Food association and habit is a substantial part of communication and culture. Chittagong and its culturally significant feast of Mezban shows a remarkable case of food practices as a communicative act and how the people of Chittagong upheld a tradition of connecting people through generous custom of sharing food.
Keywords: food habits, tradition, chittagong, communicative acts.
Mezban—Culturally Significant Communicative Act of Chittagong
Cape Breton University
January 30, 2020
In this age of globalized economy having to uphold authentic culture and traditional practices could be a challenging job; especially when it comes to the topic of food. Even though food might seem like just a resource to acquire energy for humans to carry on with their lives; it is one of the most important tools when it comes to communication, ethics and culture. For the residents of highly diverse communities; having access to food from all over the world could be easy or moderate as the diversity in the area leads its way to a globalized shared food habit. However, it is not the same case for residents of communities which are less diverse with strong and rich sense of a singular cultural identity. Regardless the cultural difference, food habits have different cultural values and ethics in different parts of the world (Visser, 1991). Shared culinary tastes and practices create communities and establish cultural boundaries and stretch a sense of authenticity and belonging among the people.
I come from a culturally rich family from Chittagong; a district in the Southeast Asian country of Bangladesh. Families in Chittagong have values and ideologies aligned with the philosophy and morals of Islam; as well as passed down traditions that are not remotely related to religion (Rahman, 2001). Food is one of the most important part of the Chittagonian culture and heritage. Personally, I have a lot of distinct memories growing up in a community with a different culture and values than rest of the country. Tea and biscuits served by a host reminds me of the hospitality people receive while paying a visit as a guest to anyone’s residence. Bhapa Pitha; a rice ball with jaggery filling served with a cup of warm date honey reminds me of the winter mornings in Chittagong. Fried chickpeas served with lentil and onion fritters and a table full of many items such as dates, halim; a special type of lentil soup cooked with either chicken, beef or mutton reminds me of the iftar tables; a religious feast after a long day of fasting during the month of Ramadan; an Arabic month which Muslims observe by fasting and prayers every day of the month.
People in Chittagong has a different approach when it comes to the habits of food. Mezban; a traditional Chittagonian feast where every person around the neighborhoods are invited to enjoy mezbani beef; a traditional Chittagonian recipe served alongside plain rice and thick lentil soup (Siddiqua, 2013). Mezban is hosted for occasions such as birthdays, death anniversaries, launch of something new, success in business or academics etc. The feast is meant to offer a prayer for the specific occasion by sharing meals with relatives, friends and people from all walks of life. In order to be admitted to a feast of mezban a person need to do nothing but to show up to event. Information about the feast gets posted around the areas with the time and location so that people know about the occasion. A mezban feast can host at least a thousand of people (Siddiqua, 2013). People share joy, success, empathy and prayers for the loved ones through the mezban. The way different occasions unique to the Chittagonian culture are celebrated; the habit, the values and ethics connected to food shape our identity by giving it a touch of individuality.
Shared culinary tastes such as the ones described above connect the people of a community through food. People can have a shared market of products of their choice and cultural occasions like Mezban, Ramadan, snacks for guests etc. unite the people and create community of similar values and ethics towards food practices and stretch a sense of belonging for the people (Visser, 1991).
Islam, M. (2018). Islam, Politics and Secularism in Bangladesh: Contesting the Dominant Narratives. Social Sciences, 7(3), 37.
Rahman, W. (2001). Culture, Tradition and Modernisation in South Asia. South Asian Survey, 8(2), 203-211.
Siddiqua, F. Z. (2013, 10 13). MAJESTIC MEZBAN. The Daily Star. Retrieved 1 30, 2020, from https://www.thedailystar.net/news/majestic-mezban
Visser, M. (1991). The rituals of dinner : The origins, evolution, eccentricities, and meaning of table manners (First American ed.). New York: Grove Weidenfeld.