I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about food. I can be eating my lunch and planning the next snack, or what’s for dinner. I think part of it is due to how I was raised. Many of my fond childhood family memories revolve around a heaping table of food. It’s always the highlight of the night at family gatherings.
Also, if you’re from a Filipino family you can’t consider yourself a good host unless all your guests go home with full bellies. A Canadian friend who married a Filipina joked that no matter if they visited his wife’s parents without calling before hand, they’d always have enough food to throw a party for at least a dozen people. I just laughed. My parents are like that too (you should see their freezer).
What does this have to do with writing? World building, of course! Have you considered manners around eating, or attitudes towards food?
Let me begin with a few examples from Filipino culture:
The traditional manner of eating is kamayan or with the hands (kamay = hands). You can find kamayan restaurants in the Philippines, though most carry cutlery if you want it. There is no restriction on which hand you should use to eat, however there is a bit of proper technique involved: you press ulam* and rice together into a small ball that will fit into one mouthful.
*Ulam can be loosely translated as food that is eaten with rice. Rice is typically served steamed, and it must be accompanied by something else. You can’t just eat plain rice. Ulam can be meat, fish, or vegetables; really anything other than salad or condiments or deserts. If the ulam runs out, and you still have rice left, it’s just wrong to eat the rice alone. It’s just not done! Though, the reason is that steamed rice is fairly tasteless on its own, and the ulam is salty or saucy, so it has all the flavor. We eat a lot of rice.
However, most households use regular cutlery on a day to day basis. Kamayan is acceptable, but not the norm at most meals. There is a caveat though: the main utensils used are fork and spoon, instead of fork and knife. My guess is that this is because it is easier to eat rice this way. There is a distinct technique to using the fork and spoon that my friends affectionately call the ‘press and pull’ method. To break apart a large piece of meat or vegetable, you take your spoon in your right hand, fork in the left, face the spoon and fork edges back to back (pointing in opposite directions), press down into the meat, and pull off a bit of it off with your spoon. You’d be surprised how effective this is! (We also joke that there’s never a need for a knife). When you’ve successfully obtained a small piece of ulam, you use your fork to push it onto the spoon with a bit of rice. The spoon goes in your mouth, not the fork.
If you visit someone’s house you will always be offered some kind of food. In the Philippines a typical offering is fried plantain bananas and Coke. It is good manners to eat at least some of what is offered. Your hosts will be insistent.
Here are a few other random tidbits:
A normal day consists of breakfast, lunch, merienda (snack), then dinner. The three main meals of the day are served with rice. Even most soups are served with rice, rice can be added to the soup, or the soup can be spooned on top of rice. Food is served family style in containers on the table, and you are free to take as much as you want.
Food is traditionally served on banana leaves for added flavor. These days if you go on a picnic or to a party banana leaves are sometimes used to line paper plates/baskets, or to cover the surface of a table on which food is laid out.
Most vegetables are generally either cooked or pickled, and not eaten raw. Green (unripe) papaya is pickled and treated as a vegetable, as is green (unripe) mango.
Greasy food/oily is typically dipped in vinegar, and vinegar is often served with slices of garlic or chili in it. Other condiments include: fish sauce with lemon (patis mansi), salted brined shrimp (bagoong).
Wow I went on longer than I expected. I don’t really think about these things on a day to day basis, because they’re just normal to me. Feel free to share some of the rituals/customs you see around food!