6 Do’s and Don’t’s on Food for Wakes and FuneralsJanuary 28, 2019
- Serna EstrellaWords
A deeply-ingrained belief in the afterlife coupled with great regard for family makes wakes, funerals, and All Saints’/Souls’ Days quite a huge deal in our country. Add our love of food to this equation, and you can be sure that despite the somber tone of the said occasions, all mourners will go home with a full stomach.
This November, we remember our dearly-departed (and perhaps put on a few pounds in their honor). Here are some guidelines that can help you decide what sort of food to bring or serve (and how to eat your fill while remaining respectful) that are appropriate for the occasion.
1. Do consider the venue before you plan your menu.
In the Philippines, wakes are held either at the deceased’s (or their family’s) home or at funeral parlors. If you’ve chosen to hold the wake at home, make sure there’s sufficient space for your guests and don’t forget those seemingly omnipresent monobloc chairs and tables. Serving complete meals like pancit, sopas, or even rice with the deceased’s favorite ulam is acceptable, especially since you have access to full kitchen facilities.
Wakes at funeral homes, however, might require edibles that are more compact and are easier to handle. These establishments can sometimes get crowded, with little room for mourners to sit down with a plate full of food and a complete set of utensils. That is, unless you happen to be billeted at a funeral parlor or chapel where they offer big reception rooms, catering, and uniformed waiters along with the standard memorial package (I’ve actually been to such an event and spaghetti bolognese was actually on the menu, among other things. The kindly old man who passed away was always keen that his guests ate well). Otherwise, opt for sandwiches, cookies, little cakes, or arroz caldo/goto in individual, disposable cups as your spread of choice.
2. Do serve food that will still taste good cold.
As its name implies, wakes generally extend well into the next day’s wee hours. Funerals aren’t as lengthy, although the traditional rituals that precede them can take a while. If you have a lot of guests to entertain or a memorial service to preside over, keeping the food warm should be the last thing on your mind. Snacks like ham or tuna sandwiches, potato or macaroni salad (preferably in individual, disposable cups, if you’re at a funeral parlor), and the trusty mamon/ensaymada are all safe bets, as are those assorted biscuits that come in giant, vintage tin cans. Save lola’s nilaga for those nights when you’ve got lots of time to yourself and access to a stove.
3. Don’t scrimp on the drinks.
Since wakes and funerals in our humid country can often get crowded, keeping your guests properly hydrated is just as important as ensuring that they are well-fed. Bottled water is always appreciated, and coffee is a good pick-me-up for visitors coming in from a long day of work. Constantly staying up late can also wreak havoc on one’s immune system, so those visitors who faithfully attend each night of the wake might appreciate a cup of salabat (ginger tea) for their clogged sinuses and scratchy throats. No matter which beverage you opt to serve, the key thing is there should be enough to go around.
4. Don’t take home food from the wake or funeral.
This 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 are off-limits. But whether you’re the type to say “Tabi-tabi po” when passing by a termite mound or not, it’s hard to deny that hoarding food at a wake or a funeral is, well, tacky (and a tad disrespectful, when you think about it). It’s perfectly acceptable to go for seconds (especially if you’ve been there for quite a while and when the host encourages it), but secreting portions from the buffet table is rather inconsiderate to other visitors who have yet to partake of the food. Plus, doing so is akin to taking advantage of a family’s grief and tragedy somehow, don’t you think? The bottom line is (as with everything else), keep things classy.
5. Do clean up after yourself.
Chapels and cemeteries are sacred ground, and personal homes are such to those who dwell in them, so keeping them clean is an absolute must. Visitors are in no way obliged to mop up or sweep the floor, of course, but picking up after yourself is a basic courtesy. Also, being one less person to clean up after is one of the things anyone can do to help out the grieving family. It’s really not that hard to bring your plate/utensils/sandwich wrapper over to the kitchen sink/rubbish bin.
6. Don’t forget to pay your respects before digging in.
To be fair, this is a given for most people, but horror stories still abound about nightmare guests who dine and dash at funerals and wakes. (I actually know of this guy who brings his date to a wake or funeral to nosh on the food when he’s short on cash, and of this rich old lady who combs the daily obituaries to see which of her friends recently passed away so she could get a free merienda). Filipinos genuinely love to feed people and there’s nothing wrong in being on the receiving end of that (heck, it’s more offensive to refuse or to take no pleasure from the food), but it’s also important to remember the real reason why you’re there. A simple, heartfelt “My condolences,” or “Nakikiramay po” to the departed’s family when you arrive at the wake or funeral should always be the first thing on your to-do list.
Funerals and wakes are in a way, the ultimate despida. They are a celebration of a person’s life (albeit a rather final one). This is precisely why it’s important for those of us left behind (whether you’re a host or a guest) to do all we can to make it a lovely and meaningful one in every way possible.