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Culinary Curiosities: Food Superstitions in Today's Climate



If you want to catch fish, don't take a banana onboard.

photo illustration by Steve Hamburger

Every culture has superstitions around food that are centuries old and rooted in logic that made perfect sense at the time, but now seem a little far fetched.

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but no house calls just means you have to get in your car and drive to the clinic to see him or her now.

But some superstitions have value. In a world that has become unpredictable at best, perhaps we should all follow the South American tradition of eating 12 grapes, one at a time, at the stroke of midnight on the first day of the month. If the grapes taste sweet, the upcoming month will be good, if they are sour, you’ll be collecting unemployment for another month. Note: Taking 12 sips of wine at midnight is not the same drill.

And if you are collecting unemployment, as you’re painfully aware, that extra bump from the Feds in your check has run out, and if you’re not back at work, it may behoove you to brew a cup of coffee. If you can catch the bubbles in your coffee on a spoon and eat them, you’ll unexpectedly come into money.

If the bubbles evade you, spill the coffee—that causes good luck as well. I know this from personal experience. Long ago when I was a server in college, I spilled an entire tray of coffee down the front of my legs. The table was so concerned—or maybe embarrassed for me—that they left a big tip. Since I wasn’t a very good server, I did toy with the idea of repeating the experience as a revenue enhancer. But in the end, I quit and left the job in more capable hands.

Not all superstitions involve money.

Some cultures believe oranges make people fall in love with you. Which is why breakfast places always add orange slices to their plating. But few of us when presented with an entire orange expect to find love, but a slice on a plate may make us tip better.

Apples, the most famous fruit in history, are also rooted in romance. Cut an apple in half and the number of seeds equates with the number of children you’ll have. And if you don’t have a partner to have those children with, peel an apple in one continuous ribbon of skin, toss it on the counter to see the first letter of your soon-to-be lover’s name.

If you crack open an egg and find two yolks, that means someone you know will be getting married—or having twins. So choose you eggs and friends carefully.

Bury a bottle of bourbon at your wedding venue before the ceremony to ward off rain. The beauty of this superstition is that if it does rain, you’ll have a bottle of bourbon handy.

Some superstitions are no-brainers, such as don’t bring your hostess parsley at a party. It not only brings bad luck, but a lukewarm thank you note. But if you do bring it, warn her that planting the seeds will help make her pregnant.

And in a silverware-heavy industry, it’s good to know that if you drop a fork, a woman will visit; drop a knife and the visitor will be a man; and a child will visit when a spoon is dropped. But if you drop a tortilla on the floor, that company will be unwanted. While researching this I couldn’t determine what was behind this superstition, but I suggest that this might be the time for restaurateurs to start dropping a fork and knife for every seat in the place you can fill following socially distancing guidelines.

And if you’re wondering why the prices of protein are rising as such an alarming rate, I can only speak here to seafood. Apparently someone on the fishing boat is eating bananas, because as the old saw goes, if you want to catch fish, don’t bring a banana onboard.

One last bit of advice: Never hand a pepper to a friend or coworker or your friendship will end unharmoniously. Instead place the pepper on a table, and ignore your coworker’s request to pass the pickled peppers.

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