7 Filipino Dining Superstitions (And Where They Came From)

September 23, 2013

Old habits die hard, especially if they’ve been in place for centuries. From a purely logical standpoint, superstitions should have been eradicated long ago. They came into being as our great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents’ way of explaining the mysterious natural phenomena that was happening all around them. And yet, there are still plenty among us who say “tabi tabi po” while passing through a secluded garden or refrain from getting haircuts at night for fear of the supernatural consequences.

If the trove of superstitions I’ve compiled below is any indication, abiding by their rules at the dinner table nowadays can be more complicated than following the most uptight etiquette manual.

1. Don’t eat chicken on New Year’s Eve/Day. Instead, eat twelve round fruits at the stroke of midnight at the end of the year.

New Year’s traditions are all about setting the tone for the next year. It’s widely believed that whatever you do or possess on New Year’s Eve will dominate your life for the following year.

I’m sure we can find a boob joke here if we all try really hard. via Treats and Feasts

Symbolism plays a huge role in the selection of food for the New Year’s Eve dinner. We all know how chickens eat: they’re forced to putter about digging through the dirt each time they get hungry. Feasting on one come the first of January puts diners at the risk of a difficult year ahead, forced to work hard for each mouthful. Round fruits, on the other hand, signify nature’s bounty. Their shape represents continuity, so eating twelve of them is supposed to mean abundance and prosperity the whole year round.

2. Pregnant women should avoid eating ginger root because it will make their baby grow an extra toe or finger.

Before the advent of modern obstetrics, pregnancy and childbirth were mysterious and unpredictable events that were often fatal. Medical knowledge was severely limited, so midwives and folk healers would base their prescriptions mostly on pure speculation. They also believed that a pregnant woman’s cravings were clues to how her baby would turn out. Those who craved for pointed, long-stemmed vegetables were thought to be carrying a boy. If the mother yearned for crabs, she was expected to bear children who could never keep their hands still. You get the idea.

Feet like these would make shoe shopping difficult. Via SheKnows

Eventually, this belief grew to reverse itself, introducing even more wrinkles into the already suspect connection between the mom’s merienda and her baby’s destiny. Now, what the mother eats supposedly influences what traits her child would have rather than the other way around. Eating conjoined bananas was presumed to result in twin babies, while the ginger root, with its offshoots resembling fingers or toes, was thought to induce the growth of an extra digit or two in the fetus.

3. Dropped utensils announce the arrival of a visitor. A fork means it’ll be a man, while a spoon indicates that a woman is coming to see you.

No one is really certain as to why fallen utensils are omens for unexpected visitors, but it seems to be a widespread belief in other countries as well. One theory is that dropping utensils during the after-dinner clean-up is supposed to be a visitor’s presence making itself known, and thus asking the family to wait up before they turn in for the day.

Congratulations! You just dropped a spork. via The Inquirer

Even the meaning behind the specific utensils varies from country to country. Some believe that the direction of the handle indicates the direction from which the visitor is coming from. Forks symbolize the male gender supposedly because of the protrusion between the tines (though I have yet to learn of a guy who’s THAT well-endowed), while the concave bowl shape of the spoon allegedly invokes a woman’s womb.

4. Don’t clear the dining table unless everyone has finished eating. If you do, you doom the last single dinner guest to a life of loneliness.

Mealtimes are sacred. They’re central to just about any culture in the world. There is something both intimate and communal about satisfying a basic need alongside other people. Since the shared experience casts a certain bond over all the participants, clearing the dishes before everyone is finished somehow breaks that magic, leaving whoever wasn’t done eating out of the loop, and thus, all by himself/herself (i.e., foreveralone) permanently.

Being stood-up constantly is also another omen that one will remain single for life. via The Gloss

Furthermore, clearing the table while a diner was still eating was akin to sentencing that person as a “leftover,” someone who was left on the plate while everyone else was picked up, so to speak.

5. Bringing home food from a wake or funeral is bad luck.

In the Philippines, we have plenty of traditions surrounding wakes and burials due to our great respect for our dearly departed. While it’s customary to offer food to fellow mourners at such occasions, it’s also believed that any food brought in to the wake or burial should not be taken out of it. Visitors who hoard the proffered snacks are frowned upon.

I know of this old lady who regularly scours the daily obituaries for her friends’ names to score herself a free meal. via SuperBCuisines

The spirits of the dead are also thought to linger about at wakes and funerals,thus taking home anything from the event would be like inviting their ill luck over to one’s house. Hence, those who drop by to pay their last respects are encouraged to consume any edibles at the event onsite.

6. If a fish bone gets stuck in your throat, ask a breech-born person to stroke it and the bone will vanish.

Breech babies are born feet-first instead of head-first like the rest of us. Called suhi in the vernacular, they’re thought to be innately-gifted healers with a unique touch. Their hands are supposed to be quite adept at relaxing muscles, crucial for getting embedded fish bones to go down smoothly.

I should have just picked the steak. via How To Treat Acid Reflux

Other remedies for accidentally swallowing those pesky fish bones also include eating a banana or turning your plate clockwise three times.

7. It’s important to leave behind a clean plate after you finish eating. The number of rice grains left behind on your plate signifies the number of days you’ll spend in purgatory.

According to legend, we picked up this superstition from the Chinese. Their variation claims that the number of leftover rice grains totaled the amount of blemishes on your future spouse’s face. While our take escalates things rather drastically (going from acne to eternal damnation is a pretty big jump), it’s probably safe to consider that both versions were made up to discourage kids from wasting food.

When you look closely, they resemble the stuff that comes out when you squeeze a pimple. Yummy. via GoldenRice.org

Since rice is a treasured food source in both cultures, there are many more superstitions from both sides that discourage its waste. For instance, a popular Filipino saying also states that each grain of rice symbolizes a drop of sweat that resulted from our farmers exerting massive effort to grow our food.

Food science may have evolved considerably from when our ancestors were kids (we now have refrigerators that can generate grocery lists and some lighting that adjust themselves according to a homeowner’s mood), but I think that superstitions remain with us as links to our history (and as a reminder of how far we’ve come as a people). Besides, it’s a lot more fun to credit dropping utensils to imminent visitors than to one’s own clumsiness (or to blame an overeager waiter as to why you still don’t have a boyfriend).

Are there any superstitions that you still practice? What are the weirdest dining superstitions that you’ve heard of? Tell us all about it below!

References:

Panati, C. (1987). Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. Harper & Row: New York.

Sta. Romana-Cruz, N. (1996). Don’t Take a Bath on a Friday: Philippine Superstitions and Folk Beliefs. Tahanan Books: Manila.

Serna Estrella SEE AUTHOR Serna Estrella Serna is a slim piggy who heartily believes that salads are not real food and that desserts (fruit salad not included) should have their own food group. When she's not terrorizing people with her Grammar Nazi tendencies, she likes to hunt for the perfect afternoon tea spot that lets her pretend she's still in the age of Austen (albeit with electricity and better dental care).
9 comments in this post SHOW

9 responses to “7 Filipino Dining Superstitions (And Where They Came From)”

  1. Adrian De Leon says:

    Wait, so what do you have to drop to make BB Gandanghari drop by unexpectedly? A spork? Haha.

    I don’t know if this counts in this list, but my lola had this superstition that we should put salt and coins at the bottom of all the house doors during New Year’s Eve to attract luck. Oh and sometimes I see people leaving food on graves during All Souls Day (which gets eaten by the caretakers).

    • Sergia Susana says:

      I would assume so, yes. Haha.

      From what I came across in my research, the coins symbolize prosperity while the salt wards off any evil spirits. Leaving food on graves as offerings comes from the Chinese, I think. They’re meant to be enjoyed by the dearly departed in the afterlife, so to speak. 🙂

  2. 1. During Chinese New Year (or in daily practice among Chinoy families. Unverified), one shouldn’t flip a fish over to eat the flesh on the other side. Rather, you carefully remove the bones and pick out the meat. Flipping the fish is believed to reverse your fortunes.
    2. Leave an offering of food on the family altar or shrine to honor a deceased person’s birthday. If you are throwing a party for that person even though he is dead, make a plate for him as an offering and light a candle after a prayer for his soul. Then after the offering has been done, a pregnant family or the “bunso” member should eat the food.
    3. Don’t place money on the dining table during meals. I don’t know why but my mom get’s mad when someone has his or her wallet on the table when we eat out. I think it’s an old Ilonggo superstition.
    4. Our culture is replete with “pinaglihi sa ____” superstitions. Pinaglihi sa balut if the person is hairy. Pinaglihi sa chocolate pag maitim. Pinaglihi sa mangga pag palaging nakasimangot.
    5. Bawal walisin ang natapon na bigas. I think it is out of respect for the food, and also, it will bring bad luck if you do.
    6. Magsusubuan ng kalamay or malagkit na kakanin during weddings, for a happy married life. In modernity, we opt for cakes.
    7. Don’t stack the plates when clearing the table after a meal. Malas din daw yun.
    8. Aantukin ka pag kinain mo ang pagkain na nakagatan ng buntis/nalawayan ng buntis/para sa buntis.

    Yeah. My crazy grandmas and aunts were all superstitious.

  3. Nice read! And also, sneaky captions. 🙂 Hahaha

  4. Annie says:

    Oh, no.

    I gather BB’s fine with people referencing the fact that she was male in the past, but it’s really not a good joke, regardless.

    Plus, if BB’s a home visitor, you’re going to drop a spoon.

    Because BB’s a woman.

  5. […] is one rule that began as a superstition, and it’s quite a strict one at that. Even seemingly small items such as bottled water and candy […]

  6. roland bagallon says:

    Supertition is a sign of “BACKWARDNESS” normally associated with roman catholic brought to Phil. Spain is well known for practicing “Paganism” And people who believe in supertition usually lack commonsense.

  7. Remelita Arpilleda says:

    very much agreed to roland bagallon

  8. Mark says:

    Rice left behind and wasted, or wasting food.. actually all are graces in the table… wasting it, its like throwing grace… many died because of hunger.. n were lucky to eat 3times a day n have snacks… if ur lucky to be save thru purgatory then you’ll be punish according to graces u wasted…

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