Roma slowly let go of food habits brought from India

By • on October 8, 2012

Until recently, a Roma man would not eat leftovers from the previous day. In other words, he would not touch food left from a previous meal, and the woman who had the audacity of serving that would get shouted at. But not only a man would refuse old food, a woman or a child would do the same thing. This is one of the last habits from ancient India that Roma still keep. Roma cook fresh food every day and some meals cooked for lunch are not even considered for dinner. This is because of a belief that the food is already decomposing and therefore not good to eat anymore. And some Roma really do cling on to this habit with obstinacy, despite the fact that the woman must cook several times a day, as well as clean the house and look after children, to keep up with things.

However, I have noticed that some young Roma, who, for example moved to the Czech Republic for work, completely let go of this habit. They are forced to do so for financial reasons and lack of free time. Some young couples have started families in Mladá Boleslav. But if a husband or a partner works three shifts a day, his woman has enough time to deal with the household chores and the childcare without any help from their relatives. So she would cook for two days and then store the food in the fridge.

I had to adapt to this regime although I was shocked when my partner suggested it himself because he wanted to help me. He is also Roma and he has been functioning without freshly cooked meals for several years. He didn’t have much free time and he decided not to waste the little he had on cooking.

I come from a family where yesterday’s soup was never served again, or else my father would have probably turned the pot upside down. I obviously brought this habit to the Czech Republic with me. Here, a great change took place as I shocked my boyfriend when I wanted to throw away the dinner leftovers from the previous day. My mother cooks two, sometimes even three meals every day. Of course, this takes its toll on your wallet but we say that “stale food is not for eating” and some Roma simply cling on to this tradition.

I was forced to slow down because I would not have managed otherwise. So I admit it is more convenient for me to cook for the following day and thus save time for myself. And I am here, still alive, despite doing that. The non-Roma laugh at the Roma who say “yuck” when they have to eat rotten food. The Roma say that one must be stingy to be able to eat even three-day-old soup.

I visited my family in Slovakia last month and I felt sorry when I saw how much food got thrown away every day. My sister-in-law made potato cakes. The following day we had barbecue, so nobody touched those leftover cakes. My boyfriend and I said that we would still eat them, and we did that with great relish. Everyone gave us a weird stare and smirked when I said that nothing could have happened to potato cakes while they were stored in the fridge, and that made us feel like we came from another world.

And I know another strange habit dating back to the time Roma spent in India. When a woman gave birth to a child, she was not allowed to cook during the six following weeks due to reasons related to hygiene. Other women from the community would cook for her family. But this habit is no longer alive, and no Roma woman would cook for someone else’s family today. Maybe somebody would bring food for the new mother, and if the woman has an “emancipated” husband, he may help her. Otherwise she still has to cook.

The rapid pace of our times forces us to adapt to new circumstances, and to leave behind our old habits and traditions. We cannot avoid that when every nation loses habits that slowly become museum pieces. We ask the oldest people how they managed to keep traditions alive and what the specific tradition stood for. Unfortunately, some traditions are now preserved only in the written form so that the following generations can learn more about their history and their roots, about our roots.