Possibly the most important religious celebration in the Christian calendar, Easter is celebrated worldwide with a few common foods that signify rebirth, renewal and peace – eggs, meat, fish, sweet breads.
Personally, I love the fact that the word “Easter” comes from Eostre, the pagan Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring!
For both pagans and Christians those last days of winter would have been sparse pickings for food, and the coming of spring would have resulted in a grand feast. For Easter, this is codified with the 40 days of lent, the famine, ending with the feast on Easter. And everywhere, celebration seems to mean eating meat
Easter foods have a symbolic significance of renewal, rebirth and peace – eggs, lamb, fish, and breads. And in areas where lamb is not common, other meat is eaten.
Around the world, there seems to be an emphasis on more, in both food and celebration, as if to make up for the deprivations of the previous 40 days.
We Start Our Easter Feast in Italy
Of course, we start in Italy, the center of the Roman Catholic Church. As always in Italy, it involves many courses, each with Easter significance, with a big Italian family get-together that lasts for hours.
Each area in Italy follows a similar pattern, but serves different dishes for each course, true to their area. Rather than give a whole traditional meal from just one place, I kind of jump around Italy with dishes from different parts of the country. What can I say, I love all of Italy!
The Italian Feast
The Italian Easter meal consists of several courses, following the menu below:
Appetizer (from Naples) – fellata (meaning slices in Napolitano dialect) comprises mixed cold cuts, including soppressata and capocollo, boiled eggs, and cheese (usually ricotta salata) with tortano or casatiello cakes instead of bread.
First course (Campania) – a soup such as minestra maritata, which “marries” the flavours of meat with bitter greens.
Second course – eggs in dishes like torta pasqualina from Liguria (also popular in Argentina!)
Lamb – grilled lamb chops (everywhere) or Roman baked lamb
Seasonal – asparagus, peas, artichoke or other spring vegetables
Sweet bread – Colomba, the dove-shaped (for peace) traditional sweet bread from Lombardy, but popular throughout
Italy. And even in Italy, most people would buy this from a baker because it takes 3 days to make requires 30 hours of rising!
Other Dessert (dolce)- the Neapolitan pastiera and yes, even chocolate!
The Sacrificial Lamb
Greece is known for lamb anyway, but it is especially important as their traditional Easter dinner, which would entail starting early in the day to prepare the fire and then cooking the whole lamb on a spit over the fire. While the accompaniments are traditional things like olives, tzatziki, roasted potatoes, spanakopita and roasted vegetables, the emphasis here, like everywhere, seems to be more.
Meat is important in celebration!
As in Greece, cooking outdoors over an open fire give the Nigerian dish Jollof Rice a nice smokey flavour (somewhat like the Spanish Paella) and includes a mixture of long grain rice, Nigerian-style curry seasoning, chiles, onions, vegetables and most importantly, meat.
In India, Easter dinner always includes meat. In fact, I was told that on Easter, one always eats meat, even if you are a vegetarian! No one is vegetarian on Easter Day. The dish will vary throughout the country. Where I was in Kerala, chicken or mutton mappas with palappams or beef ularthiyathu are usual while in Fort Cochin, the meal could be pork vindaloo, beef vindaloo, beef chops, chicken and stew.
As in India, in Singapore, if it’s a celebration, it means meat! And they combine eggs with meat to make beef murtabak, an egg crepe wrapped around ground beef. The beef is marinated in curry powder, then cooked with an onion and garlic paste and spices (star anise, cinnamon and nutmeg) and served with fresh lime, chili sauce and raita. It is a timeless dish that goes so far back, no one can really say where it came from.
Back in the Americas
In Ecuador, Fanesca soup is typically made with 12 different kinds of beans to represent the 12 apostles, and bacalao to represent Jesus.
And coming to North America, in the USA, ham is more likely the main course than lamb because It was seasonal. The meat had been cured during the winter months and was ready in time for spring. It probably also replaced lamb because it was easier to come by and was less expensive.