How the rest of the world says “I do
There are more ways to celebrate tying the knot than shoving a slice of white cake into your new spouse's piehole. From postnuptial nibbles promising fertility, longevity and wealth to food rituals woven into the ceremony itself, every culture has its own set of elaborate culinary traditions to mark the matrimonial milestone.
① Breaking Bread, Bulgaria
Bread plays a crucial role in Bulgarian weddings beginning the Thursday before, when the mother of the bride performs a ritual kneading of pitka, a pull-apart bread similar to monkey bread. The rising of the dough symbolizes the creation of a new family unit. At the reception, both mothers feed the bride and groom bread and honey as a gesture to welcome them into their families and wish them a sweet life. Afterward, a giant loaf is held over the couple's heads, and each spouse pulls one end; whoever snags the bigger piece supposedly will dominate in the marriage.
② Sake-Sharing Ceremony, Japan
At traditional Japanese weddings, the drinking starts well before the best man's toast. In fact, during a ritual called san-san-kudo (meaning "three, three, nine times"), the bride and groom and both sets of parents each take three sips of sake from three cups, totaling a collective nine sips. The first three sips signify the union of two families and the couple; the second set represents the human flaws of hatred, passion and ignorance; and third, deliverance from them.
③ Tossing Jujubes and Chestnuts, South Korea
Forget throwing rice. During pyebaek, a family-only South Korean ceremony held after the wedding, the bride offers her in-laws jujubes and chestnuts as symbols of fertility. At the end, they toss them back at the bride, who tries to catch them in her gown. Better hope she has good reflexes—the quantity she catches represents how many children she'll bear. These Korean staplesreappear at the reception in yak shik, a sticky rice confection sweetened with honey and studded with chestnuts, jujubes and pine nuts.
④ Bom Bom Yara, Greece
There's a lot more than plate smashing and boisterous dancing at a traditional Greek Orthodox wedding. Oftentimes, the bride will tuck a bit of sugar into her glove to ensure her married life will be sweet. Later, after copious amounts of roast lamb and ouzo, bom bom yara, or packages containing an odd number of white chocolate or sugar-covered koufeta(almond candies), are given as favors. This represents the couple's unity, since odd numbers cannot be divided.
⑤ Cedar Sapling Cake Toppers, Bermuda
Couples in Bermuda may walk through a moon gate together with their hands entwined, but when it comes to wedding cake, it's strictly his and hers. The groom gets a pound cake covered in gold leaf, signifying wealth and prosperity; the bride, meanwhile, gets a silver-coated, three-tiered fruitcake doused in local rum to portend fruitfulness, purity and growth. Both are topped with cedar saplings the couple later plants in their garden as a symbol of their growing love.
⑥ Bem Casados, Brazil
In addition to the official cake and a lavish buffet of doces, or sweets (including the heavenly brigadeiros), guests at traditional Brazilian weddings go home with pretty packages of bem casados. Translated as "well married," these individually wrapped sandwich cookies are filled with dulce de leche, representing the couple's sweet union. Guests are encouraged to make their own wishes before eating them—which may explain the reports of hoarding.
Meesha Halm is a San Francisco-based writer, producer and cookbook author. Follow her adventures in sous vide and other dining escapades at @meeshahalm.