Lunch Customs From Around the World

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For most Americans, lunch usually consists of a plastic container of last night’s leftovers or a salad rapidly eaten at their desk so they can get back to work. The lunch break is supposed to be just that: a break. Today, everyone just wants to get ahead, and breaks have fallen to the wayside. But that’s not the case for many countries. Take some notes from these lunch customs around the world.

Japanese Bento Boxes

Traditional Japanese bento box filled with sushi, fish, and vegetables
Credit: hlphoto/ Shutterstock

While Americans are opening their brown paper sacks to reveal smashed sandwiches, Japanese workers and students are enjoying beautifully designed bento boxes. Japan has always been at the forefront of culinary design and preparation. Bento boxes are the lunchtime equivalent of an intricate sushi plate featuring colorful designs and, mostly for children, cute characters.

There are no exact rules for making a bento box, so many people come up with their own. Common rules include a minimum number of colors or what is known as the 4-3-2-1 rule: four parts rice, three parts protein, two parts vegetable and one part treat.

Spanish Siesta

Person resting in a multicolored hammock
Credit: nicoletta zanella/ Shutterstock

The Spanish siesta is the envy of the lunch-eating world. Around 2 p.m., most businesses and even schools shut down for up to three hours to allow people to go home and eat lunch with their families. This lunch is not a lunch by American standards. It’s typically a several-course meal including soup, salad, pasta, meat or seafood, and a dessert. Lunch is enjoyed and eaten slowly with your family.

After lunch, instead of trying to stay awake at their desks, Spanish people take a quick nap to sleep off their meal. Even workers who can’t make it home for siesta still make sure to find a nice shady place at the worksite to doze off for a while.

Before you start packing your bags to move to Spain, just know that the siesta is a break in the workday, not the end. After the feast and nap, people in Spain head back to work around 5 p.m. and continue until 8 p.m. to make up the full workday.

Italian Riposo

Man and woman resting on a bench overlooking the landscape in the middle of the day
Credit: Feel good studio / Shutterstock

Italians, like the Spanish, also enjoy some of the longest lunch breaks in the world. The Italian riposo is very similar to a siesta but usually without the napping. Between 1 and 4 p.m., Italian businesses shut down to allow workers to take a few hours to enjoy the day. For some, that means they go home and spend time with family. Others decide to read a book or watch TV. Do whatever activity you like to do to unwind.

The tradition was started to benefit the community. People took their breaks and shared ideas with one another. They discussed problems and politics, shared knowledge and grew as a community before heading back to work.

German Mittagspause

Person sitting at a table eating a lunch meal with knife and fork
Credit: mavo/ Shutterstock

People in Germany like to eat. In addition to their three main meals, they enjoy several snacks throughout the day. They eat breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, a snack and dinner. Of all the mealtimes throughout the day, lunch is typically the biggest. Between noon and 2 p.m., most Germans head home to eat with their families. A traditional German lunch consists of a hearty soup, meat and vegetables, and a dessert. While it’s largely frowned upon in America, in Germany it’s not uncommon to have a beer or two over lunch before heading back to work.

Indian Tiffin

Traditional Indian tiffins of different colors stacked neatly in columns
Credit: Supermop/ Shutterstock

India is one of the most populated countries in the world. In the larger cities like Mumbai, it’s nearly impossible to go anywhere for lunch. Many workers commute up to 30 miles one way, so going home or even waking up early enough to pack a lunch isn’t feasible. That’s where the tiffin wallahs come in.

Tiffins are round, stainless steel pails used for carrying hot food. Every week day, hot meals are prepared fresh at home and put into a tiffin. The tiffin is then picked up, color coded and delivered to a central location. Tiffin wallahs then pick up the food and deliver it using bikes, handcarts and baskets to the right workplaces all over the city so people can enjoy a hot, homemade meal at work. Toward the end of the day, the empty tiffins are picked up from the workplace and transported back to the home to do all over again the next day.

Despite the chaos of the city and the number of people served, tiffin wallahs have an astounding 99.99% success rate. They’re so trustworthy and good at what they do that some people even put their paychecks in the empty tiffins instead of carrying money via public transit at the end of the day.

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