In Depth

Easter food around the world

Easter is a time of dining traditions – buttery hot cross buns, roast lamb, simnel cake and, of course, the ubiquitous chocolate egg

The Christian period of Lent, which culminates in Easter weekend – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday – is full of customs and traditions that have developed over centuries and differ from country to country.

Bread and eggs, of the non-confectionery variety, are the mainstay of many time-honoured Easter recipes. In the Catalonia region of Spain, the colourful mona de Pascua is an absolute must-have. Traditionally, the circular cake was given by godparents to their godchildren – the hardboiled eggs in the centre symbolising the child's age before their first Holy Communion. Nowadays, the eggs have been replaced by more child-friendly chocolate versions, with the rest of the cake decorated in multicoloured sweets and ornaments.

In other parts of Spain, torrijas – egg-fried bread sweetened with milk and cinnamon, rather like French toast – is eaten with gusto throughout Lent. A similar bread-pudding-style dish called capirotada is enjoyed in Mexico, with every ingredient symbolic of the Easter story: whole cinnamon sticks represent the cross, cloves the nails, and bread the body of Christ.

Symbolism is the backbone of nearly every traditional Easter dish. Hot cross buns, which are enjoyed in plenty of countries outside the UK, including Australia, Canada, Pakistan, New Zealand and South Africa, serve as a reminder of the crucifixion. In Jamaica, the buns have been replaced by a darker spiced loaf, which is served with slices of processed cheese. The pretty, plaited tsoureki loaf is a staple of Greek Easter, with a distinctive flavour derived from indigenous cherry seeds and mastic. The bread is usually baked with hard-boiled eggs dyed red to symbolise the blood of Christ.

A less aesthetically pleasing Easter favourite is Russian pashka. This unusual cheesecake-like dish is traditionally made from farmer's cheese moulded into a pyramid shape and embellished with the letters 'XB', derived from 'Christ is risen' in the Cyrillic script. An equally acquired taste is mammi, a Finnish Easter pudding. Simple yet time-consuming, it is made from rye flour, dark molasses and malt, flavoured with orange zest and usually served with milk or cream. Eaten throughout Lent and on Good Friday, the pudding is said to date back to the 16th century when Finland was part of Roman Catholic Sweden.

But it's not just desserts and fried treats that grace the Easter table. Following 40 days of fasting, a traditional roast is a much anticipated reward for many after weeks of abstinence. Ham is popular in America, dating back to times when livestock was slaughtered in autumn and any pork that wasn't consumed was cured for spring. Roast lamb, on the other hand, is the meat of choice in Europe. This tradition dates back to the first Passover of the Jewish people, when a lamb was sacrificed before being roasted and eaten.

Maundy Thursday begins the three-day Easter season and is the day of The Last Supper. In Germany it's referred to as 'Grundonnerstag' – literally 'green Thursday' – although the derivation actually lies in the word 'greinen', meaning 'to weep'. Despite the fact that Germans regard it more as a celebration of spring than as a religious custom, they tend to eat green-coloured food on this day. The most popular is chervil soup, a simple, earthy dish made from fresh chervil and stock – one of the few veggie-friendly savoury options served during Easter.

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