What is Religion? Food, Faith, Celebrations and a Cookbook!

was_isst_religionFood. A simple word which defines living but also an important part of spiritual rituals for many faiths such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism. For a globe-trotting dietitian such as myself, I believe that it is essential to understand the role of food in cultural and religious practices as a simple show of respect and to provide appropriate advice which meets the needs of people from all over.

For this reason, I attended a cookbook launch earlier this year in Zurich, Switzerland, which brought the five religions under one cover. The book is in German and goes by the title ” Was IsSt Religion?”.  The cookbook was put together by a group of practicing Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus based in Switzerland and give us  an intimate look at the festivals, rituals, rules and stories of their faith.  This inter-religious cookbook delivers delicious recipes with beautiful pictures and stylish images. It also gives insight as to why some foods are blessed, ritually sacrificed and eaten, while others are strictly forbidden. Behind all recipes of a certain faith, lies a story which sets the foundation of the food presented.

IMG_0507At the event, we were presented with a small introduction by a number of speakers representing each faith. The exciting bit: food tasting! We started off with Buddhism. The dietary rules of Buddhism are seen as a reflection of the faith’s philosophy and depend on which branch of Buddhism is practiced in what country. Most Buddhists choose vegetarianism in order to avoid killing animals. We tasted a dish called “Dresi zu Losar” which is eaten during the Tibetan New Year. A simple sweet dish which includes rice cooked in milk, and mixed with raisins.

IMG_0513We were then introduced to a dish consumed by Coptic Christians called “Ful Nabed” which is more like a vegetarian stew with a tomato based sauce and includes fava beans, carrots, onions and mix of spices such as cumin, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, garlic and paprika. This dish is consumed during a period of lent around the time leading to Easter, especially in areas around Egypt.

Then came an appetizer representing Islam. We had vegetarian Samosas, which are consumed in Pakistan when the fast is broken during  Ramadan. The month of Ramadan requires mandatory fasting from dawn until dusk where the fast is then broken by an endless array of dishes which vary depending where you come from.  The samosas’ filling was a mix of potatoes, seeds, onion and range of spices such as coriander, paprika, chilli, and tumeric. IMG_0517

IMG_0515Moving on to Hinduism..The interdependence of life represents the core belief of Hindus. People who practice Hinduism avoid meat from animals or any food that has involved the taking of life. Most Hindus do not eat beef or beef products as the cow is held to be sacred. The dish presented at the event was “Kitchari” which represents a way to cleanse the body during the New Year from all the processed food. “Kitchari” is a rice and Mung bean dish which contains a variety of vegetables, ghee and spices such as ginger, cumin, tumeric and coriander, giving it that burst of flavour.

IMG_2111Finally, Judaism. In Judaism, Kosher means that a food is ‘fit’ or ‘permitted’ for consumption and certain foods such as pork and shellfish are strictly forbidden. As the feasting came to an end, we were offered ” Loukoumades”; deep fried dough soaked in honey or sugar syrup and cinnamon and sometimes sprinkled with icing sugar or sesame seeds. “Loukoumades” are consumed by the Greek Jews as Chanukka treats but can also be found on the streets of Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries all year round! Chanukka (aka Hanukka) is also known as the Festival of Lights where the actual name is derived from a Hebrew verb meaning “to dedicate”. On Hanukkah, the Jews regained control of Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple.

This cookbook gives the reader a journey through all known faiths with international recipes that paint a picture of what different countries consume during certain celebrations and rituals. Unfortunately, this cookbook is in German and I’m unsure whether an English version would be published, however, a good resource nonetheless! Despite what the world may portray of wars, differences and disagreements, this cookbook shows how Food can bring everyone together, no matter what you believe in.

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