Russian superstitions related to food and drink

There is a lot of superstition surrounding bread and salt, which are used for a traditional welcome. Source: Ajay Kamalakaran

There is a lot of superstition surrounding bread and salt, which are used for a traditional welcome. Source: Ajay Kamalakaran

There are several superstitious beliefs surrounding food in Russia and while some of them have a certain rationale, those without any reasonable explanation are more entertaining.

In India, many people tend to be very traditional and in day to day life there are a lot of beliefs and superstitions that affect their actions and decisions. One may not expect the same in a country that was communist for several decades, but beliefs not based on rationality are common place even in Russia.

Russians are quite superstitious and pay attention to many signs that are seen as favourable and un-favourable. Most of these signs bring bad luck but through the years people have came up with the antidotes to change the luck. 

You will be surprised how many of superstitions are associated with food. In Russia a large number of them are about bread and salt - probably because bread is a staple food in Russia and salt is the main seasoning. 

The most famous food superstitions are associated with salt, a food preservative that predates the Christian era. Because it doesn't rot over time, people treated salt as a symbol of eternity. For a long time, salt was a very expensive ingredient in Russia and that made it very valuable. The most common superstitious belief is, “If you drop salt, you will have a fight at home.” To avoid this bad luck, you could just throw a pinch of salt with your right hand above your left shoulder to minimise the negative effect (it was believed that the evil is behind your left shoulder). 

Another superstitious belief surrounding salt is shared even in India:  “You will have bad luck if you pass salt directly to another person at the table”. In Russia, there is a remedy- While passing salt you should laugh or at least smile.   Another belief with salt is that “if a woman uses too much salt while cooking, she is in love.” One of the old wedding rituals demanded that the food for the groom's parents be salted by the bride. In order not to look stingy, the girl would put extra salt. In this case an over salted dish was not by mistake, but by the desire to be loved and accepted. It was recently discovered in a scientific study that a woman's body requires more salt while in love. Unintentionally, more salt in food seems absolutely normal for a woman in love.

Most of the superstitions related to food have their own reasonable explanation, but I find the ones that don’t make any sense very entertaining. For example: “Don't leave an unfinished piece of food on the table.”  If another person eats it, he will find out all your thoughts. Moreover your energy and health will go to that person.

“Don't drop food from your mouth on the floor.” If the piece is eaten by a mouse, the person who dropped it will have a tooth ache and especially those teeth that were chewing that piece. 

“If you don't finish one serving of food and unintentionally take a second one, somebody very close to you is hungry.

“If you drop something from the table, expect a guest. Depending on the gender of the dropped subject, expect a woman or a man.

“Don't eat from the knife” - your mouth will become twisted. This doesn’t seem like a superstition but a possibility of cutting your mouth while eating from a knife.

Drinking is being a very significant part of Russian food habits. There are many rules that we follow, some of them could be treated as unlucky omens and some of them are just accepted practices. “Never keep an empty bottle on a table” as it could attract dead people.

You have to make a toast every time you drink and the third toast should be always for your parents.”

“You could drink from bottles but don’t clink them and say cheers.” Doing that may mean that you never drink from crystal glasses.

The list of the beliefs and unfavourable signs can continue endlessly. A lot of people don't believe many of the things that I have mentioned but because for generations they were widely accepted. Some of these beliefs are entrenched in the mind and nobody wants to play with destiny and unnecessarily attract bad luck. 

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