Obviously, there are as many ways to get married as there are people in the world — but one element is seemingly constant: Food. Whether we’re talking about cake-and-punch receptions, intimate lunches, huge dinners, or even symbolic foods incorporated into the ceremonies themselves, what people eat at weddings around the world is often a huge part of the matrimonial experience, both for the folks tying the knot and the friends and loved ones witnessing them do it. And it’s no wonder! Sharing a meal together is one of the most universal ways to express love and camaraderie. The menu itself can say as much as a rousing speech can.
Of course, when we say “what people eat at weddings around the world,” what we’re really talking about are all the food-based wedding traditions that pop up in countries and cultures across the globe. Couples might choose to follow those traditions, or they might choose not to; times change, after all, and everyone deserves to have exactly the kind of wedding they want for themselves. But what’s notable about so many of these traditions is how symbolic they are: The foods often represent well-wishes for the newlyweds, remind them of the trials and tribulations they’ll face together, and bestow good luck and fortune upon them.
If you’ve ever wondered why the top tier of a British wedding cake is usually fruitcake, or what each of the courses served at a traditional Chinese wedding means, here’s a look at 12 foods that are often served at weddings around the world.
1. Norway and Denmark: Kransekage/Kransekake
In Scandinavian countries, kransekage (its name in Denmark) or kransekake (what it’s called in Norway) is a special occasion cake, the kind of thing you serve at holidays and major life events — including weddings. The word itself translates as “wreath cake” or “tower cake,” which describes exactly how the treat is constructed: It’s made of many layered rings of almond-based pastry (sometimes as many as 18 rings!), all stacked up and held together with icing.
According to one tradition, the newlyweds are supposed to lift the top layer off when the cake is served; the number of rings that stick to the bottom of it is said to indicate how many kids they’ll have. Another version of the cake, called overflødighedshorn, is shaped like cornucopia and filled with other treats.
2. Nigeria: Kola Nut
Nigerian wedding ceremonies are long and complex, with the sharing of a kola nut being an essential part of them. Indeed, as writer Kweku Darko Ankrah noted in a deep dive on the history and significance of the kola nut at Griots Republic, “When it is given as a gift, Kola nut indicates respect and gratitude. Those who chew Kola together show to the world that they love and trust one another.” According to Africa.com, a kola nut is shared between the couple and their parents during wedding ceremonies in Nigeria; indeed, as The Knot puts it, “the ceremony is not complete” until this action occurs.
3. Italy: Confetti Bomboniera
Technically confetti bomboniera are more of a party favor than a party food; it’s edible, though, so, uh… let’s roll with it. Anyway, guests at weddings in Italy have traditionally been given little boxes or bags (bomboniera) of Jordan almonds (confetti) as favors; it’s meant to symbolize the bittersweet nature of marriage: The almonds are the bitter part, while the sugar coating is the sweet part. The tradition is said to date back for centuries.
The number of almonds in each bomboniera matters, by the way: It’s always an odd number because, as Italy Magazine puts it, “the union of marriage is of two people so the amount must never be divisible by two.” In a bomboniera of three almonds, the nuts represent the two newlyweds and their future child; in a bomboniera of five almonds, meanwhile, each represents a different wish for the couple: Health, wealth, fertility, happiness, and longevity. You might even find seven almonds in your bomboniera, in which case two of the almonds represent the couple, while the other five represent all those wishes.
4. Germany: Hochzeitsuppe
This complex soup requires a lot of time and effort to make, so naturally, it’s only served at special occasions — and given that its name literally means “wedding soup,” it’s no surprise that the prime special occasion for Hochzeitssuppe is weddings. Made with chicken broth, chicken, meatballs, asparagus, and noodles, it’s usually served as the first course during the reception meal, according to the website German Culture. A few regional variations exist, as well, including the beef broth-based Westfälische Hochzeitssuppe, or “Westphalian Wedding Soup.”
5. Brazil: Bem Casados
With a name that literally translates to “well married,” it’s no surprise that bem casados connect to a joyful wedding tradition in Brazil. Although bem casados may sometimes be called a cookie, they’re more like a little personal-sized cake; New York-based Brazilian bakery Brigadeiro Bakery describes them as “a two-piece white cake connected with a silky milk filling,” while according to Brazil-based website The Cookie Shop, they’re comprised of “two little sponge cakes filled with dulce de leche, egg curd or jam.”
Given to guests as a dessert or party favor, they’re said to represent the sweet unity of the couple. Before they eat them, though, each guest is supposed to make a wish for the couple; then, after they eat it, whatever they wished should come true both for the couple and for themselves.
6. Great Britain: Fruitcake
We’ve talked about this tradition a few times recently — namely in conjunction with all the rumors that flew in the months prior to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s wedding — but now seems like a good time to go over it again: A traditional British wedding cake isn’t a light, fluffy confection made of sponge and frosting; it’s a fruitcake.
Prior to the 17th century, British weddings featured something called a “bride pie,” according to Gastronomica — a pastry of some sort that might have made from a wide variety of ingredients (minced meats! Fruits and nuts! You name it!) and in which all guests partook. In the 17th century, “bride pie” evolved into “bride cakes,” which were fruited cakes, rather than sponge cakes. This evolution occurred thanks to the increased availability of sugar.
These days, the top tier of a British wedding cake is meant to be a fruitcake — tiered cakes being a tradition that Queen Victoria started — which is actually removed before the cake is served and saved for the christenings of the newlyweds’ children. This tradition is often still observed today; William and Kate have even served slices of their wedding fruitcake to guests at all three of their kids’ christenings. Yes, even Louis’. Yes, the cake was seven years old by that point.
7. Korea: Yaksik
A sweet made of rice, honey, nuts, and jujubes — a fruit also known as Korean dates, among several other names — yaksik often makes appearances at special occasions and holiday observances in Korea. Most notably, it’s served at Jeongwol Daeboreum, a holiday that celebrates the first full moon of the new year according to the lunar Korean calendar; however, it’s also frequently dished out at weddings.
As an ingredient in yaksik isn’t the only appearance jujubes might make at a Korean wedding, by the way; they also feature prominently in a custom known as Pyebaek, which is traditionally held a few days after the wedding ceremony (in Korean-American weddings, however, it might occur either a few days before the wedding, or during the reception itself). In this tradition, the family of one of the newlyweds — in a heterosexual marriage, typically the bride’s family — offers jujubes and chestnuts to the family of the other newlywed (again, in a heterosexual marriage, usually the groom’s family). Then, the newlyweds sit behind a screen while the family who received the jujubes and chestnuts throws the fruits and nuts at them over the screen. The bride is meant to try catch as many of them as possible in her skirt, with the final count representing the number of children the couple can expect to have.
8. France: Croquembouche
Want a traditional French wedding cake to go with your traditional French wedding? Skip the sponge cake and fondant and go with a croquembouche instead. According to The Good Life France, the confection’s invention is usually credited to Antonin Carême and said to originate in the late 18th century; however, there may be earlier mentions of it from other chefs, so it's origins aren't actually totally clear. Either way, though, it consists of a pile of choux (cream puffs, essentially) stacked into a giant pyramid shape held together with caramelized sugar. It’s named for its crispy texture; “croquembouche” means roughly “crunch in the mouth.”
9. Thailand: Foy Thong
Foy Thong takes a lot of time and effort to make — but it's definitely worth it in the end. Often referred to in English as “golden silk threads,” the dish consists of noodles made of egg yolks and sugar syrup; it's usually served during the reception. The labor required to make Foy Thong is said to represent the hard work that goes into maintaining a successful marriage, while the threads themselves are meant to symbolize everlasting love. It’s extremely important that the newlyweds are served the longest noodles.
Foy Thong is just one variety of sweet served at Thai weddings, though; there are plenty more, and all of them have significance and meaning. Thai Square has more info for the curious.
10. Mexico: Fruitcake or Tres Leches Cake
So-called “Mexican Wedding Cookies” only bear that moniker in the United States; indeed, it's been theorized that it came about in the 1950s as a “freedom fries”-esque rebranding of Russian tea cakes. In Mexico, the cookies are called polvorones — and as Pati Jinich noted over at Latina Magazine in 2011, they’re not necessarily reserved for weddings. They’re just, y’know, cookies. Delicious, delicious cookies.
At a wedding, you’re more likely to find either a rum-soaked fruitcake or a tres leches cake, both of which have a history of appearing on the dessert table at Mexican weddings, according to USA Today. You might even find both — typically, there’s a big table with many options for dessert, rather than a table showcasing one giant, tiered confection. The fruitcake in question might be full of pineapple, pecans, coconut, and (of course) rum; the tres leches cake, meanwhile, is usually a sponge or butter cake soaked through with evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream.
The tiered sponge cake has apparently been gaining in popularity at Mexican weddings recently, though; even traditions change over time.
11. China: A Multi-Course Banquet Full Of Meaning
Traditional Chinese weddings include an elaborate banquet of many courses — typically 10, according to the blog Oishii Moments. The dishes served at this banquet are generally associated with symbols of happiness, longevity, fertility, selflessness, abundance, peace, and a “sweet life” together for the newlyweds, per Manhattan Bride. In heterosexual unions, it’s also common to find foods representative of the dragon and phoenix — the dragon being symbolic of male energy, while the phoenix represents female energy. You might find a lot of red foods like lobster and Peking duck on the table; red is considered to be a lucky color and represents happiness. Game birds might also make an appearance, as they symbolize peace. There are a lot of different options, but they all mean something special in order to begin the marriage in the best spirits possible.
12. Bulgaria: Bread, And All The Traditions That Go Along With It
At traditional Bulgarian weddings, bread factors prominently in a number of long-standing customs. In one, the mother of one of the newlyweds — in a heterosexual wedding, it’s typically the groom’s mother — offers several pieces of bread to the couple. The first is dusted with salt to remind the couple of the difficulties that await them as a married unit; the second, however, is dipped in honey to remind them of the sweet times ahead. In another tradition, the newlyweds each take one end of a loaf of bread and pull. Whichever one of them ends up with the biggest piece will take the lead in handling the household.