits are always accompanied with bundles of food items. Some foods and the preparation know-how are specialties of the locality. Trans-generational knowledge transmission of food and food ingredients is inter-woven with regular maintenance of healthy life, cultural legacy, and religious concepts of the ethnicities of the land and have been the key to sustain a traditional food culture in Sri Lanka; evidence are found in written literal work and archeological sources as well as folklore.

Archeological findings, ancient travelers’ records, and early world maps are living evidence for the significance of this island in geo-politics and sea trade since ancient times. Elements of Afro-Arabic, Central Asian, European, South-east Asian, and Oriental food cultures that followed with the trade activities, royal marriages, and invasions have been customized to align with the habits, the culture, and the palate of island inhabitants while keeping the indigenous and traditional food culture in a nutshell. A significant geographic differentiation can be seen in traditional foods aligning with the eco- and biodiversity of the island. Indigenous and Ayurveda medicine holds a strong base and provides recommendations with clear and defined identity on the ingredients, preparation methods, and consumption in order to maintain a healthy life while preventing and treating major diseases and minor ailments. Traditionally, the primary knowledge holders are the community elders (both male and female) and indigenous medical practitioners who are well versed about the local flora and fauna, their medicinal values, and the ingredients and preparations.

The present review describes the essentials of indigenous and traditional foods of Sri Lanka, for the first time, providing a perspective analysis in science, technology, and nutrition of food and preparations when possible. Ancient texts and books written on Sri Lanka by various authors and other published media and discussions with different individuals holding traditional knowledge were consulted in generating this condensed review.

Geographical and climatic perspective

Geo-positioning and climate of the country are highly relevant to the available food sources and existence of various food traditions. Sri Lanka is a tropical island positioned between 5° 55' and 9° 51' North latitudes and 79° 42' and 81° 53' East longitudes in the south of the Indian peninsula. The island and area of 65,610 km 2 bears distinguishable elevation (Fig. 1 a; central highlands, plains, and the coastal belt), rainfall (Fig. 1 b; wet, intermediate, and dry zones), and vegetation (Fig. 1 c; closed rainforest, more open intermediate tropical forest, and open grassland) zones [ 1 ]. The terrain of the island is mostly low, flat to rolling plains with mountains in the South-central area. The island coastline is 1,340 km long and inland water bodies cover 2,905 km 2 . Several offshore islands account for 342 km 2 area. The island receives monsoonal, convectional, and depressional rains annually, with < 900 mm in the driest areas (North-western and South-eastern regions) to > 5000 mm in the wettest areas (Western slopes and Central highlands). Mean annual temperature (MAT) varies between 26.5 °C and 28.5 °C, with the altitudes > 1800 m marking MAT of 15.9 °C, and the coldest temperatures in January and the warmest temperatures in April and August [ 2 ]. Of the total land area, ~ 19% is arable, and agriculture accounts for ~ 44% of the workforce and 12% of the GDP [ 3 ].

figure 1

Maps of Sri Lanka showing a Elevation map based on Digital Elevation Model, b Precipitation map showing Wet Zone, Intermediate Zone, and Dry Zone, and c Vegetation map ([ 1 ], with permission). Black circles in the maps indicate archeological and paleo-environmental sites of the island covered in the studies of reference [ 1 ]. Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon is an island in the Indian Ocean, South-east of Indian subcontinent. Island terrain is primarily low, flat to rolling plain with mountains in the South-central interior. Island’s climate is tropical monsoon. The mountains and the South-western part of the country (wet zone) receive annual average rainfall of 2500 mm and the South-east, East and Northern parts of the country (dry zone) receive between 1200 and 1900 mm of rain annually. The arid North-west and South-east coasts receive the least amount of rain, 600 to 1200 mm per year. There is strong evidence of prehistoric settlements in Sri Lanka that goes back to ~ 125,000 BP

Crucial positioning in the middle of the Indian Ocean and to the extreme south of the Indian Peninsula together with the protective natural harbors and, floral and faunal richness have been the key elements that attracted many global travelers, explorers, and trading nations to this island. Ancient maps and manuscripts account the importance of harbor towns and cities of the island. The map by Claudius Ptolemy (second century CE) was the first to provide absolute co-ordinates of specific locations of the island. Many names referred by various nations identify this island: Taprobane (Greek), Serendib (Persian, Arabic), Simhaladvipah (Sanskrit), Ceilão (Portuguese), Ceylon (English), Thambapanni (Mahavamsa) and since 1972 the country declared Sri Lanka (Sinhala) or Ilankei (Tamil).

Food consumption patterns of pre- and proto-historic humans of Sri Lanka

The pre-historic man of Sri Lanka is known as the Balangoda Man ( Homo sapiens balangodensis ) belonging to the Pleistocene/Holocene epoch boundary in the geo-chronological scale [ 4 ], in which the Mesolithic period of archeological timescale coincides. The oldest human fossil evidence in South Asia (~ 45,000 to 38,000 calibrated years before present) were found in the rock shelters and caves scattered in all ecoregions of the island (Fig. 1 a, b, and c) [ 1 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 ]. The archeo-zoological and archeo-botanical evidence along with the microlithic and osseous tools and other artifacts found in these rock shelters indicate that the nutritional needs of these early human inhabitants have been supported by a number of sources [ 1 , 5 , 6 , 7 ]. These include a variety of small and large animals and plant sources found above and below ground, and in the aquatic environments. Material evidence dating back to 2700 BCE support the involvement of pre-historic inhabitants in plant material processing, plant domestication, and pottery manufacturing, and the transition from forager, hunter-gatherer to agricultural, a more sedentary lifestyle [ 1 , 5 , 8 , 9 ].

Foods of indigenous people

The Veddā (a.k.a. Aadi Vaasin , Wanniyala-eththo ) is a group of people with indigenous ancestry, ~ 10,000 in number now, and confined to inland isolated pockets extending from the Eastern and North-eastern slopes of the hill country and the Eastern and North-central parts of the country [ 10 ]. They inherit an ancient culture that values the interdependency of social, economic, environmental, and spiritual systems. The Great Genealogy/Dynasty or Mahāvaṃsa , an ancient non-canonical text written in the fifth century CE on the Kings of Sri Lanka (the first version covers from 543 BCE to 304 CE) records Veddā ’s origin dating back to the fifth to the sixth century BCE. Recent studies show that Veddā is genetically distinct from other populations in Sri Lanka [ 11 , 12 , 13 ] and most likely descends from early Homo sapiens who roamed the island. Hunting has been the mainstay of this group and skills still remain, using bow and arrows to hunt forest animals [ 14 ] and aquatic fish species that satisfy the animal protein supply. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle that Veddā subsisted on has now partly been replaced; they engage in crop cultivation to supplement grains and vegetables for food.

Traditionally, the Veddā group prepares meat and fish by direct roasting over wood fire, covering with hot ashes or smoking, and drying on a wooden rack [ 15 , 16 ]. Excess hunt is sun-dried or smoked to preserve for rainy seasons. Harvesting honey of various forest insects is a regular task and a group activity. Honey is for direct consumption and for meat preservation [ 17 ]. A sausage-like product, “ Perume ,” is an energy- and nutrient-dense preserved form of meat. Alternative layers of meat and fat consist this product with variations depending on the animal type (deer, venison) and parts (monitor lizard tail stuffed with fat from the sides of the animal, or clotted blood). Boneless game meat, roasted rice ( Oryza sativa ) flour, green chili ( Capsicum annuum ), cumin ( Cuminum cyminum ), coriander ( Coriandrum sativum ), and leaves of Asamodagam ( Trachyspermum roxburghianum) are formed into balls, batter coated with rice flour and deep fried in Bassia longifolia seed oil to make “ Mas guli ” or “ Kurakkal .” Present-day Veddā ’s food reflects the use of condiments, spices, herbs, salt, and lime juice similar to making curries. Changing laws in the country that ensures conservation and sustainability of wildlife has limited the hunting lifestyle and the food sources of Veddā group.

Tubers and yams of forest origin mainly Dioscorea species ( D. spicata , D. pentaphylla , and D. oppositifolia ) and less often Aracea plants (e.g., Arisaema leschenaultii ) roasted over direct fire is a carbohydrate source of the Veddā’s diet. Cultivated cereals such as rice, finger millet ( Eleusine coracana ), and maize ( Zea mays ) made into flour is for unleavened flatbread ( Roti ) or thick boiled flour paste ( Thalapa ) that accompany cooked smoked meat with gravy ( Ānama ) [ 18 , 19 ]. When available, cereal flours are supplemented with cycad ( Cycas circinalis) seed flour (sliced, dried, and ground) or Bassia longifolia flowers (dried and ground) for Roti and Thalapa . Various herbs, leafy vegetables, and unripe fruits of gourds and melons having medicinal and therapeutic properties are part of the regular diet. Among these, leaves of Cassia tora , Ipomoea cymosa , and Memecyclon umbellatum ; ripe wild tree fruits and berries such as Mangifera zeylanica , Nephelium longana , Hemicyclia sepiaria , Manikkara hexandra , Terminalia belerica , and Dialium ovoideum ; and wild mushrooms are integral. Transgenerational knowledge transfer on traditional systems for sourcing and sustainable harvesting practices of food, converting into safer ingredients (e.g., ways to reduce toxins and undesirable compounds while improving palatability, digestion, and safety), and effective preservation technologies has enabled harmonic balance between human-forest environment while sustaining nutrition and health status of the Veddā group.

History-related influences

Sri Lanka has a continuous written history. Stone scripts as early as ~ 250 BCE, ancient texts together with remaining palm ( Ōla ) leaf texts evidence the knowledge on sophisticated agricultural practices and food preparations that appreciate intricacies of health and nutrition basis of foods. Archeological and documentary evidence found in Sri Lanka support continuous inward migration and convergence of various foreign nations ensuring trade, governing power, and diplomatic relations resulting in multiethnic nature of the foods and food traditions of the island.

The first recorded food-related hospitality is described in Mahāvaṃsa (Chapter VII), about a special incidence happened in fifth century BCE, between the noblewoman Kuweni and Indian prince Vijaya and crew. This Aryan language–speaking group of 700 from Northern India landed in the north-west coast of the island (coinciding with the passing away of lord Gautama Buddha ) was served with special rice preparations, sweets made from rice, rice flour, jaggery (a traditional sweetener [ 20 ]), honey, and a variety of local fruits [ 21 , 22 , 23 ]. Reintroduction of Buddhism in third century BCE (250 to 207 BCE) and subsequent invasions, occupancies, royal marriages between foreign nations had a profound impact and significant contribution to the island food culture. Several nations including, Arabic, Roman, Oriental, Central Asian, and Indian in the early centuries for internal and foreign trade, and the domination of three European nations (Portuguese, Dutch, and English) in the island governance since 1505 AD had profound influence on Sri Lankan culinary tradition and style. Buddhism and Hinduism that existed since ancient times with the later introduction of Islam and Christianity influenced the religious aspects of food culture, traditions, and taboos. Low consumption of meat, particularly beef, even today may have a religious influence. Similar to the cultural practices and languages, all these foreign influences enriched Sri Lankan food culture than taking presidency over in converting to a microcosm of another culture or a nation.

Food and traditional medical systems

Ingredients and preparation processes of traditional Sri Lankan foods have a strong relationship with maintenance of general health and prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) of the consumer in addition to providing required nutrition. Today, the deeply rooted indigenous medical system ( Hela Wedakam since the time of multi-talented local ruler Rāvana , time unknown) co-exists with the Ayurvedic since pre-Aryan civilization ( Siddha and Unani ) and the Western medical system introduced during the colonial era. Although taste and appeal are the key, the indigenous medical system emphasizes the use of ingredients and preparations that suit general wellbeing, physiological condition, involved activities, and disease conditions of the consumer, and the environment and climate of the consuming location as primary considerations. Indigenous medicine–based healing system focuses on mental and physical fitness simultaneously, bearing some similarities with Ayurveda but diverges in practice and constituents. Maintaining harmony between the human being and nature and integration of foods that nature provides in keeping the balance of bodily systems are the fundamentals of the indigenous medical system. Avoidance of extremes and selective use of opposites of “hot/heaty” and “cold/cooling” foods is embedded in indigenous and Ayurveda systems [ 24 ].

Foods and food preparation

Being a predominantly agrarian society, food culture and traditions in Sri Lanka have evolved with the cultivated crops, daily activities, beliefs and the seasonal nature of food sources. A typical traditional meal comprises a carbohydrate source/s (grains or grain products, tubers, or starchy fruit) and accompaniments providing protein, lipids, fiber, and micronutrients. Protein sources are animal or plant (e.g., cashew nut, Anacadia occidentalis ) based and lipids are mainly from plants, especially from coconut ( Cocos nucifera ) or sesame ( Sesamum indicum ). A variety of fruits, pods, seeds, leaves, tubers, stems, and flowers of native plants are included in the meal as various preparations. Ripe local fruits, buffalo milk curd with a sweetener, and simple sweetmeats are the common dessert options. A “Chew of Betel” comprised of betel leaves ( Piper betle ) and arica nuts ( Areca catechu ) with tropical aromatic spices such as cardamom ( Elettaria cardamomum ) finishes the traditional meal. The diverse nature of sources and preparations makes the plate of a Sri Lankan meal comprised of a range of colors, tastes, and flavors. When eating food, usually fingers are used, particularly the right hand. Each bite of food is a mix of all food items in the plate that is squeezed well and mixed with fingers to combine all flavors and tastes.

Grains and grain products

Rice and rice-based products.

Rice is the staple and the main carbohydrate source of Sri Lankan diet since ancient days. Cultivation of paddy and production of rice has been central to societal, cultural, religious, and economic activities of the island [ 17 , 25 ]. The Cascade Tank-Village System of Sri Lanka is a recognized Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System that provides water needs for water-intensive rice cultivation securing food supply and creating a resilient ecosystem while preserving biodiversity and associated traditional knowledge [ 18 , 26 ].

The indica varieties of rice are the primarily cultivated types in Sri Lanka. Among the traditional rice varieties, eating quality traits and grain milling characteristics, e.g., small round grains, thin long grains, pigmented (red-brown), fragrant, etc. are equally important considerations as agronomic performances. The low-protein levels (average value of 7.7% compared with 12.4% in traditional rice varieties) and high glycemic index (GI) [ 27 ] of modern rice varieties is a concern because of the considerable daily intake. In 2016, the per capita consumption of rice including rice-based products was ~ 114 kg per year providing 45% total caloric and 40% total protein requirement of a Sri Lankan [ 28 ]. Increasing science-based evidence and awareness of health benefits of the major and minor nutrients of traditional rice varieties have boosted production of indigenous varieties making them available for the average consumer [ 27 , 29 ].

Traditional rice preparations

Processing of paddy into edible rice grains, once a household task, is now an industrial operation. Unpolished rice and red-pigmented rice are considered superior in health benefits since ancient times. Parboiling has been in practice since time unknown and can be done for indica varieties. Boiling in water allowing grains to absorb all or rarely draining excess water out makes rice ready for consumption. Simple additives besides salt, vegetable oil, and ghee, turmeric ( Curcuma longa ), curry leaves ( Murraya koenigii ), rampe leaves ( Pandanus amaryllifolius ), cardamom, and/or nutmeg ( Myristica fragrans ) are cooked with rice depending on the choice of the consumer. These additives bring color, aroma, and flavor to rice while impregnating with water-soluble components having antioxidant and antimicrobial activities. Complex rice preparations include incorporation of different fat types, dairy products, coconut milk, honey, vegetables, and fruits. These practices essentially enhance nutrient density, flavor, and taste of cooked rice; such are central in festivities, religious, and spiritual offerings. A meal portion of warm cooked rice with the accompanying curries, salads, and chutneys when wrapped in mildly withered (on direct heat to be pliable) banana ( Musa spp.) leaves infuses leafy aroma to the content. This traditional meal presentation is common for packing meals and adorned by all regardless of age or social status.

Milk rice is a specialty in Sri Lankan food culture (Table 1 , Fig. 2 a). This preparation of non-parboiled rice cooked with coconut milk (rarely with dairy) can be a regular meal item adored by consumers of all ages and social levels. Milk rice of various forms takes a central place in the traditional ceremonies, devotions, and festivities. Elaborative milk rice preparations include the addition of mung bean or green gram ( Vigna radiata ) (Fig. 2 b; cereal-pulse blends complement in improving essential amino acid profile and recommended by the FAO), sugarcane ( Saccharum officinarum ) jaggery , or grated coconut infused with concentrated sap of palm inflorescence (treacle) [ 22 , 30 ].

figure 2

Starchy staples of traditional Sri Lankan food items and meals are based on cereals, pulses and/or tubers. Some of the preparations do not show locality dependence but alternative cereals to rice is used according to abundance of the growing areas. A meal is comprised of a main food item and accompaniments which are usually paired with the food product. Accompaniments could be hot-savory and/or sweet. Fresh coconut kernel is used in a variety of ways mixed with cereal flour or in preparation of the accompaniments. a Milk rice with accompanying Lunumiris , b Milk rice with mung bean accompanied with Lunumiris , c Diyabath preparation, d Thalapa made of finger millet flour, e Roti made of rice and finger millet flour with Lunumiris , f String hoppers or Indiáppa with Sambōla , g Laveriya - sweetened string hoppers, h Plain Hoppers or Āppa , i Pittu made of red rice flour, j Boiled chickpea with fresh scraped coconut, k Boiled mung bean with Lunumiris , l Boiled cassava roots with fresh scraped coconut and Lunumiris

Certain rice preparations are household remedies for various ailments. Leftover cooked rice of the previous night (no refrigeration) without reheating is a highly favored breakfast item that delays hunger. Diyabath made with leftover cooked rice (Table 1 , Fig. 2 c) can lower gastric acidity [ 31 ]. Mixing fresh cow’s milk or curdled water buffalo milk with cooked rice enhances medicinal value and consumed by the locals where such milk products are abundant. A porridge-style or gruel preparation of roasted, non-parboiled rice is an easily digestible, energy-dense food for individuals recovering from any sickness (Fig. 3 a). Although indica rice varieties have high amylose content (23–31%) in starch that resists digestion and pose low GI, longer cooking time, and excess water in porridge preparation can result in a high degree of starch gelatinization that increases digestibility [ 32 ]. Rice porridge can be enriched with protein and fat of coconut milk, sweetened with palm jaggery or treacle, or spiced with onion ( Allium cepa ), ginger ( Zingiber officinale Roscoe), and garlic ( Allium sativum ), with or without various pulverized/juiced green leaves having medicinal value (Fig. 3 b). Even today, the green leaves popular for porridges are Aerva lantana , Asparagus racemosus , Cardiospermum halicacabum , Centella asiatica , and Vernonia cineria which are known for their medicinal and therapeutic value in providing blood sugar controlling, anti-inflammatory, and/or blood-purifying effects according to indigenous and Ayurveda medical systems.

figure 3

Beverages based on leaves, flowers, stems, bark or root of plants and trees that are known for various health benefits are part of traditional foods of Sri Lanka. A creamy, smooth porridge-style beverage is prepared with cooked cereals or cereal flours and with fresh coconut milk and pulverized plant materials or their water extract. Herbal teas are prepared as water infusion or by boiling with water. Usually, herbal beverages are accompanied with palm jaggery . Herbal beverages prepared with cereals could be a breakfast meal due to their caloric-richness. Water infusions and extracts are consumed as herbal teas in any time of the day. a Plain rice porridge, b Rice porridge made with extract of plant leaves or Kola Kenda , c Porridge made with finger millet flour, d Herbal tea made with flowers of bael fruit

The recipes and notes maintained by chef clans for royal families of pre-colonial era show the use of various vegetable oils and animal fats in rice preparations. The sacred food offering to the Temple of Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka includes a wide range of traditional food items about 32 in number at a time, which is an honorable task these chef clans performed and still maintained [ 33 ]. Present-day rice preparations in Sri Lanka reflect the influence of several ethnic cultures. Mixing cooked rice with tempered vegetables, especially carrots, leeks, and green peas, and garnishes such as cashew, raisins, meat, and egg in making fried rice could be a convergence of British and Oriental food preferences. Biriyani -style rice of Northern or Central Asian culinary tradition remains with a selection of spices and oil (vegetable oil replaces ghee) that are preferable to the local palate. The Lamprais is rice cooked with flavored oil and lumped together with shellfish-based fried chutney, curried plantains, and meat (poultry, beef, or mutton) and has Dutch influence.

Rice flour-based preparations

Traditionally, rice flour is prepared either by pounding grains (dehusked grains soaked and drained) in a wooden or stone mortar with a wooden pestle or grinding between two flat stone slabs which is now replaced by commercial-scale flour mills or home-scale electric grinders. Flour particle size is controlled by sieving with different mesh sizes.

Gruels ( Thalapa , Kanji ; Fig. 2 d), unleavened flatbreads ( Roti ; Fig. 2 e), string hoppers ( Indiāppa ; Fig. 2 f), hoppers ( Āppa ; Fig. 2 h), and Pittu (Fig. 2 i) that are made primarily from rice flour comprise the main meal item in the traditional diet and consumed with suitable accompaniments (Table 1 ). Flours of other grains and plant materials are combined depending on the product. Some of these food products are found in the South Indian food traditions. Mild fermentation, heat denaturation, and/or gelatinization of starch and protein of grain flours [ 34 , 35 ] during steaming (moist–heat treatment) of the wet pastes or roasting of flour slurries create the unique structures, textures, and tastes of these products.

Other cereals and pulses

Various grains requiring far less water than rice to grow are common in low-rainfall seasons and non-irrigating areas and replace rice in the meals.

Grains of finger- ( Eleusine coracana ), proso- ( Panicum miliaceum ), foxtail- ( Setaria italica ), and kodo- ( Papsalum scorbiculatum ) millets and maize are primarily converted into flour for various products (Figs. 2 b, d, e, j, k and 3 c, Table 1 ). Boiled maize cob is a popular snacking item and now a street food. Incorporation of wheat flour to the Sri Lankan food culture may be since the Portuguese invasion, now a sought-after ingredient for many flour-based foods [ 19 ]. Depending on the availability, flours of cycad seeds or Bassia longifolia dry flower supplement the grain flour. Hypocholesterolemic and hypoglycemic effects of cycad seed flour have been reported [ 36 ]. Water lily ( Nymphaea pubescens ) seeds harvested from large water bodies where they grow naturally are prepared similar to rice and prescribed for diabetic patients [ 37 ].

Pulses and legumes

Mung bean and black gram ( Vigna mungo ) are common in rain-fed Chena cultivation (slash-and-burn cultivation method) and contribute to traditional diet and food products. Cowpea or black-eyed peas ( Vigna unguiculata L. Walp), white or red skin, was popularized during the Green Revolution for intercropping. Horse gram ( Macrotyloma uniflorum ) has well-recognized medicinal properties [ 38 ] and included in meals in various ways. Pigeon pea ( Cajanus cajan ) whole or split (dhal) is for curries and fried/roasted snacks. Chick pea ( Cicer arietinum , both Kabuli and Desi) and lentil ( Lens culinaris , red and green, Mysoor dhal) have been introduced after 1977 through the trade relationships with India [ 39 ]. Boiled whole grain pulses garnished with salt, coconut pieces, red chilies, and/or onion makes a simple meal (Fig. 2 j, k). Curried red lentil has become a necessity in present-day Sri Lankan meals without limits of consumer income, type of occasion, or the social class. In 2011, lentil comprised > 70% of the average monthly per capita consumption of pulses amounting to 671 g/person/month [ 40 ].


Various preparations of animal and plant sources accompany the carbohydrate staple of the traditional meal. These accompaniments are prepared as a thin gravy ( Hodda ), sour curry ( Ambula ), thick gravy ( Niyambalāwa ), mildly cooked salad ( Malluma ), deep fried ( Thel Beduma ), or dry roasted ( Kabale Beduma ). Coconut milk, grated coconut, coconut (or sesame) oil, and a variety of herbs and spices are essential ingredients in these preparations [ 17 ]. Some of these accompaniments are paired with main meal items. For example, milk rice goes well with Lunumiris , and Sambōla with boiled tubers or jack fruit. Similarly, some of the food items have preferred meal of the day, and physiology or health condition of the consumer depending on the health attributes of the source material, e.g . , mung bean usually does not accompany the nighttime meal or a person suffering from the common cold.

Herbs and spices

Various herbs and spices add flavor while prolonging product shelf life. Almost all the herbs and spices used in traditional Sri Lankan cooking have reported antifungal, antimicrobial, bacteriostatic, fungicidal and/or fungistatic properties, or pH-lowering ability and medicinal value such as anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic [ 41 , 42 ].

Turmeric, the rhizome of Curcuma longa L. is an essential ingredient that gives unique yellow color and subtle flavor to Sri Lankan curries and rice preparations. Heat-blanched turmeric rhizome is dried and used as a powder or a paste. The main active ingredient, curcuminoids possess cardioprotective, hypo-lipidemic, antibacterial, anti-HIV, anti-tumor, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-arthritic activities [ 43 ].

The hot pungent taste and flavor of traditional dishes are primarily from ginger and black pepper ( Piper nigrum L.) besides several hot chili pepper varieties. Oriental/brown ( Brassica juncea ) and black mustard  ( B. nigra ), fenugreek ( Trigonella foenum-graecum ), cardamom, nutmeg, cloves ( Syzygium aromaticum (L.) Merr. & L.M. Perry) provide a range of flavors and aroma in the traditional dishes. The dried husk of Garcinia gummi-gutta (L.) Roxb. (Gambooge, formerly G. cambogia ), and the flesh of ripe tamarind ( Tamarindus indica (L.) pods give a tarty note and increase the viscosity of the medium. The lemons ( Citrus limon ), limes ( Citrus aurantiifolia ), and fruits of Averrhoa bilimbi (Oxilidacea; Bilin ) are used for sour, tangy taste notes. The bark of cinnamon ( Cinnamomum zeylanicum ), Moringa ( Moringa oleifera ), and Terminalia arjuna are used in various preparations. Dry spices are used as whole, pieces, powder, or a wet paste. The traditional spice base ( Thuna-Paha ) is quite distinct in flavor and comprises either three ( Thuna ) seeds (coriander, fennel, and cumin) or five ( Paha ) aromatic spices (cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, cumin, and curry leaves) together. Combinations and pre-treatments such as dry roasting create variations in the appearance and taste in the final spice preparation.

Preparation types

The variations of curries could be with a thin or thick gravy, moist without a gravy, white/yellow, red, black, sour, sweet, bitter, or hot-pungent. White curries are made pungent with immature green chili, garlic, ginger, or ground black pepper. Red curries contain a considerable amount of red chili paste/powder with a few other spices. Black curries are prepared with dark roasted spices, especially coriander, fennel, and cumin [ 44 ]. Dry gambooge gives dark, brown-black color to the final preparation. Coconut milk, buffalo milk, or water is the base for gravy while roasted rice flour (bland, roasted), soaked and ground mustard (pungent), and ripe tamarind pulp (sour) are the primary thickeners. A thin spiced gravy made with ground coriander, cumin, black pepper, red chili, curry leaves, and garlic is Kāyan hodda or Thambum hodi ; an appetizer and a remedy for various ailments including stomach disorders, reducing blood cholesterol, and for post-confinement mothers. Seven different plant items curried together ( Hath Māluwa , Fig. 4 a) is a must in the traditional New Year (based on the movement of sun and constellations, and the arrival of spring in April) menu that accompanies milk rice and also for specific spiritual devotions. It is a macro- and micro-nutrient-dense plant-based dish made of fruits (e.g., squash), flowers (e.g., pumpkin Cucurbita maxima ), green leaves, nuts (cashew, immature coconut), pods (e.g., long bean Vigna unguiculata or winged bean Psophocarpus tetragonolobus ), seeds (e.g. pulses, jackfruit seeds), and tubers that can accompany any meal. Ingredient choices depend on local availability. Dried fish is optional [ 21 ].

figure 4

Accompaniments are essential in the typical Sri Lankan meal plate. They are prepared with animal or plant sources and complete the main meal with starchy staple such as rice and rice flour-based food products. Accompaniments are prepared in various ways and consistencies. These accompaniments add protein, fats, dietary fiber and micronutrients and complete the nutrient package that the meal provide. Condiments and spices that are added and the way of preparation give a range of colors, flavors and taste while improving the eating satisfaction of the food. a Hath Maluwa made with seven ingredients, b Sambōla , c Kiri Hodi , d Curried cashew, e Curried immature jackfruit, f Boiled mature jackfruit perianth with scraped coconut, g Curried jackfruit seeds, h Bread fruit Malluma , i Fried bitter melon salad, j Green leaf Malluma , k Traditional Sri Lankan pickle, l Dry sour fish curry ( Ambulthiyal )

Oilseeds, nuts, and other seeds

Plant oils are preferred over animal fats in regular food preparations. The use of clarified butter ( ghee ) is limited to infuse flavor and in devotion preparations. Coconut, the most sought-after oil-rich seed, is integral to the island’s food culture since time unknown. Virtually, almost all parts of the mature coconut tree are utilized in a range of products for sustaining human life providing food, medicine, construction materials, decoration pieces, animal feed, and fuel. Coconut kernel fresh or dried, the water of the fruit, and inflorescence sap are all direct foods or food ingredients. The liquid inside the immature coconut drupe is rich in electrolytes and sugars and considered the most natural drink after water. Fresh coconut kernel, finely grated, is an accompaniment to starchy staples. A spicy salad ( Sambōla , Fig. 4 b) is made with fresh scraped coconut, onion, chili, lemon, and salt. Such spicy coconut salad with thinly cut green leaves, starchy items such as pulses, tubers, breadfruit ( Artocarpus altilis ; Del ) or jackfruit ( Artocarpus heterophyllus ; Kos ) cooked together makes Malluma , a macro- and micronutrient-rich food. The water extract of mature coconut kernel or “coconut milk” is rich in protein and oil, an essential ingredient in Sri Lankan curries and gravies. Mildly cooked (near boiling) coconut milk with salt, turmeric, green chili, shallots, curry leaves, pandanus leaves, and lime juice makes Kiri Hodi (Fig. 4 c) a versatile accompaniment for any meal. Mechanical pressing of dry mature coconut kernel produces oil for cooking or for lighting fuel. The pleasant nutty aroma and almost bland flavor of coconut oil make it a sought-after oil for deep frying. Oil extracted from fibrous residue is a filler in certain sweets or for animal feed.

Sesame oil obtained from mechanical pressing is valued for its medicinal properties and a popular food oil among the Tamil ethnic group. Whole seed is adorned in traditional sweetmeats and vegetable preparations [ 33 ]. Groundnut/peanut ( Arachis hypogaea ) oil is not traditional in Sri Lankan food but the whole seed is a cheaper alternative to cashew in sweetmeats. Roasted or oil tempered mature groundnut and boiled immature groundnut are popular snacks. Cashew takes a special place in Sri Lankan food culture. Mature cashew is a popular snack and tender or mature nut is used in various preparations. Curried mature/tender cashew (Fig. 4 d) is an energy-dense (48.3% lipids, 20.5% protein, ~ 4% dietary fiber and free sugars) vegan dish [ 45 , 46 ] and essential ingredient for the Hath Māluwa .

Tubers, roots, and their products

Various tubers and roots (yams) satisfy carbohydrates in the Sri Lankan diet. The edible species of Dioscorea and Colocasia are the most popular. Tubers of Amorphophallus paeoniifolius (elephant-foot yam), Dioscorea alata , Dioscorea bulbifera , Dioscorea sativa , and Typhonium trilobatum (Bengal arum) are consumed since historical times [ 30 ]. Arrowroot ( Maranta arundinacea ), cassava/tapioca ( Manihot esculenta Crantz), sweet potato ( Ipomoea batatas ), and red-colored Canna discolor may be introductions by the Portuguese [ 47 ]. Potato ( Solanum tuberosum ), a popular root vegetable, has been introduced by the British ~ 1850 [ 48 ].

Yams boiled in water with or without salt accompanied by grated fresh coconut and Lunumiris or Sambōla makes a meal (Fig. 2 l). Whole yams are stored in dry conditions such as sand pits for off-seasons. Thinly sliced yams are sundried and make into flours for supplementing roti and gruels.

Fruits and vegetables and their preparations

The traditional meals comprise a wide range of plant materials of different species prepared in a variety of ways. Pre-treatments such as steaming, sun drying, and soaking in salt or acidified water are practiced for some plant items as they contain potentially harmful compounds and/or enzymes that can release toxic compounds; e.g., alkaloids, cyanogenic glycosides that release hydrocyanic acid [ 17 ].

Two Moraceae trees, jackfruit, and breadfruit found ubiquitously in the island provide many edible components. Jackfruit, a multiple fruit that grows in the tree trunk, is the largest fruit known; the achenes with fleshy perianth covering the seed comprise a fruit. Both perianth and seed are edible and record significant nutritional, phytochemical, and medicinal value [ 49 , 50 , 51 ]. All developing stages and components of the multiple fruit are edible, e.g., inflorescence, young fruit, mature starch-rich fleshy perianth, starch-rich seed, and perianth of the ripe fruit. The young fruit ( Polos ) is considerably high in phenolic compounds and dietary fiber and processed as a vegetable that provides several health benefits (Fig. 4 e). These various jackfruit components and preparations are enjoyed regardless of age, social status, or physiological condition of the consumer. The starchy perianth (~ 25% carbohydrates) of one jackfruit provides a meal for several individuals. The simplest preparation is the small cut pieces of mature perianth boiled in water with salt until soft. Popular accompaniments are curried meat, fish or dry fish, and grated coconut kernel or Sambōla (Fig. 4 f). Low GI (< 55%), and high levels of dietary fiber and slowly available glucose (30%) have been reported for such meals [ 51 ] . Starch-rich jackfruit seed is a good source of fiber, protein and vitamins [ 52 ], makes an appetizing food when boiled, roasted, or curried (Fig. 4 g). When ripe, the starchy perianth becomes a fragrant, sweet-tasting dessert fruit either with soft, melting pulp ( Wela ) or firm, fleshy pulp ( Waraka ).

The mature breadfruit is rich in starch and considered a “heaty food.” The food preparations are more or less similar to jackfruit and the curried or Mallun preparations accompany rice (Fig. 4 h). The reduction in glucose absorption upon breadfruit consumption is linked to its fiber components [ 53 ].

Various types of gourds (snake, ridge, bitter, bottle), squashes, melons, beans (long, French, winged, broad) are popular traditional vegetables. Health benefits and medicinal properties of the edible plant parts are serious considerations when incorporating in a meal than their taste. For example, although tastes bitter, the bitter melon/gourd ( Momordica charantia , Fig. 4 i) is a very popular vegetable for curries and salads. The ability of M. charantia to control blood glucose levels in type 1 and type 2 human diabetes is supported by traditional medicine and scientific research [ 54 , 55 ].

Green leaves of various local plants having positive health attributes enrich the meal with fiber and micronutrients. The most common preparation is Malluma (Fig. 4 j), thinly sliced tender leaves mixed with grated coconut and spiced to provide pungency and acidity making a salad-style preparation that is consumed fresh or with mild heating. Few examples are Gotu kola or Indian pennywort ( Centella asiatica ) which has many health benefits including neuroprotective, brainpower and eyesight improving, bitter-tasting leaves of green milkweed ( Wattakaka volubilis / Dregea volubilis ) and crepe gingers ( Costus speciosus ) are considered to lower blood glucose levels, Indian coral tree ( Erythrina indica ) leaves are natural de-worming food for young children and the leaves, flowers of vegetable hummingbird tree ( Sesbania grandiflora ) is a good source of antioxidants and calcium, and Alternanthera sessilis (sessile joyweed/ drawf copper leaf) from aquatic environment relieves simple digestive problems [ 56 ]. Greens mixed with cooked pulses, yams, unripe jackfruit, or breadfruit also make popular accompaniments.

Vegetable as pickles or relishes makes a taste-enhancing side dish for the traditional meal. The young fruits of papaya ( Carica papaya ), jackfruit, mango, Ceylon olive ( Elaeocarpus serratus ), Spondias dulcis , or the stems of Lacia spinosa with shallots and green chilies combined with coconut vinegar as the acidulant with the flavor supplemented by the pungent isothiocyanates released from wet pastes of mustard and chopped pieces of Moringa root bark makes the traditional Sri Lankan vegetable pickle (Fig. 4 k). Immature fruits of mango ( Mangifera indica ), forest mango or hog-plum ( Spondias pinnata ), Indian gooseberry ( Phyllanthus emblica ), and boiled fruits of Ceylon olive garnished with hot chili and salt are popular snacks and available from present-day roadside vendors.

A wide range of ripe fruit such as mango, papaya ( Carica papaya ), pineapple ( Ananas comosus ), passion fruit ( Passiflora edulis ), anona ( Anona reticulata ), durian ( Durio zibethinus ), rambutan ( Nephelium lappaceum ), mangosteen ( Garcinia mangostana ), guava ( Psidium guajava ), banana, and jackfruit are common dessert fruits accompanying the main meal. Usually, wood apple ( Limonia acidissima ), bael ( Aegle marmelos ) fruit, and avocado ( Persea americana ) are further prepared by mixing with a sweetener, salt, and/or lemon/lime juice.

Sweetmeats, snacks, and desserts

Sweetmeats are snacking foods that occupy a special place in regular life, festivities and offerings, and adorned in folklore poems, stories, and historical texts. The fourth century CE Thonigal a rock inscription indicates the quantity of a meal provided with the food items such as curd, bee honey, sweets, sesame, butter, salt, green herbs, and turmeric in between the morning and noon for the refectory of the monastery [ 57 ]. Family and friendly visits accompany bundles of sweetmeats and the content varies with the locality, availability of the expertise, and affordability. Obvious regional variations depending on the ingredients found in the ecoregions reflect the product diversity. Visitors during non-meal times are served with sweets available in the house with hot or cold beverages. Sweets are usually accompanied by ripe banana of different types. Home-made sweets are essential food items of the traditional New Year celebrations for the family, visitors, and friendly food exchanges. Traditional sweeteners are bee honey, treacle and jaggery , which now replaced mostly by cane or corn sugar. Jaggery and treacle making involves collection of sugar-rich inflorescence sap of Caryota urens or Cocos nucifera palms into clay pots containing fresh lime, pieces of Vateria copallifera and/or Careya arborea tree bark, and leaves of Azadirachta indica (avoids fermentation), then boiled to become a thick brown syrup for treacle or further concentrated to a solid soft enough to bite as jaggery (65–85% total sugar) [ 20 , 58 ].

The starch base for sweetmeats is mainly rice flour. Supplementation with mung bean, finger millet, or black gram flour brings variations. Depending on the product, particle size, moisture content, and pre-gelatinization are significant considerations in preparing the flour base. Coconut milk, fresh scraped coconut, dry aromatic spices (e.g., ginger, black pepper, cardamom, nutmeg and cloves), cashew, and sesame seeds enrich these preparations. Coconut oil is the preferred medium for deep frying. The non-deep-fried products are usually flattened and cut into pieces or formed into shapes (Table 2 ). The simplest and the most ancient sweetmeat is Aggalā (Table 2 , Fig. 5 a) which is made with rice flour and sweetener syrup. Popped rice ( Vilanda ) with bee honey is another ancient sweetmeat even mentioned in Buddhist literature.

figure 5

Sweetmeats can be snack items or dessert food of the traditional main meal. Common ingredients for sweetmeats are cereal (rice, millet) or other grain flours, palm sap-based sweetener, fresh coconut kernel and vegetable oil. Preparation methods include steaming, deep frying, and roasting. Final products are of various shapes, texture and taste and some are local specialties based on the ingredients of the eco-region. a Aggalā ; Balls formed from flour of roasted rice and a sweetner, b Konda Kevum ; deep-fried knotted oil cakes made from a rice flour and a sweetner mixture, c Mung Kevum ; deep-fried, batter-coated oil cakes of mung bean flour, d Nāran Kewum ; batter-coated and deep-fried balls made from sweetened mixture of coconut, pieces of roasted mung bean and cashew nuts or balls of sweetened Pittu , e Athirasa ; deep-fried oilcakes made from the flattened balls of rice flour and a sweetner dough, f Undu Walalu ; sweetener infused deep-fried product of black gram flour and rice flour mixture, g Aasmi ; deep-fried (2 times) product of a mixture of rice flour and viscous plant extract with sugar syrup decorations, h Kokis ; deep-fried rice flour and coconut milk batter using a mold, i Aluvā ; roasted rice flour and sweetner syrup mixture cooked, flattened and cut into pieces, j Kalu Dodol ; dark brown/black soft, delicate sweet made of rice flour and coconut milk cooked together until a soft dark caramel color solid and then flattened and cut into pieces, k Sow Dodol ; a cooked mixture of rice flour Pittu and a sweetener until a soft cake is formed and then cut into pieces, l Helapa ; steamed dough of rice and finger millet flour with grated coconut and sweetener that is wrapped in kenda ( Macranga peltata ) leaves. Preparation details of these products are in Table 2

Among the deep-fried sweetmeats, few variations of oil cakes ( Kevum ) are central in the traditional food culture. For oil cakes, a mixture of rice flour-liquid sweetener prepared in various ways is deep fried to obtain a soft-spongy cake about 2-bite sizes. Variations of the product (Table 2 , Fig. 5 b–e) are created by heat and moisture treatments during the batter preparation, sweetener type (treacle vs cane sugar), mixing of roasted mung bean flour, and addition of coconut milk, etc. The “ Undu Walalu ” (Table 2 , Fig. 5 f) which is a famous sweetmeat of the central hilly areas of the country is an example of eco-region specialty. The Aasmi or Del Kevum is a unique Sri Lankan fried sweetmeat of semi-circular shape that has filigreed white honeycomb look and soft-crispy texture (Table 2 , Fig. 5 g). Although not sweet, Kokis (Fig. 5 h) is a fried, molded (different shapes) batter of rice flour and coconut milk colored with turmeric, with a crunchy, crispy texture and nutty taste, and may be of Dutch origin [ 16 , 19 ].

Among the other non-deep-fried sweetmeats, Aluvā (Fig. 5 i) and softer, semi-moist Dodol have few variations. The dark brown/black Kalu Dodol (Fig. 5 j) made from coconut milk and treacle is a special delicacy of the island south while the not so dark product Kiri Dodol is made with dairy milk and a specialty in the mid-country. Granules of Pittu sweetened with sugar syrup and cut into pieces makes Welithalapa / Sow Dodol (Fig. 5 k). Moreover, roasted nuts, seeds, and pickled fruits are simple snacking foods. Sesame seeds mixed with honey, jaggery , with or without coconut and made into balls ( Thala Guli ) is a timeless popular product.

Helapa (Table 2 , Fig. 5 l) is a unique sweetmeat prepared by steaming the mixture of rice flour, finger millet flour, grated coconut, and a sweetener [ 16 ]. Deep-fried fritters ( Wade ) is made from soaked split pulses (e.g., lentil, chick pea, or mung bean) ground into a coarse paste and mixed with ingredients that contribute to a hot savory taste. Various pastry forms (e.g., Cutlets , Chinese rolls, Pattis ) found today are introductions from foreign food cultures.

Puddings such as Watalappan and Bibikkan are deserts having international roots and use coconut milk or grated coconut, rice flour (for Bibikkan ), eggs, and treacle or jaggery and involve heat setting by steaming or baking. Cooked Sago beads in water, sweetened and with or without dry fruits and nuts, generate a spoonable gel-like product and considered a cooling food.

Beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic

Natural springs provide regular drinking water; storing in unglazed clay vessels cools drinking water for the tropical household. The liquid of immature coconut drupe rich in sugars, vitamins, amino acids, and minerals is a highly valued natural beverage. King coconut, a native variety with an orange-yellow outer skin, provides a sweeter liquid than regular coconut, and a healthy drink with a cooling effect. Consumption of juices of local fruits is popular since ancient times, primarily for their therapeutic/medicinal properties. Different oranges and mandarin types; Cirtus sinensis , Citrus aurantium , Citrus nobilis , Citrus reticulate , and Citrus madurensis are common in households. Juice of sweet orange or pomegranate ( Punica granatum ) enhances recovery from minor ailments. Excessive consumption of citrus juices is considered affecting the chemical balance of the body towards more phlegmatic conditions. Sour orange juice mixed with honey and fresh ginger root juice is a household remedy for cough. Ripe fruits of Aegle marmelos and Phyllanthus emblica have medicinal value and usually made into nutrient-rich drinks. Watermelon that grows in the dry areas is a thirst quencher.

Traditional herbal teas (Fig. 3 d) with associated health benefits were the common beverages before introduction of coffee and tea ~ 300 years ago. Dry flowers (e.g., Cassia auriculata , Aegle marmelos ), leaves (e.g., Justicia adhatoda ), roots (e.g., Hemidesmus indicus ), barks (e.g., Coscinium fenestratum ), stems (e.g., Tinospora cordifolia ), young fruits (e.g., Aegle marmelos ), mature fruits (e.g., Coriandrum sativum , Phyllanthus emblica ), or whole plants (e.g., Sida alnifolia , Aerva lanata ) having proven medicinal value is boiled in water and the extract is consumed with palm jaggery .

Coffee ( Coffea arabica mainly) was introduced in part of the “production states” of the Dutch East-India trade scheme. Hot coffee is a beverage served for breakfast, late night, or cold rainy days. Coffee infused with cardamom, nutmeg, sugar, and milk is served chilled for warm afternoons. Tea ( Camelia sinensis ) and cocoa ( Theobroma cocoa ) were introduced around 1820 and 1834, respectively by the British for the commercial value in foreign markets [ 59 ]. Careful monitoring of soil, environmental conditions, and the production practices up to final dry tea preparation is crucial for the unique flavors and color of world-famous “Ceylon black tea.” Hot water infusion of black tea with or without milk and sugar is the beverage that starts the day and also common in social gatherings and festivities. Darker red infusion with strong tea taste sometimes with a slice of fresh ginger root is mostly preferred; the delicate fancy flavors or aroma-infused teas are only a modern consideration.

Fruit-based milk or smoothie-type traditional drinks are found in different eco-regions. Juice of mangrove Sonneratia caseolaris fruit mixed with coconut milk is a vitamin-rich, delicate refreshing drink with recognized medicinal value [ 60 ] and popular in the Southern  coastal areas [ 17 ]. Wood/elephant apple fruit pulp blended with coconut or dairy milk is an authentic Sri Lankan beverage. Ripe banana and coconut milk sweetened with palm jaggery is popular in the North central region and resembles the banana-based non-dairy smoothie of today’s popular food trend.

Gruels or porridge (Fig. 3 a–c) popular since ancient times could be cereal grain-based or from starch and polysaccharides rich flours such as the spongy pith of Caryota urens palm (contains 28.4% amylose and 71.3% amylopectin), [ 61 ] and Sago palm ( Metroxylon sagu , 60% starch) [ 62 ]. Health effects of these are described as digestion tract health, blood sugar lowering, and body cooling.

Traditional fermented alcoholic drinks are from the inflorescence sap of Cocos nucifera (in the coastal area) or Caryota urens (in the inner parts of the island. Sucrose, glucose, and fructose of the sap [ 63 ] are allowed to ferment naturally by Saccharomyces species in clay pots till ethanol concentration reaches 5–6% (by volume) to procure sweet-tasting cloudy, white palm wine or toddy [ 64 ]. Fermentation if continued, growth of Acetobacter increases acidity and produces sour-tasting palm vinegar. Tapping the inflorescence, sap harvesting, and conversion to palm wine, sweetener, or vinegar all require a highly skilled “ Toddy Tappers ” who know the techniques and routines. Consumption, production, and sale of toddy has been documented since ancient times; however, introduction and consumption of other wines, distillates, and spirits were after the occupancy of European nations [ 65 ].

Animal products and their preparations

Being a pluri-religious and multi-ethnic society, religious and cultural biases and prejudices preclude the consumption of animal flesh among Sri Lankans. Meat supply of the traditional diet is primarily from a variety of large and small game, ground mammals, and birds. Drying with or without smoking or marinating in honey are traditional preservation practices that ensured low water activity to prolong shelf life in the tropical, humid environment. Such products are similar to the Jerky-style, low-moisture, protein, and energy-dense meat products. Consumption of beef and cow meat is less common since these animals are valuable helpers in agricultural and draft activities and provide milk for the family. Animal rearing for meat in the household is very much limited to non-Buddhists. Goat meat is popular among Hindu and Islamic groups. Traditionally, meat is curried with spices with or without coconut milk making a suitable accompaniment for rice and other starchy staples. Cured meat products such as bacon, ham, and sausages introduced from foreign cultures have limited popularity. Lingus , a special form of sausage made by cooking small pieces of pork with spices (coriander, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, vinegar, and salt) [ 66 ] stuffed into casings and smoked, is a specialty in Sri Lanka and a delicacy inherited from Portuguese.

Generally, fish is acceptable among all religious and ethnic groups and always in great demand [ 17 ]. Oceanic fish is abundant for the coastal area population while fresh-water species are available for inland dwellers. About 70% of the country’s animal protein supply is from fish and aquatic sources, in which marine sources provide 86% of the supply [ 67 ]. Small and large, near and offshore, pelagic and demersal fish, sharks, skates and rays, etc. comprise food fish supply. Popular food fish are; large species such as Lethrinus lentjan , L. nebulosus , Pristipomoides spp., Epinephelus spp . , commercially important Katsuwonus pelamis (Skipjack tuna) and Thunnus albacares (tuna), Scomberomorus commerson (Seer fish), Platypterus spp., Tetrapturus angustirostris , T. audax , Makaira nigricanus , M. indica , Xiphias gladius and Caryphaens hippurus , Istiophorus platypterus (Sail fish), Euthynnus affinis , and small- and medium-size fish like Amblygaster sirm , Amblygaster clupeoides , Auxis thazard , Hirundichthys spp . (Sore fish), Lepturacanthus savala , Rastrelliger spp., Sardinella albella , and Stolephorus spp . , (Anchovy) [ 68 ].

A variety of freshwater fish including Arius falcarius (Whiskered fish), Heteropneusts fossilis (Stinging catfish), Clarias brachysoma (Walking catfish) and Ophiocephalus striatus (Murrel catfish) and the highly productive freshwater fish Oreochromis mossambicus (introduced in 1951) together contribute ~ 15% of food fish supply [ 69 ].

Oceanic fish sun dried in sea breeze preserves and generates unique savory and salty (up to 17% salt content) [ 70 ] taste of dry fish, an affordable protein source with a long shelf life. The “Maldive fish” is a special form of dried fish preparation having a long shelf life and processed by cooking, drying, and smoking, mostly the deboned flesh of Scromboidiae species. It is a favorite additive in curries and salads for meaty/umami taste. Autolyzing fish under controlled conditions by maintaining a high salt level and acidity ( Garcinia gummi-gutta as the acidulant) makes fermented or wet-salted fish Jādi [ 71 , 72 ], another preserved fish delicacy in the coastal regions.

The dry curry preparation of fish, sour fish curry or Ambulthiyal (Fig. 4 l) with a paste of peppercorns, Garcinia gummi-gutta , and salt is a traditional ready-to-eat, short-term (3–7 days at ambient temperature), and preserved form common in the coastal areas. The bioactives of pepper together with pH reduction by organic acids of Garcinia fruit pulp suppress microbial spoilage of fish tissues. This popular dish primarily uses tuna species. Curried fish with gravy in red-style or white-yellow (with coconut milk) is also common. In the coastal areas, a traditional meal consists of non-parboiled red rice, curried fish, and grated fresh coconut or Sambola (or Malluma with green leaves), providing the full complement of protein, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, essential fatty acids, and micronutrients. Freshwater fish from inland reservoirs are prepared similar to oceanic fish and the excess harvest is converted to dry fish with no or less salt.

Since historic times, rearing free-range hens is common among rural households primarily for eggs; an animal protein source for the family [ 73 ]. Harvesting eggs of wild birds is less common under the current regulatory protection of wild bird species. Incorporation of eggs in meals could be mainly in cooked forms and raw uncooked uses of eggs are also found. Along the coastal area, curried fish roe is commonly consumed.

Dairy and water buffalo milk is consumed in various ways. In a traditional village setting, milking cows and few calves are considered essential for the sustainable life that ensures good nutritional status of the family and perhaps neighbors who can afford to buy excess milk. Dairy milk gives five essences ( Pasgorasa ); milk, curd, ghee, cream/butter, and whey which are the traditional delicacies that are considered noble and extraordinary [ 74 ]. Ghee is exclusively obtained from the cream by removing water; the remaining non-fat solids and fat develop characteristic flavor and texture. Traditionally, water buffalo milk (~ 17% of the total milk production of the country) is converted to curd for consumption. The curdling of heated buffalo milk is by coagulation of milk protein at low pH (4.8–5.8) due to lactic acid generated by the growth of Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis , L. plantarum , L. helveticus , Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus and L. casei subsp. casei , Streptococcus thermophilus and S. lactis , S. diacetylactis , S. cremoris under controlled fermentation [ 75 ]. Buffalo milk has high total solids content (16.3 to 18.4%); protein (3.8 to 4.5%), fat (6.6 to 8.8%), lactose (4.5 to 5.2%), and casein (3.0 to 3.2%) compared with cow’s milk [ 76 ] and produces a firmer curd that is a bio-therapeutic agent with a long history of use in traditional medicine. Curd accompanied with treacle completes the most favored traditional dessert that is integral for a Sri Lankan meal. The whey fraction or buttermilk ( Mōru ) makes a popular beverage.

Concluding remarks

Traditional foods of Sri Lanka depict a convolution of indigenous foods with adaptations from various non-native cultures. An in-depth understanding of the nutritional and therapeutic value of local flora and fauna, preparations, and conversion methods of these sources into safe, edible ingredients, and an almost similar to personalized nutrition-based consumption patterns guided by indigenous medicine have converged and evolved into traditional foods of this island. In traditional Sri Lankan food, health benefits and nutrition take presidency over sensory attributes, and both diet and lifestyle are serious considerations for a healthy body and mind. At present, traditional foods are celebrated more for culinary diversity. Various socio-economic factors that prevail in this middle-income developing country challenge the appreciation and understanding of traditional foods and consumption patterns while limiting the traditional knowledge transfer even at the non-urban household. Socio-economic factors that favor lifestyle changes, consumption patterns to accommodate limited time and resources, the dwindling supply of traditional ingredients, inward migration of multi-national fast and processed food chains together with the limited knowledge and interest in food, ingredient preparation and traditional practices have overshadowed the persistence on indigenous and traditional foods in Sri Lanka. Although the direct relationship is not made, the marked rise in NCDs in last two decades despite the general good health status of the country’s population questions about the food sources, ingredients, consumption patterns, and lifestyle of the nation. About 25% of adults in Sri Lanka suffer from metabolic syndrome, and 1/5th of the adult population is either pre-diabetic or diabetic while 1/3rd of those are undiagnosed despite the low level of obesity (body mass index BMI > 30 is 3.7%) [ 77 , 78 , 79 , 80 ]. Consumers mindful of the diet and lifestyle have created a renewed demand for healthy, indigenous, and traditional food ingredients and products. Building the evidence-based data with modern science tools and practices is necessary to protect traditional knowledge of Sri Lankan foods, which is happening at a slow phase than needed. Handful number of products are available through public and private sector partnerships that are convenient, ready to eat, and portion limited while utilizing traditional food concepts.

Rapidly expanding urban population and the changing lifestyles increase the demand for processed and semi-processed convenient foods, especially in urban markets. Urban and semi-urban consumer groups look for traditional staples and sweetmeats in the form of convenient foods without compromising their known health benefits and sensory attributes. This is a window of opportunity to upgrade traditional food making presently carried out at cottage level to small-scale food industries that satisfy the safety regulations and quality standards. In a wider scale, the indigenous and traditional foods are a cultural identity that play a vital role in improving the tourism industry in Sri Lanka; therefore, sources and preparations must meet the needs other than the regular local consumer.

Consumer awareness on the food and ingredients, in general, creates the market pull in the direction of healthy eating which needs co-operation of both agri-food and health sectors. The food processing industry needs quality parameters that are science-based and measurable in order to maintain raw material sourcing, ingredient processing, product manufacturing, and storage aligning with the nutritional and therapeutic value intended in the final product. In that context, a considerable gap exists in the science and technology development related to strengthening the position of indigenous and traditional foods in Sri Lanka.

Availability of data and materials

Not applicable.

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This work was supported by the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka, under the University Research Grant No.: ASP/01/RE/SCI/2016/18.

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Mihiranie, S., Jayasinghe, J.K., Jayasinghe, C.V.L. et al. Indigenous and traditional foods of Sri Lanka. J. Ethn. Food 7 , 42 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42779-020-00075-z

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Understanding traditional and modern eating: the TEP10 framework

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Across the world, there has been a movement from traditional to modern eating, including a movement of traditional eating patterns from their origin culture to new cultures, and the emergence of new foods and eating behaviors. This trend toward modern eating is of particular significance because traditional eating has been related to positive health outcomes and sustainability. Yet, there is no consensus on what constitutes traditional and modern eating. The present study provides a comprehensive compilation of the various facets that seem to make up traditional and modern eating. Specifically, 106 facets were mentioned in the previous literature and expert discussions, combining international and interdisciplinary perspectives. The present study provides a framework (the TEP10 framework) systematizing these 106 facets into two major dimensions, what and how people eat, and 12 subdimensions. Hence, focusing only on single facets of traditional and modern eating is an oversimplification of this complex phenomenon. Instead, the multidimensionality and interplay between different facets should be considered to gain a comprehensive understanding of the trends, consequences, and underlying factors of traditional and modern eating.

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We are currently in the midst of a major change in what people eat and in the way they eat [ 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 ]. Some of these changes have been described as a nutrition transition, which refers to a shift from diets high in complex carbohydrates and fiber towards more varied diets with a higher proportion of fats, saturated fats, and sugar [ 3 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 ]. The changes partially result from the globalization and modernization of food and eating, for example, access to new technologies, modern supermarkets, and food marketing [ 3 , 10 , 11 ]. Also, urbanization has separated a large part of the world’s population from the direct production of foods, which has produced changes in eating behavior [ 12 ]. Furthermore, these changes have been accompanied by a general increase in wealth and food supply [ 13 ] as well as by a decrease in food insecurity [ 14 ]. Food safety has improved [ 15 ], costs for many foods have decreased [ 16 ], and a much wider variety of foods is available to people in almost all parts of the Earth [ 5 ]. One result of all of this has been an increase in life expectancy. In the USA, life expectancy increased from 47 years in 1900 to 78 years in 2007, for example [ 17 ]. Another advantage of the globalization and modernization of food and eating is that many of the distinctive, nutritious and delicious foods developed by different cuisines, at different localities in the world are now widely available. In a survey of people in 17 countries spanning a wide range of developmental status, 500–2000 individuals per country were asked ‘What is your favorite food?’ [ 18 ]. We inspected the five most frequently named foods within these 17 countries and categorized these 85 foods into traditional within the respective country vs. imported from other countries. The results showed that 24 of these foods can be considered traditional in the respective country (e.g., fufu in Ghana, feijoada in Brazil), 29 can be considered foods that have been imported from other parts of the world to the respective country (e.g., pizza and pasta in the Netherlands), and the remaining 32 could not be classified in these two categories (e.g., vegetables in Germany).

At the same time, however, increasing wealth has promoted eating away from home and obesity has increased. The latter will probably affect more people than food insecurity [ 19 ] at some point in the next few decades. Also, obesity already co-exists together with food insecurity [ 20 , 21 ]. As a result of the forces described, there has been a shift from acute, infectious diseases to chronic, degenerative diseases (the epidemiological revolution, [ 22 , 23 ]). All of these forces are at work around the world, with developed countries such as the United States, Germany, Japan and France much further along in this change or transition than developing countries, such as India, Ghana and Brazil. With the increasing incidence of obesity and chronic diseases, the negative consequences of these changes, that is the shift from traditional to modern eating, has become more salient in the scholarly literature [ 3 , 6 , 7 ]. Diets have become homogenized and words like ‘Coca-Colonization’ have been used to describe the changes [ 7 ], see also [ 24 ]. In addition, advantages of traditional eating have been highlighted. For instance, it has been argued that traditional regional food consumption is a step towards sustainable rural development [ 25 ]. In addition, Trichopoulou [ 25 ] stated that traditional foods are environmentally friendly because they are often plant-based and integrated in the local biosystem, although there are certainly also animal-source traditional foods [ 26 ].

The change from traditional to modern eating has also been seen as a net negative by many in the general public and the media. In his New York Times bestseller “Food Rules” [ 27 ], Michael Pollan states “Regard nontraditional foods with skepticism” as one rule for eating wisely (p. 91). According to Pollan [ 27 ], “people who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than those of us eating a modern Western diet of processed foods” (p. 89). There are some signs of a return to traditional eating. Specifically, there seems to be a growing interest in sustainable food consumption, with some commonalities to traditional eating: Low meat consumption, low food waste, and high consumption Footnote 1 of local foods were both labeled as sustainable (see Sustainable Development Goals [ 28 ]) and traditional [ 3 , 6 , 8 , 29 ]. This growing interest is underlined by the terms sustainability, climate change, and environmental friendliness having joined the public discourse. Also, the interest in sustainable food has become a new source of income for the food industry. For instance, foods labeled as sustainable or local are common in Western supermarkets today and there are headlines such as “Europe’s food sector shows highest growth of sustainable product sales” [ 30 ]. Whether one considers the massive changes in eating behavior a net positive or negative, there is no doubt that a shift from traditional to modern foods and eating has occurred and that this is a timely and increasingly important topic.

However, what exactly is traditional and modern eating? Importantly, whereas changes in eating behavior are measurable, such as the intake of nutrients across time, what is considered traditional and modern eating mostly appears to be subject to a consensus agreement. Specifically, how much increase in a specific eating behavior over time is necessary to define this eating behavior as modern? What absolute level of a specific eating behavior then and now is necessary to call it traditional or modern? Hence, we believe that it is subject to human evaluation whether something is considered traditional or modern, and that this holds for both experts and lay people.

Moreover, what is considered traditional and modern eating varies across time, society, and culture. For instance, what is called modern in 2018 might be called traditional in 2100. Similarly, a food (e.g. sushi) might be perceived traditional in one country (e.g. Japan), but modern in another country (e.g., Germany). The latter example shows that, within a certain time, society, and culture, one might even talk about three categories when taking the perspective of foods: historically traditional, imported traditional, and modern. For instance, sushi might be considered ‘historically traditional’ in Japan, ‘imported traditional’ in Germany, whereas a new type of breakfast cereal might be considered ‘modern’ in both countries. However, the present article takes the perspective of people in a society or culture, for whom the consumption of ‘imported traditional’ foods might be nevertheless a ‘modern’ behavior, rendering two categories, namely ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ eating behavior.

As far as it concerns these two categories, taking the perspective from 2018 and compiling international views, the literature indicates that multiple definitions of traditional and modern eating exist, rendering it complex and multifaceted. For instance, an often-applied definition of traditional and modern eating focuses on what people eat. Specifically, in scientific articles, modern diets have been defined by a high consumption of meat, sugar, oils, and fats [ 1 , 3 , 5 , 6 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 31 ]. In contrast, traditional diets have been defined by a high intake of fiber and grains [ 3 , 6 , 8 , 9 , 10 ]. However, comparing today’s eating in many Western societies to how it was 100 years ago, one finds that there are not only differences in what people eat but also in how they eat, for example, whether people eat at home or in other places [ 3 , 4 ]. This ‘how’-dimension of traditional eating has received considerably less research attention. Furthermore, a comprehensive compilation and systematization of these different facets has not yet been conducted and, thus, research in this area is impeded. This article aims to fill in this gap by comprehensively compiling and systematizing the different facets that are suggested to underlie traditional and modern eating. Moreover, we aim to present a comprehensive framework of traditional and modern eating across societies and cultures.

Method: conceptualizations of traditional and modern eating

A qualitative approach was chosen to meet the aims of the article. Specifically, facets were compiled from the previous literature and expert discussions. In an inclusive approach, everything that was mentioned to be part of traditional or modern eating was compiled as a facet. A single mention of a behavior as part of traditional or modern eating by one article or one expert was enough for it to be listed as a facet in the present work. The only specification was that the facets had to be broad enough to potentially apply to more than one country. Hence, single traditional dishes, like Schnitzel in Austria [ 26 ], were not included as facets.

First, we compiled facets of traditional and modern eating through an extensive literature review in 2017 and 2018. The literature review targeted articles that specified characteristics of traditional or modern eating. Something was extracted as a facet of traditional or modern eating if the article explicitly used words like ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ in relation to the facet. Furthermore, if an article stated that there was a pronounced increase in the facet within the last century, this was extracted as a modern facet. For instance, Popkin & Gordon-Larsen [ 6 ] stated that “modern societies seem to be converging on a diet high in saturated fats, sugar, and refined foods …” (p. S2). Hence, we extracted the facets ‘high consumption of saturated fats, sugar, and refined foods’ to characterize modern eating. The facets were extracted from the articles and saved together with the referencing article. The literature review was performed by one reviewer (GS) in major databases (e.g., Web of Science, PsycINFO, Google Scholar). Several combinations of the terms traditional, modern, food, eating, and nutrition transition were used. Also, references of relevant articles were screened and scientific books were reviewed. No limits were established regarding the year of publication. However, only articles published in peer-reviewed academic journals or scientific books were included. Amongst these, any type of article or review was included. Hence, we did not limit the literature review to empirical findings showing that something is part of traditional or modern eating. Instead, when authors of a manuscript mentioned something as part of traditional or modern eating, that was sufficient to be included as a facet of traditional and modern eating. A further inclusion criterion was English, French, or German as the article’s language.

Second, to prevent bias due to most literature targeting Western countries [ 32 ], we included facets that resulted from discussions within our group, whose members combine expertise from ten different countries. Specifically, we included perspectives from the USA (PR, MR, NA), Mexico (MK), Brazil (MA), France (CF), Germany (GS, BR, HS), Ghana (CA), Turkey (GK), India (RB, UM), China (XH), and Japan (SI, IF). Criteria for approaching the members of our group were being an academic and native of one of these countries, and well informed about eating in their native countries. Besides that, some members of our group had already collaborated in other cross-cultural food-related projects in the past which prompted to approach them for the present study. Our international group with interdisciplinary research experience draws on expertise in the psychology, anthropology, and sociology of eating, as well as nutrition and epidemiology.

Criteria for the selection of countries were diversity in terms of cuisines, obesity prevalence, income, and geography. The cuisines of these countries are characterized by distinct flavor principles. Specifically, the Mexican flavor principle is marked by tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers; the Japanese by soy sauce, sugar, and rice wine vinegar; the German by sour cream, vinegar, dill, mustard, and black pepper; the French by butter, cream, wine, and boquet garni; the Chinese by soy sauce, rice wine, and ginger root; the Brazilian by chili peppers, dried shrimp, ginger root, and palm oil; the Indian by garam masala; the Ghanaian by tomatoes, onion, and chili peppers sautéed in palm oil; and the Turkish by hot and intense spices [ 33 , 34 ]. In addition, the US American cuisine constitutes a unique mixture of different ethnic groups [ 35 ]. Moreover, obesity prevalence in these countries differs and is displayed in Fig.  2 . Specifically, obesity prevalence ranged from 3.4% in India to 36% in the USA in 2014 [ 37 ]. Furthermore, six of the countries (India, Ghana, China, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey) are considered middle-income countries, whereas the remaining four countries are considered high-income countries (range in GDP/capita from $2016 in India to $62,641 in the USA [ 38 ]). In addition, the ten countries cover five different continents (North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia) and different climates, namely the equatorial climate (Ghana, Brazil, Mexico, India), the arid climate (USA, Mexico, India, China), the warm temperature climate (Germany, France, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, India, China, Japan), the snow climate (USA, Turkey, China, Japan) and the polar climate (China [ 39 ]).

Discussions took place in formal meetings about what constitutes traditional and modern eating in the respective countries. Specifically, based on the literature review a first list of facets was put together and presented to nine of our group (below referred to as ‘experts’) in a first face-to-face meeting. GS facilitated this meeting asking the experts about any missing facet in this list. Based on the experts’ feedback, the first list was extended, resulting in a second list of facets. This list was subsequently sent to all experts via email for reviewing and adding any facet that was missing. If necessary, GS held an online face-to-face meeting with an expert to clarify specific points. The feedback from all experts was incorporated into the facets list, resulting in a third list. This third list was finally reviewed in a second face-to-face meeting with all experts resulting in a fourth and final list of facets. This final list includes a compilation of 106 facets of traditional and modern eating (see Table  1 ).

Third, an iterative process based on the constant comparative method of qualitative data analysis was used to implement a grounded theoretical approach [ 52 ]. Steps in the analytic process were (1) to classify a first set of the 106 facets into emergent categories, (2) to compare the remaining facets with these categories, and (3) to classify these facets into the existing categories and, if necessary, to revise these categories or to generate new ones. This process resulted in the classification of the 106 facets into 12 subdimensions, six of which were further subsumed under the dimension ‘what people eat’, and six of which were subsumed under the dimension ‘how people eat’ (see Fig.  1 ). As this research was part of a larger project, the Traditional Eating Project: 10 countries (TEP10; funded by the German Research Foundation, Grant SP 1610/2–1, granted to GS), the framework is called TEP10 framework.

figure 1

The TEP10 framework of traditional and modern eating, displaying dimensions, subdimensions, and examples of facets of traditional (‘T’) and modern (‘M’) eating

Dimension ‘what people eat’

The first dimension represents what people eat and includes six subdimensions, namely Ingredients, Processing, Preparation, Temporal Origin, Spatial Origin, and Variety.

Ingredients (subdimension 1)

A major aspect that differentiates traditional and modern eating is food ingredients. Fourteen facets were subsumed in this subdimension. For instance, the literature review and authors’ discussions revealed that traditional diets are characterized by a high consumption of basic foods, Footnote 2 plant-based foods, grains [ 5 , 10 ], fruit [ 31 ], vegetables [ 3 , 31 ], and fiber [ 6 , 8 , 10 , 31 ]. In contrast, modern diets are characterized by a high consumption of both energy-dense foods [ 1 , 31 ] and diet drinks and foods. Moreover, modern eating includes a high consumption of refined foods [ 3 , 6 , 8 , 10 ], animal-source foods [ 3 , 6 , 8 ], sugar and caloric sweeteners [ 1 , 3 , 5 , 6 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 31 ], artificial sweeteners, oils and fats (especially trans fats and saturated fats [ 1 , 3 , 5 , 6 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 31 ]), and salt [ 1 , 3 ].

Processing (subdimension 2)

A second subdimension is the manner of production as well as the level of processing of foods. Nine facets were subsumed in this subdimension. Specifically, traditional diets are characterized by a high consumption of industrially unprocessed [ 9 , 40 ] and fresh foods whereas modern diets are characterized by a high consumption of industrially mass produced [ 29 ] and ultra-processed [ 1 , 8 , 9 ] foods. In their NOVA classification, Monteiro et al. [ 54 ] categorize foods into the four groups ‘Unprocessed or minimally processed foods’, ‘Processed culinary ingredients’, ‘Processed foods’, and ‘Ultra-processed foods’. Ultra-processed foods “are not modified foods but formulations made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods and additives” (p. 9 [ 54 ]). Examples of ultra-processed foods are subsumed in this subdimension, such as a high consumption of convenience products [ 41 ], ultra-processed microwavable or frozen meals that were industrially produced, fast food [ 41 ], and soft drinks [ 31 ] (please see [ 55 ] for an example how foods are categorized in the four groups). Foods that are labeled as organic were also discussed as part of modern eating with the emphasis on the label being modern, not necessarily the way of production.

Preparation (subdimension 3)

This subdimension refers to both who prepares the food as well as where and how the food is prepared. Fourteen facets were subsumed in this subdimension. For instance, consumption of home-made food [ 41 ] that was prepared by women is considered part of traditional eating. Regarding how the food is prepared, traditional foods require a long preparation time as well as are prepared as one’s grandmother would have done [ 42 ]. In contrast, modern eating is defined by the use of time-saving food preparation equipment such as microwave ovens, rice cookers, and bread machines [ 41 ], and by a lot of different ways to cook and heat up foods (e.g., frying, boiling, steaming, grilling). Also, high consumption of fried and grilled foods can be considered modern [ 9 ] as well as a high consumption of ready-prepared food [ 41 ] or take-away/delivered meals [ 9 ].

Temporal origin (subdimension 4)

The fourth subdimension that we identified includes facets that refer to the length of time that a food has been part of the diet in any particular region. Seven facets were subsumed in this subdimension. For instance, foods that are typical for the region or foods present for a long time (e.g., before the Second World War, as suggested by Trichopoulou and colleagues [ 29 ]) are considered as traditional. Our discussions revealed that a high consumption of foods that were already known by people’s grandparents is another facet in this subdimension. Weichselbaum, Benelam, and Soares Costa [ 26 ] published a synthesis report listing such traditional foods across Europe. For instance, Wiener Schnitzel is considered a traditional food in Austria, Pumpernickel bread in Germany, Cured Greenland shark in Iceland, and Kebab with yogurt in Turkey [ 26 ].

Spatial origin (subdimension 5)

This subdimension has to do with where the consumed foods come from. Eight facets were subsumed in this subdimension. For instance, traditional eating is defined as a seasonally restricted and local food consumption [ 29 ]. In contrast, modern eating is characterized by consumption of foods that are imported from all over the world [ 3 , 29 ], and are therefore available for consumption throughout the year. Moreover, authors’ discussions revealed that, traditionally, foods were primarily bought at farmers’ markets or grown by oneself whereas in modern times, foods are mostly bought in supermarkets, in convenience stores, or from vending machines.

Variety (subdimension 6)

Within this subdimension, modern eating is characterized by a large choice of available foods. Five facets were subsumed in this subdimension. One example facet is a diverse and varied diet [ 5 ]. This variety may be especially pronounced regarding the availability of different flavors. Also, eating a variety of different types of fruits and vegetables was discussed to be part of modern eating (e.g., apples, bananas, grapes), being able to eat them year-round via imports from countries with different climate. Notwithstanding, diversity within one type of fruit or vegetable may be part of traditional eating (e.g., eating different kinds of local apples).

Dimension ‘how people eat’

The second dimension represents how people eat and includes the six subdimensions: Temporal Aspects, Spatial Aspects, Social Aspects, Meals, Appreciation, and Concerns.

Temporal aspects (subdimension 1)

The first subdimension that we identified includes duration of eating and when people eat. Nine facets were subsumed in this subdimension. Specifically, it was discussed that, traditionally, people take time Footnote 3 to eat. In addition, Fjellström [ 45 ] and Mestdag [ 46 ] stated that, traditionally, people eat main meals at regular and traditional mealtimes. Moreover, our group’s discussions revealed that, in many countries, it is traditional for all family members to eat together at the same time. Also, traditional dishes are often consumed on special occasions (e.g., Sundays, festivities). In contrast, modern eating has been discussed to be characterized by a shorter eating duration, by eating irregularly, and by skipping meals. Moreover, Zizza et al. [ 47 ] consider snacking between meals as part of modern eating.

Spatial aspects (subdimension 2)

This subdimension focusses on where people eat. Seven facets were subsumed in this subdimension. For instance, traditional eating is characterized by eating at home [ 3 , 8 , 41 ]. In contrast, eating in restaurants is modern [ 4 , 41 ], especially in buffet restaurants. Moreover, eating on the run is categorized as part of modern eating in the USA [ 41 ]. Also, eating food ‘to-go’ (i.e., take-away food) as well as eating while working was classified as modern.

Social aspects (subdimension 3)

A third subdimension is with whom people eat, and the extent to which social norms are present and followed. Twelve facets were subsumed in this subdimension. Specifically, eating together, especially with the family, is part of traditional eating [ 41 , 46 ]. Also, meals are traditionally central opportunities for conversations in many countries and are at the center of larger family events. In contrast, in modern times, people more often eat by themselves [ 48 ]. As another social aspect, Fischler [ 50 ] mentions that traditionally, eating is guided by social norms and highly constraining, homogeneous collective rules. As a result, everybody eats the same food within a meal at home. One of these rules, which is present in many countries, is that, traditionally, men get preferential treatment over women at mealtimes. For instance, men eat while women serve food in India, Ghana, and Mexico. In comparison, modern eating is more individualistic and egalitarian, and based on individual preferences rather than on social norms [ 50 ].

Meals (subdimension 4)

Another subdimension that we identified was the significance and content of meals, such that some meals consistently feature particular content, and some meals during the day are considered more important and substantial than others. Five facets were subsumed in this subdimension. For instance, which meal is considered the main meal of the day is a discriminant feature between traditional and modern eating. For example, traditionally, the main meal is lunch in Germany, whereas in modern times the main meal is dinner. Footnote 4 Regarding the content of meals, traditionally, Western main meals end with a sweet dessert. In contrast, drinking soft drinks during the main meal was considered to be modern, as well as consuming special foods for breakfast that differ largely from the foods eaten at other meals.

Appreciation (subdimension 5)

This subdimension targets the extent to which respect is shown for the food consumed, as well as for other people at the table. Seven facets were subsumed in this subdimension. Specifically, authors’ discussions revealed that traditional eating is characterized by the appreciation of food and adhering to table manners, that is to eat according to socially accepted conventions. In contrast, modern eating is marked by wasting food (e.g., throwing away the rest of a meal instead of eating it later), using plastic utensils, and not knowing where the food comes from or what is in it. Also, doing something else while eating is part of modern eating (e.g., watching screens [ 41 ]).

Concerns (subdimension 6)

The sixth subdimension deals with concerns about eating. Nine facets were subsumed in this subdimension. For instance, traditional eating is characterized by concerns about the availability of food, whereas, in modern times, concerns center on the quality of food [ 50 ]. Also, traditionally, people eat in an intuitive way, whereas modern eating is often marked by an analytical approach. Specifically, people pay attention to nutritional aspects and food labels. Scrinis [ 56 ] has labeled this focus on nutrients as ‘nutritionism’. In the light of the variety and abundance of the modern food environment, people are concerned both about what to eat [ 50 ] and about eating too much.

The TEP10 framework summarizes a comprehensive compilation and systematization of the different facets that are suggested to underlie traditional and modern eating. It shows that traditional and modern eating is characterized not only by what people eat, but also by how they eat. Twelve subdimensions and 106 facets were suggested to underlie traditional and modern eating. Therefore, the current study provides a broad overview of what constitutes the concept of traditional and modern eating.

Importantly, the present framework shows that traditional and modern eating is complex and multifaceted. It is not only defined by one facet, such as eating traditional dishes, but by the co-occurrence of multiple facets at the same time, such as eating traditional dishes on Sundays together with the family. This co-occurrence might be the critical factor in finding evidence for the relationship between traditional and modern eating and health. Specifically, certain facets might need to come together to have an effect on health outcomes. For instance, foods with traditional temporal origin, such as Wiener Schnitzel in Austria [ 26 ], might need to be eaten according to traditional temporal aspects, such as only at special occasions. Also, it is possible that a combination of some modern and some traditional facets has health effects. For instance, eating a wide variety of different types of fruits and vegetables (modern) as part of a family dinner at home (traditional) might have a health effect. The presented framework enables both the differentiated examination as well as the investigation of the joint impact and interplay of different facets on health outcomes.

The potential of a joint examination of multiple facets of traditional and modern is displayed in Fig. 2 . Specifically, for ten selected countries, the co-occurrence of ‘modern vs. traditional ingredient’ Footnote 5 consumption and obesity prevalence is displayed in Fig. 2 . The ‘modern vs. traditional ingredient consumption’ that is displayed on the left Y-Axis of Fig. 2 is calculated with data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [ 36 ]. Specifically, we computed the percentage of consumed energy that comes from ‘modern ingredients’ divided by the percentage of energy that comes from ‘traditional ingredients’. As a high consumption of cereals, vegetables, and fruits was reported to be part of traditional eating [ 3 , 10 , 31 ], these were regarded as ‘traditional ingredients’. Similarly, a high consumption of sugar/sweeteners, meat/offal, and vegetable oils/animal fats was reported to be part of modern eating [ 1 , 6 , 8 , 9 ]; therefore these were regarded as ‘modern ingredients’. With values higher than 1, people in the USA, Germany, and France derive more energy from ‘modern’ than from ‘traditional’ ingredients, whereas the opposite is true for Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Turkey, China, India, and Ghana with values below 1. As can be seen, across these ten countries, the co-occurrence of modern vs. traditional ingredients consumption is related to obesity prevalence ( r  = .68). It is, however, important to note that such a relationship with obesity prevalence might be absent or even reversed for other subdimensions or facets of traditional and modern eating.

figure 2

Bars represent the quotient of percentage of energy derived through ‘modern vs. traditional ingredients’ with data from the FAO [ 36 ]. Points depict the prevalence of obesity in 2014 (i.e. BMI ≥ 30 kg/m 2 ) [ 37 ]. Note. Cereals, starchy roots, pulses, vegetables and fruits were considered to be ‘traditional ingredients’ whereas sugar/sweeteners, meat/offal, and vegetable oils/animal fats were considered to be ‘modern ingredients’

As for the relationship between traditional eating and health outcomes, the TEP10 framework shows that there are two further issues that need to be considered. First, this relationship needs to be investigated in relation to society, culture, and time. An example why this is important lies in ‘imported traditional’ foods which were considered to be part of modern eating in the adopting society or culture. However, these imported foods probably have similar nutritional qualities to those from traditional cuisines. Hence, given that the consumption of sushi can be considered traditional in Japan but modern in Germany, the ingested nutrients of a German ‘modern eater’ who eats a lot of sushi are comparable to a Japanese ‘traditional eater’ who does so. This demonstrates that general statements about the relationship between traditional eating and health are rarely tenable but need to be related to society, culture, and time.

Second, the TEP10 framework shows that a simple dichotomy between traditional and modern eating is an oversimplification, even within a certain time, society, or culture. Specifically, a person might score high on traditional eating regarding one facet or subdimension but high on modern eating regarding another facet or subdimension. For instance, an Italian who consumes a lot of frozen mass-produced pizza would score high on traditional eating with regard to the Temporal Origin subdimension, as pizza has been labeled traditional in Italy [ 57 ]. However, he or she would score high on modern eating with regard to the Processing subdimension as mass-production has been classified as modern [ 29 ]. This shows again that generic statements about the relationship between traditional eating and health outcomes are difficult to support. Rather, statements about the relationship between certain facets of traditional eating or their co-occurrence and health are possible.

The multidimensionality of traditional and modern eating also underlines its conceptual distinction from sustainable and healthy eating. Specifically, although low meat consumption, low food waste, and high consumption of local foods seems to be part of both sustainable (see Sustainable Development Goals [ 28 ]) and traditional eating [ 3 , 6 , 8 , 29 ], traditional eating was defined by many other facets. In a similar vein, a high intake of fruits, vegetables, unprocessed and fresh foods as well as a low intake of fat, sugar, and salt seems to be both part of traditional [ 1 , 3 , 5 , 6 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 31 , 40 ] and healthy eating [ 58 ]. However, traditional eating goes beyond the consumption of these foods and also includes how people eat.

As far as it concerns healthy eating, the TEP10 framework shows a new perspective on modern eating. Specifically, a frequently mentioned characteristic of modern eating is that there is a focus on nutrients (‘nutritionism’, [ 56 ]) and concerns about the healthiness of foods coexist with a high consumption of ‘modern’ ingredients that are considered to be unhealthy, such as sugar. Specifically, Rozin et al. [ 59 ] showed that US-Americans scored highest on concerns about the healthiness of foods as compared to Belgians, French, and Japanese. At the same time, US-Americans also score highest on the intake of ‘modern’ ingredients such as meat, sugar, oils, and fats, as compared to the other three countries [ 36 ]. This paradox appears to be a central characteristic of modern eating. Therefore, we included concerns in the framework of traditional and modern eating, although one could argue that concerns do not qualify as ‘eating’.

The TEP10 framework allows a comprehensive and in depth investigation of traditional and modern eating in future research. Next to the investigation of consequences (e.g., for health), it also enables examination of the drivers of the transition from traditional towards modern eating. For instance, motives for why people eat what they eat [ 60 , 61 , 62 ] or what meaning food has for individuals [ 63 ] might be factors underlying the different facets of traditional and modern eating. The TEP10 framework offers both to comprehensively investigate traditional and modern eating as well as to focus on single facets, while acknowledging the multidimensionality of the overall phenomenon. Furthermore, the TEP10 framework enables researchers to uncover similarities and differences in the concept of traditional and modern eating across the world. In the case of Japan, we have already investigated whether the presented multidimensionality of traditional and modern eating is valid [ 64 ]. Specifically, we asked 340 adults from Japan to rate the ‘traditionality’ of 46 facets. The results showed that, in accordance with the TEP10 framework, traditional and modern eating is also multidimensional in Japan. More precisely, both dimensions what and how people eat are part of traditional and modern eating in Japan as well as ten subdimensions of the TEP10 framework [ 64 ].

There are some limitations and avenues for future research that need to be addressed. The presented compilation of facets constitutes a first step and is certainly a developing process with additional facets to be potentially included in the future, for example from countries that were not represented in this manuscript. Also, future research needs to add quantitative evidence whether the facets are part of traditional and modern eating; for instance, by surveying people about the ‘traditionality’ or ‘modernity’ of facets.

The TEP10 framework is a step towards a comprehensive understanding of the concept of traditional and modern eating. Specifically, traditional and modern eating is not only characterized by what people eat but also by how they eat, a dimension that has been neglected in past research. The present article sheds new light on the overall phenomenon of traditional and modern eating, underlining its multidimensionality. Also, it shows that reducing traditional and modern eating to single dimensions, subdimensions, or facets constitutes an oversimplification of the overall phenomenon. Future research might benefit from considering the multidimensionality and interplay of multiple facets of traditional and modern eating. This might provide new insights into the transition from traditional towards modern eating, its consequences and underlying factors, moving forward research on this timely and important topic.

Availability of data and materials

Not applicable.

Please note that with the term “high consumption” we refer to the overall intake across multiple eating occasions. Most often, this might mean a frequent consumption of the respective food but might also mean a high consumed amount in a single eating occasion in some cases.

Please note that the term ‘basic foods’ relates to a definition provided by The Department of Health of the Australian Government [ 53 ]: Basic foods provide the nutrients essential for life and growth. These foods are also known as ‘everyday foods’.

Please note that ‘taking time to eat’ and other terms within this manuscript are subjective and subject to interpretation.

Please note that this largely varies by country. For instance, in the USA the main meal is traditionally dinner.

Please note that the expression ‘modern vs. traditional ingredients’ is used for simplification. However, while some ingredients and foods are objectively modern (they did not exist in the past), what is specifically modern in many cases is not the food itself but how much and how often it is consumed.


Body Mass Index

Group discussion

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


Traditional Eating Project: 10 countries

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We would like to thank Dr. Xuan Gao, Tianjiao Yu, Anne Kaufmann and Desiree Katzenberger for their valuable support.

This work was supported by the German Research Foundation within the project “Why people eat in a traditional or modern way: A cross-country study” (Grant SP 1610/2–1, granted to GS) and by the JSPS KAKENHI Grant (Grant Number JP16KT0097, granted to SI and IF). Additional funding came from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Germany (BMBF; Project SmartAct; Grant 01EL1420A, granted to BR & HS). The funding sources had no involvement in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the article for publication.

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GS, MR, NA, CA, MA, RB, IF, XH, SI, GK, MK, UM, CF, PR, HS, and BR have made substantial contributions to the conception of this work. GS performed the literature review and drafted the framework with substantial contributions from MR, NA, CA, MA, RB, IF, XH, SI, GK, MK, UM, CF, PR, HS, and BR. GS drafted the paper. MR, NA, CA, MA, RB, IF, XH, SI, GK, MK, UM, CF, PR, HS, and BR provided critical revisions. GS, MR, NA, CA, MA, RB, IF, XH, SI, GK, MK, UM, CF, PR, HS, and BR gave their final approval of the version to be published and agreed to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Sproesser, G., Ruby, M.B., Arbit, N. et al. Understanding traditional and modern eating: the TEP10 framework. BMC Public Health 19 , 1606 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-7844-4

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  • Traditional eating
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Profile of Malay Cooking and Culture

Malay food is strong, spicy and aromatic, combining the rich tastes of the many herbs and spices commonly found in Southeast Asia . It is one of three major cuisines in Malaysia, and together with Chinese and Indian food, continually delight visitors to the country with its incredible variety and flavors.

The Malays' qualities inform their cooking. Food preparation can be a communal affair among the Malays and it is not uncommon during major festivals or events to see neighbors in a kampong, or village gathered around a big pot stirring up beef rendang or chicken curry.

Malay food is often eaten with the hands. No implements are needed. Diners simply scoop mouthfuls of rice mixed with curry, vegetables or meat onto their palms and then ladle this into their mouths with the back of their thumbs. It is an art to keep the rice from escaping through the fingers but, with some practice, it can be mastered.

Rice is the staple in a Malay meal. And just as in many other Southeast Asian countries, it is usually eaten together with meat and vegetable dishes, curries and condiments like the Malay sambal sauce . During a typical Malay lunch or dinner, these dishes are placed in the center of the table to be shared by all the diners.


Originally a sea-faring people, the Malays include a lot of seafood in their diet. Fish , squids, prawns, and crabs regularly show up in Malay dishes, as do chicken, beef, and mutton. Meats and seafood are often marinated with special concoctions of herbs and spices before being cooked. Vegetables are usually stir-fried although it is also popular to eat some vegetables raw and dipped in sambal belachan, a spicy chilly condiment.

Many of the fresh herbs and roots that are commonly grown in the Southeast Asian region have found their way into Malay cooking. Lemongrass, shallots, ginger, chilies, and garlic are the main ingredients that are blended together and then sautéed to make a sambal sauce or chile paste, a condiment that often accompanies every meal of Malay food.

Other herbs like galangal (lengkuas), turmeric (kunyit), makrut lime leaves,laksa leaves (daun kesom), wild ginger flower buds or torch ginger (bunga kantan) and screwpine leaves (pandan leaves) add flavor and zest to poultry, meat, and seafood.

Dried spices, too, form an important component of Malay cooking. Malacca, a city in Malaysia about 200 km south of capital Kuala Lumpur, was one of the great trading centers of the spice trade in the 15th century. This has benefited Malay cooking, with spices such as fennel, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cloves, star anise, mustard seeds, cinnamon sticks, fenugreek and nutmeg regularly used in various Malay soups and curries.

Coconut is another favorite ingredient of the Malays. This is not surprising as coconut trees thrive in Malaysia’s tropical weather. Coconut milk, or santan, add a creamy richness to curries, called ‘lemak’ in local parlance, giving them their distinctive Malaysian flavor. All the different parts of the coconut are used – nothing is wasted. The juice is drunk and the flesh of old coconuts are grated and eaten with traditional Malay cakes.

There are regional differences to Malay cuisine. The northern parts of Malaysia have integrated a Thai flavor into their food, due largely to the southbound migration of Thai people and their subsequent intermarriage with the locals.

Negri Sembilan, once dominated by the Minangkabaus from Sumatra, features food that is rich in coconut milk and other ingredients commonly produced by West Sumatra such as ox meat, beef, cultivated vegetables, and the very spicy bird’s eye chilies, also known as cili padi.

South Indian laborers, brought in by British colonialists to work in the rubber estates of Malaysia, have also contributed their influence in the form of ingredients and cooking techniques such as getting the extra flavor by frying spices in oil. Ingredients from southern India like okra and purple eggplants, brown mustard, fenugreek, and curry leaves are often used in Malay dishes today.

With so many different influences from around the region, Malay cuisine has become an interesting and varied adventure, something that can be savored and enjoyed with family and friends.

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Ielts essay # 579 - traditional foods are being replaced by international fast foods, ielts writing task 2/ ielts essay:, in many countries, traditional foods are being replaced by international fast foods. this is having a negative effect on both families and societies., to what extent do you agree or disagree.

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essay about traditional food

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Traditional Food Culture in the Indian Religion Report

Introduction, why the choice of india, importance of traditional food culture in indian religion.

Recent cultural scholarship on food systems has convincingly demonstrated that human foods not only convey wide-ranging socio-cultural connotations and perspectives, but also assist in explicating different relationships across the semantic, nutritional, and economic domains (Khare, 1992).

As acknowledged by this author, food systems explain and interpret interrelationships between nature and culture, not mentioning that they concurrently implicate the symbolic and material conditions of a society. In this light, the present paper uses the Hindu as a case example to discuss why traditional food culture is perceived as so important in the Indian religion.

As noted by Khare (1992), “India provides us with virtually an inexhaustible repository of instances where food loads itself with mundane and profound meanings” (p. 27).

The Hindu food, for example, is loaded with meanings and messages that could be understood within the socio-cultural and religious contexts, not mentioning that food in Indian settings is not viewed as an edible product but rather as a category of thought (Olivelle, 2011). The Indian population, therefore, provides a good basis for the discussion and illumination of the topic as food is thought to acquire a cosmological significance, particularly in the Hindu socio-cultural and religious contexts.

Available literature demonstrates that food has”language-like” properties of signification and communication for such issues as self and cosmic order, implying that it can become a major component of the medium addressing critical issues of ontology, emotion, faith, and personal experience (Khare, 1992; McClymond, 2006).

This view is reinforced by Olivelle (2011), who argues that due to the cosmological principle vested in various food items that are characteristic of the Hindu culture, food is often perceived as playing a significant role in several creation myths in ancient India. Prajapati , the creator god of the Brahmanas , is often illustrated both as the creator and food for his creatures, implying that both the creator and creatures are threatened by death in the absence of food and the cosmological importance attached to it (Olivelle, 2011).

According to Khare (1992), “food conveys a range of meanings and experiences that conjoin the worldly to the otherworldly, and the microcosm (i.e., affairs of Jiva ) to the macrocosmic (i.e., matters of srsti and ultimate reality, Atman or Brahman )” (p. 28).

As demonstrated by this particular author, the traditional food culture is important in the Hindu religion because of the fact that food “speaks” a language that conjoins the gross and the subtle, body and spirit, the seen and the unseen, outside and inside, as well as the particular and the general through the representation of widespread interrelationships involving the three corners of the gastrosemantic triangle (self, food, and body) and by becoming the principle of the eternal moral order ( dharma ).

In such an orientation, the “language” demonstrated by food affects individuals according to their life-stage ( asrama ) and their path of spiritual pursuit ( marga ) through a set of universal principles that include formulations such as “you eat what you are” and “you are what you eat” (Khare, 1992 p. 29).

These formulations arising from the Hindu appear to underscore that an individual’s food preferences to a large extent reflect their internalized moral temperaments ( gunas ) and that people ascribing to this faith should always select, regulate, control, and enhance their food in the pursuit of both health and spiritual objectives.

Available literature demonstrates that traditional food culture is remarkably important in the Indian religion as “food becomes a reflexive medium for conceiving and experiencing interpretations of food, mind, and breadth, most often by the yogic control of one’s body and what one eats” (Khare, 1992 p. 28). King (2012) acknowledges that “food, one of the great joys of life, symbolizes communion and community, and as such feasting and fasting are important in many religious traditions of the world” (p. 442).

This author further affirms that for devotees food is an extremely powerful facet of the divine-human experience in the Hindu culture, and that deprivation of food as practiced in ascetic traditions is perceived as the definitive test of devotion to God.

By preparing, consuming and distributing food items together, devotees in the Hindu religion demonstrate the prospect of generating loving relationships with the faithful, directing and supporting each other in spiritual activities, and spearheading the message of Krishna (King, 2012; McClymond, 2006). Indeed, as postulated by these authors, the partaking of sanctified food items in the Hindu culture heightens and solidifies the bond between the devotee and the supernatural being, as well as between the devotee and the faithful.

Additionally, it is demonstrated in the literature that the “the Hindu renders the moral, economic, and political spheres of food interdependent, even as each may contextually vary in its domination and control of life” (Khare, 1992 p. 29). In the sociocultural and religious contexts, “food is offered to the gods at sacrifices, to the forefathers at sraddhas , to various beings ( bhuta ) at balis , and other humans at hospitality rites and as alms” (Olivelle, 2011 p. 76).

Elsewhere, it is reported that “food, a material substance, becomes the sacramental vehicle of cosmic, societal, and individual transformation, and one of the most powerful means of celebrating the embodied divine and transmitting belief in God’s relational nature” (King, 2012 p. 443).

In the narrative about Mrs. Sens, Lahiri (1999) demonstrates the power that physical objects such as food have over the human experience, implying that food can shift the perceptions of people not only on sociocultural contexts but also on religious grounds as witnessed in the Hindu culture and religion. Such orientations, in my view, demonstrate the centrality of food in the Indian religion.

It is reported in the literature that “the Hindu holy person handles food to serve designated moral and spiritual purposes, including efforts to alleviate human sorrow and suffering and to bring one nearer to liberation ( moksa )” (Khare, 1992 p. 30).

Indeed, in the Hindu culture and religion, food items are not traded to earn a profit as the holy person must regulate and control food only on the grounds of cultivating his or her spiritual power. It is further acknowledged that a Hindu holy person masters his desires and senses by fasting and minimal eating to achieve enhanced self-control and austerities that in turn function to make food express special powers and messages in ceremonies aimed at conveying blessings and curses to the faithful (Khare, 1992; McClymond, 2006).

This view of fasting is reinforced by Counihan (1999), who argues that abstinence from food has been valued in the ideology of Western culture as it demonstrates self-control, the dominance of mind over body, and regulation of the permeable boundaries that symbolizes the threatened self.

The religiously-connected people in India believe that such a holy person may (1) use food to heal, uplift and trigger good fortunes to the faithful, (2) use leftovers to guide disciples toward spiritual experiences and divine immanence, (3) fast with the intention of resolving moral dilemmas, and (4) recommend special diets, herbs ( jaribooti ), and fasts with the intention of treating ailments, undesirable psychological dispositions, and mental tardiness (Khare, 1992).

Ramanujan (1992) thinks that food in the Indian culture can be used as a sacrifice to free good people from their every taint, not mentioning that it is often used to appease the gods.

On her part, Counihan (1999) acknowledges that refusal to take food “signifies rejecting the passage of any object, contact, or relationship across the margins of the self; it is a desperate attempt to close the boundaries to the ego and complete the self” (p. 74). All these assertions and acknowledgments, in my view, reinforce the importance of food in Indian culture and religion.

Ramanujan (1992) uses poetry to demonstrate that people from the Hindu culture and religion believe the world is food ( annamayam Jagat ), hence acknowledge that “food is Brahman because food is what circulates in the universe through bodies which in turn are food made [of] flesh and bone” (p. 223).

On his part, Olivelle (2011) acknowledges that the creation myths of the Brahmanas make a clear and coherent connection between creation, world, food, and sacrifice in explaining how sacrifices re-enact the creative acts and thereby guarantee the continuance of food. This author further argues that man and the world he lives in are formed from the essence of food and that one should not belittle or reject food as everything is food.

However Counihan (1999) is of the view that the penetration of the body through food or copulation, while fundamental to life and growth of people from diverse cultural settings, can also involve challenges to the personal integrity particularly when it comes to a society’s beliefs about men’s and women’s relationships, autonomy and vulnerability.

Lastly, Olivelle (2011) cites a popular doctrine from the Hindu religion to demonstrate that “in the beginning, humans and the sacrifice were created together so that humans would sustain the gods through sacrifice; and gods, in their turn, would sustain them by providing rain that produces food” (p. 76).

Consequently, the importance of traditional food culture in the Hindu religion is demonstrated by the relationships that (1) from food do human beings derive, (2) the food used to feed humans is derived from rain, and (3) rain is derived from sacrifice to provide food.

This view is reinforced by Counihan (1999) in her earlier research on traditional societies in Papua New Guinea and the Amazon when she suggests that women provide men with food to make semen that is, in turn, returned to the women through sexual penetration to create the fetus and hence progress the procreation agenda. These relationships demonstrate that, in its entirety, food in the Indian socio-cultural and religious contexts should be worshiped.

Overall, this paper has demonstrated that traditional food culture is perceived as critically important in the Indian religion, particularly in the context of its capacity for:

  • loading mundane and profound religious meanings,
  • signification, communion and communication,
  • serving as an extremely powerful facet of the divine-human experience,
  • solidifying the bond between the devotee and God as well as between the devotee and the faithful,
  • cosmic transformations,
  • sustenance of life.

Drawing from the discussion, it is safe to conclude that the traditional food cultures of the Indian people cannot be divorced from their religious beliefs.

Counihan, C. M. (1999). The anthropology of food and body: Gender, meaning and power . New York, NY: Routledge.

Khare, R. S. (1992). Food with saints: An aspect of Hindu gastrosemantics. In R.S. Khare (Eds.), The eternal food: Gastronomic ideas and experiences of Hindus and Buddhists (pp. 27-43). New York, NY: State University of New York Press.

King, A. S. (2012). Krishna’s prasadam: “Eating our way back to godhead.” Material Religion, 8 (4), 440-465.

Lahiri, J. (1999). Interpreter of maladies . New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

McClymond, K. (2006). You are where you eat: Negotiating Hindu utopias in Atlanta. In E.M. Madden & M.L. Finch (Eds.), Eating in Eden: Food and American utopias (pp. 89-103). Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press.

Olivelle, P. (2011). Ascetics and Brahmins: Studies in ideologies and institutions (cultural, historical and textual studies of religions). London and New York: Anthem Press.

Ramanujan, A. K. (1992). Food for thought: Toward an anthology of Hindu food-images. In R.S. Khare (Eds.), The eternal food: Gastronomic ideas and experiences of Hindus and Buddhists (pp. 221-249). New York, NY: State University of New York Press.

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"Traditional Food Culture in the Indian Religion." IvyPanda , 6 Apr. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/traditional-food-culture-in-the-indian-religion/.

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Home — Essay Samples — Life — Family Values — Making Traditional Food From Ghana


Making Traditional Food from Ghana

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Must-try Traditional Food of Myanmar

hen you visit Myanmar, there are many signature foods that you must try. Myanmar food culture has a mix of different influences from India, China and other countries in southeast Asia. If you are looking for a truly authentic taste of Myanmar traditional food, be sure to try Mohinga, tea leaf salad, Shan noodle, Burmese tea, and Mone Lone Yay Paw. Among them, Burmese tea and Shan noodle are my favorite Myanmar food.

‍ Mohinga - Rice Vermicelli with fish soup  ‍

Mohinga is a must-try dish if you visit Myanmar. It is rice vermicelli with fish soup. It is also a national dish and a typical Myanmar meal. Mohinga is mostly served at breakfast but it is also eaten any time of the day. It is available in most parts of Myanmar, sold by street vendors and roadside stalls. The taste of Mohinga is quite different per region depending on the availability of ingredients and culinary preferences. Versions of Mohinga which are well-known for their remarkable taste are Bogale Mohinga (Bogale), Myaungmya Mohinga (Myaungmya), and Pyapon Mohinga (Pyapon). 

The main ingredients of Mohinga are fish sauce, fish paste, ginger, banana stem, lemongrass, onions, garlic, and chickpea flour. Mohinga is served with a squeeze of lime, crisp fried onions, coriander, spring onions, crushed dried chillies and, as optional toppings, deep-fried Burmese fritters such as split chickpeas, gourd, sliced pieces of Chinese donuts (Youtiao), as well as a boiled egg and fried fish cake. 

Mohinga is a very common breakfast dish in Myanmar and it is served on many occasions like donations to the monastery, house warming ceremonies and 7th-day funeral rituals. Its also a popular street food and some vendors sell Mohinga  carrying the soup cauldron on a stove on one side of a shoulder pole and the thin rice noodles (vermicelli) and other ingredients, along with bowls and spoons on the other side. They sell while walking and even carry small chairs. Mohinga costs around 500-1500 mmk a dish depending on the toppings added.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by jen & wes (@crazythickasians)

Lahpet Thoke - Tea Leaf Salad ‍

Tea leaf salad is known as Lahpet Thoke in Myanmar and it is a good example of Myanmar traditional food. The salad is dressed with fermented or pickled tea leaves, oil, salt, and a variety of crunchy toppings including peanuts, yellow split peas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and garlic chips with full of flavor. Tea leaf salad is prepared by mixing the ingredients and adding fresh sliced tomatoes, garlic, green chilis, and shredded cabbage, and is dressed with fish sauce, sesame or peanut oil, and lime juice.

It is regarded as a national delicacy that plays a significant role in Burmese cuisine and society, and remains a traditional Burmese gesture of hospitality and is served to guests visiting a home. No special occasion or ceremony in Myanmar is considered complete without it. Nowadays, it is very easy to make a dish of tea leaf salad as there are ready-made packs available in the markets. Lahpet Thoke can be found in restaurants and tea shops all over Myanmar, and it is usually eaten as a snack or starter. The salad is usually served with the main meal but can also be eaten on its own. You can also find this dish with street vendors which only costs around 500-1000 mmk. 

Read more about tea leaf salads from Myanmar

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Lady GooGoo (@_ladygoogoo_)

Shan Kao Swe - Shan Noodle

Shan noodle or Shan Kao Swe is a traditional rice noodle dish of the Shan people (one of the major ethnicities of Myanmar). Shan noodles are often served for breakfast although they can also be eaten throughout the day. Shan style noodles are very easy to make. Marinated chicken or pork is cooked in tomatoes and then mixed with rice noodles, flavourful garlic, chili, and pickle toppings. It can be served with broth or without. There are different versions of this dish depending upon the different regions as Shan people spread the dish over Myanmar. Nice to combine with pickled vegetables as a side dish. Shan noodle dishes can be bought at street vendors and roadside stalls and normally costs around 800-2500 mmk.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by 🇨🇳GiA🇲🇲 (@teenage_lifeofgia__)

Burmese Tea ‍

Myanmar has its own typical tea culture,  you can find Burmese tea shops in almost every corner of the towns in Myanmar.  and. A variety of tea shops are sprinkled across the country. Sometimes named under ‘cafe’ or ‘food and drink,’ the settings are largely the same: a chaotic hall where mainly men gather and talk about news and football matches. 

Burmese tea is called Lahpet Yay in Myanmar. The main ingredients are tea powder, water, a pinch of salt, condensed milk, and evaporated or non-sweetened milk. There are 4 types of Burmese tea depending on the mixing ratio of condensed milk and evaporated milk called 

  • Pon Man - normal with evaporated milk and condensed milk proportionally
  • Kya Saint - less sweet with more tea flavor
  • Pau Saint - less sweet with more evaporated milk
  • Cho Saint - sweet with more evaporated milk

Burmese Tea

Mone Lone Yay Paw - Myanmar Dumplings 

Mone Lone Yay Paw is a traditional dumpling of Myanmar. It is a sweet dessert associated with the Thingyan festival ( Myanmar New Year Festival). It is made by combining glutinous rice flour, water, and salt. The combination is shaped into smooth round balls, which are then typically filled with palm jaggery or palm sugar and then boiled in hot water and served with fresh coconut topping. During the Thingyan Festival held in March every year,  it is usually doled out by the donors as a merit-making activity and partakers often play pranks by stuffing some rice balls with chili peppers instead of jaggery.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Paing Soethu (@krispaing)

People eating Mone Lone Yay Paw on the street in Myanmar


If you would like to try these Myanmar traditional foods when you visit the country, here is our recommendation….

Tint Tint Myanmar Traditional Dessert

Tint Tint offers varieties of traditional snacks with affordable low prices. It also offers frozen readymade packages. It is available for delivery on Foodpanda and frozen packages are available at Supermarkets. 

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Always Hungry (@imhungry_yangon)

‍ Shwepalin (Key Stone)

Shwepalin has many branches all over Myanmar and has varieties of traditional Burmese food on the menu and also makes take away home made frozen packages with reasonable prices. For delivery, Shwepalin has its own website and you can order online.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Christine (@skylarmax)

Chick here for Must-try Traditional Food of Myanmar Story

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    Essay On Food Traditions. 1233 Words5 Pages. Food Traditions of Other Countries Over the thousands of years that man has existed, many people in many different countries have created customs and traditions of their own. Many of these traditions typically include food. In different countries, there are different types of food eaten on certain ...

  19. Traditional Food Culture in the Indian Religion Report

    Available literature demonstrates that traditional food culture is remarkably important in the Indian religion as "food becomes a reflexive medium for conceiving and experiencing interpretations of food, mind, and breadth, most often by the yogic control of one's body and what one eats" (Khare, 1992 p. 28). King (2012) acknowledges that ...

  20. Introduction: The Importance of Traditional and Ethnic Food in the

    Today, traditional knowledge and practices from Asia and the Mediterranean have been integrated with modern science to form a new food model. A typical Indian traditional food concept or a Chinese traditional food concept is more than 5000 years old, with each representing the biodiversity of many traditional and ethnic foods.

  21. Making Traditional Food From Ghana: [Essay Example], 415 words

    Published: Aug 23, 2018. My family emigrated from Ghana, located in West Africa. We have been living in America for a few years now and we still hold on to our traditions. Things such as food, tradition and practices shape my family today. Africans foods such us fufu, banku and rice are eaten more at home. These foods bring the family together ...

  22. Must-try Traditional Food of Myanmar

    Lahpet Thoke - Tea Leaf Salad‍. Tea leaf salad is known as Lahpet Thoke in Myanmar and it is a good example of Myanmar traditional food. The salad is dressed with fermented or pickled tea leaves, oil, salt, and a variety of crunchy toppings including peanuts, yellow split peas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and garlic chips with full of flavor.

  23. History Of Traditional Food Essay

    In the late 1800's Native Americans treasured food, but the cooking appliances were rudimentary. Native American food and cuisine have historical significances, because it has changed the cooking industry today. Today we eat unhealthy, easy, quick meals. Farming methods allowed crops to grow on the same soil.

  24. Evaluation of sustainable feeds for "caviar" production in the

    To improve the sustainability of aquaculture practices, a step towards the use of alternative nutrient sources (such as food processing discards) may secure the future of aquaculture sector, namely for emergent species, such as sea urchins. In this context, adult females of the commercial sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus were reared using four feeds based on lettuce discards (72%) and enriched ...