Snacking is not a habit that’s unique to us here in the U.S. All around the world, countries have specific rituals and traditions around what’s arguably the best time of the day—a time when you can relax after work or school and eat, socialize, and rest, without spending too much time prepping in the kitchen or worrying about a menu. From France’s le goûter to the Swedish fika, there are many delicious cultural food-centric rituals to draw inspiration from around the globe.
The next time that mid-afternoon slump hits and you’re tempted to just go to the vending machine and grab a bag of chips, consider adopting one of these snacking traditions, instead. Your stomach will thank you.
England: Afternoon Tea
If you’re in the United Kingdom, “tea” isn’t just the name of a beverage—it also refers to an entire meal that’s a staple of British culture. Afternoon tea is the small snack between lunch and dinner, where Brits congregate to drink proper English tea (usually earl grey, with milk and sugar), and munch on light sandwiches, scones, and cakes.
(And if you’re wondering, high tea is another thing entirely, usually referring to a full evening meal.)
Spain: La Merienda
In Spain, having an afternoon snack time is perhaps even more necessary, given that the dinner is often eaten much later there than in the U.S. (and most other places). Their snacktime meal, called la merienda, is most common amongst children to tide them over between lunchtime and their late, supper meal. Common merienda fare ranges from yogurt and fruit to sweet pastries like churros. Nothing too heavy that you might need another siesta after snacking, though.
Swedish fika is all about the coffee, or kaffe. In fact, Sweden is one of the top three coffee consuming countries in the world, so it’s only fitting that they have an afternoon snack ritual that centers around the drink. There’s also a big emphasis with fika on slowing down—taking a brief pause in the middle of a hectic day to sip coffee and eat a sweet bun, open-faced sandwich, or kanelbullar with a friend or coworker. Or even alone!
The French aren’t big snackers, but when they do snack, you better believe they do it in style. Le goûter offers French adults and children alike the chance to indulge in a delicious (almost always sweet) after school or end of the workday treat, in the form of Nutella toast (spread on the finest French bread, of course), chocolate croissants, or macarons. They clearly don’t subscribe to the idea that eating dessert before dinner will spoil your appetite.
Italy: La Merenda
The Italian la merenda is closely related in tradition (and name) to the Spanish la merienda. Both snack rituals center around gathering around a food-laden table in the mid-afternoon with family, friends, and neighbors. A few classic elements of la merenda fare: pane con pomodoro (tomato toast), biscotti with warm milk for dipping, Nutella toast, and platters of sliced cured meats and cheeses served with fruit and nuts.
Snack time in Japan has deep roots in its heritage as a rural, agriculture-centric economy, hailing back to the early 1600s, when the long working days called for more than just the standard three meals per day. The afternoon oyatsu snack typically falls between 2-4pm (right when those hunger cravings start kicking in) and tends to feature sweet fruit, sugar, and carb-based treats like onigiri (Japanese rice balls) and packaged treat, Pocky.
Indian chai ceremonies derive their rituals from the traditions of British afternoon and high tea. And while Chai is one of the teas that most Americans are familiar with, the kind of chai tea you get in a box from your local grocery store is likely nothing like the traditional Indian preparation of this magnificent, aromatic leaf. The steaming masala chai is often paired with savory offerings, like samosas and pakora, as well as sweet cakes and English biscuits.
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