Food is an important cultural factor in many countries that can differ across eating times, the status of food, national dishes, and many other aspects. We chose to compare the cultural differences regarding food between our host countries, Malta and India, while keeping the Swiss food culture we are used to in mind as well.
FOOD IN MALTA
Maltese food is influenced by the many people who have invaded and colonised the island, as well as its own island culture and the typical “Mediterranean” way of eating.
Two of my beloved Maltese foods are rabbit stew, a mealtime dish, and pastizzi, a snacky pastry that’s filled with ricotta cheese, peas, chicken, or newly for tourists, Nutella. Malta is also known for its ħobż biż-żejt – ftira, a flat bread with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and further ingredients to the diner’s preference. Tea is drunk by many Maltese, but two typical Malta-brewed drinks are Kinnie, the Maltese soft drink, and Ċisk, the Maltese beer.
Malta adopted the Mediterranean habit of the siesta; thus, Maltese workdays and mealtimes are shifted. Breakfast is at a similar time, but lunch takes place later than we’re used to in Switzerland. Two to three hours of the afternoon are assigned for rest and staying out of the sun, so many shops and businesses (especially the smaller, local ones) close during that time. Due to this break in the middle of the day, Maltese people work a little later, stay up later, and therefore eat dinner later, at around nine pm.
Due to Malta’s history of consistent invasion, many of their practices stem from other countries. Their use of ricotta, pasta and pizza comes from their time under Italy’s rule, while their fondness for tea is British influence. Due to their cultural history, the Maltese generally accept other foods, and a variety of cuisines are offered, whether one wishes to eat out or order in.
FOOD IN INDIA
In India, food is of very high importance in many ways. Just as it is normal to ask: “How are you?” when greeting a person you know in Switzerland, it is very common to hear: “Saaptiya?” (Tamil for “Have you eaten?”) when meeting a friend in Chennai. If this question is answered in the negative, the friend will probably react with a small shock and instantly either offer you food or take you to a place to eat. Once reached in a restaurant, also called “Hotel” (which led to quite a lot of confusion in the beginning of my stay), one will likely find a variety of delicious meals typical for the area they find themselves in, prepared with fresh veggies from the local market. Depending on the state, the food can be more or less hot. However, someone who’s not accustomed to chillies and pepper in general will experience a fire in their mouth independent of the state they’re in. Once the fire decreases though, the flavours from all the different spices and ingredients come together like a well-balanced but exciting symphony of taste and one realises that this passion for food inherent to Indian culture means that the cooks have absolutely perfected their skill.
Another central aspect of Indian culture reflects in their eating habits very well: Sharing is caring. When people gather to eat at home, there will usually be various dishes on the table. Taking some from each will compose a balanced meal, satisfying all nutrition-related needs. If people however gather somewhere outside their home and either buy their meals in a restaurant or bring their own lunch, they can’t buy or bring this whole variety of dishes at once. But they have a simple solution to solve this problem: everyone shares their meal with the others! Like this, one may only get to eat a small portion of their own meal, but they get plenty of all the other dishes too. This idea of sharing goes way beyond food, and more individualist societies like Switzerland could learn something from it.
Comparison between Malta and India
Both Malta and India were colonialised by the British. This seemed to have a big influence on Maltese food culture, but it did not change Indian food culture that much. However, there is a beverage widely consumed in both countries mostly due to the British colonial times, and that is tea. Even though the methods of preparation vary across the two countries, the leaf stays the same. In India, it is rather hard to find a street without a tea stall spreading the sweet scent of freshly brewed spice tea. Because they use milk instead of water and use a fair amount of sugar which makes the tea very rich in flavour, it is served only in small cups. Probably the small amount of one serving makes it handy and quick to drink, so that it can be enjoyed a couple of times per day.
The Maltese also put their own spin on tea – their most famous tea is served cold in a tall glass, and drunk at lunchtime. However, they drink hot tea as well, usually black tea with milk and sugar. Contrasting India food does not share the same status in Malta. The question of, “How are you?” is still asked like in Switzerland, however one must be prepared for an answer beyond a simple, “I’m fine.” The Maltese give the details of their day if asked how they are. A further difference is how the Maltese have taken up some Western practices concerning sharing. When eating out in Malta, one’s food is one’s alone. Nevertheless, the Maltese are very happy to show off their cuisines and make sure visitors have tried all their favourite dishes.
Alessia Giezendanner, Kaylena Steiner