Of Sunday Mass and Family Meals

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 49 comments

Barquillos - not exactly Communion wafers
(Photo by arquera)

Her sandal-clad feet swung back and forth, the only hint of a four-year-old's impatience. She tried to sit quietly and not fidget, as she'd promised her Yaya, but the bench was hard and the little breeze whistling through the church's open doors tickled her ears with the sounds of people outside enjoying the Sunday sunshine. She twisted around to see what she might be missing but a soft tap on her arm and an admonishing glance set her straight again. Then something so unexpected, so very wonderful, happened - Yaya leaned over and placed a heavy coin in her little palm. Grinning with delight, she quickly hopped off the seat, not seeing the surprised look on her nanny's face as she scampered down the aisle, past the usher who stood at the end of the pew holding out the collection basket. She dashed through the open portal and into the bright sunlight, clutching her windfall as she made a beeline for the tienda . . .

. . . where I bought a bag of barquillos - crispy, rolled wafers that I'd stick on my fingers and pretend were long, glamorous nails. That was the last time my nanny ever entrusted her church offering to me.

Our parish, St. Augustine Church, in Ottawa, Canada
It is one of my earliest food memories but not the only one that is connected to Sunday Mass. In fact, the Sabbath provided the setting for childhood experiences that helped form my fascination with food and its meanings. Every Sunday, through fair weather or foul (and once we moved to Canada, there were many foul winter days), our family attended Mass. My parents approached this obligation with faithful formality - Papa always wore a business suit with a handkerchief tucked neatly into the breast pocket, while Mama dressed as elegantly as if she were attending a ladies' luncheon. My sisters and I were also expected to be presentable, even if it meant wearing thick tights under our dresses on those frigid days. I can now admit without a frisson of Catholic guilt and fear of a lightning bolt striking me down that I would've preferred to stay at home and watch cartoons. 

But Papa and Mama made it worth our while - after church services, they would take us out for lunch! The prospect of eating out was incredibly exciting because it was so different from the norm: eating at home was an ordinary routine but eating at a restaurant on a Sunday was an extraordinary ritual. My sisters and I never knew where we would go until we got there and that element of surprise heightened the anticipation. 

(Photo credit: iknowjoe/Flickr)
Sometimes, we ate at a dim sum palace, where I'd watch enraptured as the servers revealed the contents of the rolling carts with a flourish and Papa ordered dishes until the lazy susan, ladened with baskets of steamed dumplings and plates of noodles, could barely spin. In summer months, we would have hamburgers at Harvey's, where we'd perch on the outdoor picnic benches in our Sunday best; years later, I learned that burgers were my mother's secret addiction.

Taking a family of six out to eat once a week was no easier on the wallet back then than it is today and yet my parents somehow managed. But why did they do it? Indeed, food-sharing is a universal form of group bonding and family meals specifically have a significant, positive impact on younger members with regard to future nutrition habits, risk behaviors and social development [see the University of Minnesota's Project Eat]. So wasn't it enough to bond as a family over dinner every night, as we consumed the same familiar dishes in the comfort of our own home? As it turns out, our after-Mass lunches went beyond strengthening family ties - paradoxically, it marked their gradual loosening. 

Like sugar to sweeten the medicine, these excursions were my parents' way of teaching me and my sisters life lessons that might otherwise go undigested if served with unpalatable lectures. Dining out was a means of expanding our scope beyond the spheres of home and school as we learned to interact with people other than family, friends and teachers. In practical terms, it taught us good manners and how to comport ourselves in public. 

At home, we ate as a unit and shared the same food on the table but at places like Harvey's, we could assert our individual preferences - it was the only time I was allowed to turn down vegetables. A variety of restaurants exposed us to a variety of foods and flavors apart from the more familiar Filipino; some became instant favorites, like Vietnamese noodle soups, while an equal number were rejected by immature tastebuds (a taste for kimchi, for example, took years to develop). By taking us out of the confines of the routine meal at home, Papa and Mama used fork and spoon, and the occasional chopsticks, to nudge us onto a path toward a greater awareness of the world at large and our own individuality.

Sadly, those first forays in independence worked all too well as the excitement of childhood gave way to the self-absorption of adolescence. There came a time when my sisters and I preferred other Sunday activities over Mass and the company of our friends over family. My parents surprisingly didn't insist that we continue attending service, perhaps acknowledging our fledgling independence but I now wonder if they felt hurt or saddened by our choice as our family ritual waned, then disappeared altogether as we moved into our own adult lives.

Hindsight is, of course, 20/20 and it brings regret into blinding focus. With our family now scattered, reviving our Sunday tradition is not possible. Yet, as much as I miss that old ritual, I realize that its lessons - that individualism and commensality are not mutually exclusive, that your world can expand with one small bite of a new food and that family will always keep you centered in it - have been achieved and are appreciated. Today, my husband and I have our own food ritual which began without conscious attempt several years ago. Its day, setting, food and purpose are completely different from those long-ago Sunday meals but the sense of fun and anticipation remains. 

I hope you'll come back and read about our Pizza Night Thursdays . . . 

In the meantime, please feel free to share your own memories of family food traditions!

**Updated 3/15/2012: In the original post published on 1/27/09, I used a photograph which I credited to the source but did not actually have permission from the photographer to use. The new photo that replaces it above is used under a Creative Commons license.

Steamed Chicken Dumplings
As a child, the only time we had these was when Papa took us to Sunday dim sum. My husband and I don't go as often as we'd like so this is an easy way to get a quick dumpling fix. It's a slight variation of a recipe for jiaozi (pork and cabbage dumplings) from Tangstein's Blog: Healthy Chinese Home Cooking, which also features an excellent video tutorial on how to form the dumplings. 

Yields approximately 2 dozen


1 pkg wonton or dumpling wrappers
1/2 cup finely chopped cabbage
2 spring onions, chopped
10 oz ground chicken
1/2 tsp ground ginger or ginger paste
1 Tbsp rice vinegar 
1 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce

To make

1. Add all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well by hand;
2. Holding one wrapper in your palm, scoop 1 teaspoon of filling and place in the center of the wrapper;
3. Moisten edges of the wrapper with water and fold over, sealing the edges by pinching them together. If preferred, use a fork to press the edges together; repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.
4. Place in a steamer basket lined with greased wax paper (otherwise, dumplings may adhere to the paper) and steam for approximately 20 minutes. 
5. When done, serve immediately with a dipping sauce.

For dipping sauce: combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, minced garlic, minced ginger and finely chopped green onions to taste.


  • Melissa's Journey said...

    OMG!!!!! I just saw a comment of yours on someone's blog and saw your profile pic!!! She/he looks JUST like our brindle boxer!!!!! My blog (pet section) or search for Baylee has TONS of pics of her :) check it out!!!! Too cute :)

  • Anonymous said...

    Sunday Church...we never went out for lunch after because we went to Korean Church where they have a huge spread after services. The grandmothers would skip service and be in the kitchen cooking away and then we would have a feast! It was more about the community than the religious aspect. The afternoon would end with ping-pong - where my mom would kick a**. We'd come home and my grandmother's purse would be full of rice cakes and napkins...(sshhh - we weren't supposed to tell anyone she stole the napkins!). Thanks for reminding me about Sundays...

  • Anonymous said...

    I can totally see you flashing long finger nails. I did something similar when your husband and I were being watched by a friend of my mom's while they were off on some business trip. I convinced said friend, that after church we were allowed to go to the candy store and select goodies to our hearts desire. Sucker!

    Great post, I have a wonderful visual image of the entire experience and just want to know why you never serve us those dumplings!

  • Chef E said...

    Can you pass me a few dumplings with a touch of chili sauce...please, because the look so yummy!

    In Sunday school when our mother was in Mass, we learned about other countries, and for the Asia lesson I got to dress in a little kimono dress, and sandals with my hair in a bun, and pass out fish crackers (only one flavor back then) that was suppose to symbolize the fishing industry and staple of so many...thanks for sparking that memory!


  • Anonymous said...

    So much that is unspoken can be bound up in our family food (and other) rituals. We had our own Sunday ritual when we were young, which involved visiting our grandma for tea after mass. We would go to her house and wait until our parents were done with their other Sunday bits and pieces. So we spent time every week, minus our parents, having tea and biscuits (and really, so much more) with grandma and our favourite uncle. There was a different way of being in that house - it was always so much fun and (to think of it now) it's like we were being given time and space to get to know these other adults on our own terms. It (and they) were a big part of our childhood and the memory of that ritual is a precious one.

  • Heather said...

    sundays were always such a great day for family at my house, too. my mom would always toss me and my siblings in the car for church and then ice cream at baskin robbins. in the summer, we'd come home and go to the pool. i miss those days, too. hope your dim sum brought back some of the good memories for you :)

  • Anonymous said...

    Tangled Noodle, what a great family tradition story! And great recipe for dumplings!

    You know me, I have lots of family tradition stories to tell. My earliest food memory is helping my mom make Russian dumplings called 'vareniki'. We had those every week on Wednesdays and I loved to make them. If we delayed playing outside I always reminded my mother that we had to go in and make the vareniki (all the old neighbors still remember this). Then we always fried the leftover dough and ate it with powdered sugar.

  • Anonymous said...

    Cruise - what an adorable name for a pup!
    LOL, exactly! She was a pretty naughty and hyper puppy but once she turned one it got a lot better. Same here, Baylee can get pretty rambunctious but she's still the love of our life! We can't do walks at all with Baylee in the winter!! It's been so cold and nasty here in Wisconsin that we haven't been able to take a walk since early December!!! She used to get 2 a day but she refuses to go! Oddly enough, she's been even better without walks so maybe that's the secret ;)

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Thank you, everyone for your comments and sharing your wonderful memories of Sundays and family traditions past!

    Melissa - Great blog and extremely cute pets - Baylee and Cruise are almost twins! He turned 2 years old in August and is the most goofy dog on the planet. You mentioned that you were happy she's gone from puppy to dog but let me tell you, boxers will always be puppies and you'll never want it any other way!

    Rachel - Thank you! I'm so pleased that you enjoyed it.

    Gastronanthropologist - You're welcome! What a wonderful memory of a community coming together not only spiritually but also in great fun. I promise I won't spill the beans (or napkins) about your gran!

    Oyster - Sneaky! Mr. Noodle denies any complicity! 8-) And I totally intended to make these and/or the vegetable lumpias but our Thanksgiving spread was so bountiful, I couldn't figure out where it would fit in! I promise to make some for your next visit.

    Chef E - You're welcome and thank YOU for sharing such a lovely memory. I can picture you in that little kimono - I just know you still have a hidden geisha in you! 8-)

    Daily Spud - What a beautiful memory of a family tradition! I think it's wonderful that, as you say, you were able to develop a relationship with your gran and uncle on your own terms. Your relationship with them must have been so much richer because of it.

    Heather - I almost can't imagine dim sum on any other day but Sunday even though it's offered in some places all week or you can find dumplings in the freezer section of the grocery. Ice cream Sundays! That's a family tradition that I wouldn't let go of.

    5 Star - I can only imagine how delicious those varenikis must have been if you volunteered to stop playing and go inside to make them! I loved your babka recipe - perhaps you'll share one for vareniki in the future (especially for making extra dough to fry then powder with sugar!).

  • Maria Verivaki said...

    when i was young, all our meals were family oriented. as i got older, i wanted to cook more independently, which also meant eating more independently, as my mother probably felt upstaged. our family meal out of the house was usually at mcdonalds - it was the fashion then - and we all loved our big macs. of course, i wouldn't eat one of those now, and my children, despite their youth, have already had it instille din them that fast food is bad for you, so they aren't too hot on them either!

  • Reeni said...

    I enjoyed your story immensely! It brings back a lot of memories. One of them is about pizza. Every Saturday night we made Pizza, extra sauce on one side for my Mom and Dad and extra cheese on the other for my sis and me. When the weather was nice I would sit outside on the front steps and eat mine. I would take off all the cheese first and put it in a big pile to the side. Then I would eat the extra thick doughy crust saving the cheese for last. That was the best part-the gooey mess of fresh mozzarella.

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Bob - Sundays and church services sound so solemn and serious but then for so many of us, it was actually a day of celebration - almost like a holiday - that occurred every week!

    MedKiwi - As a child, a hamburger at Harvey's and prime rib at a fancy restaurant were exactly the same in thrill factor for me! 8-) My tastes have become discerning with maturity but I have been known to sneak into McDs at least once a year. From your posts as well as the those on Mariana's blog History of Greek Food, your children are surrounded by incredible, natural foods! I envy them the wonderful food memories they will carry into adulthood.

    Pigpig - I would gladly have dim sum every Sunday but my problem is I can never control myself - too many delicious choices!

    Jen - I was so surprised at how easy they were to make. Definitely check out the blog that I mention - the video tutorial is a great help with forming the dumplings. Mine didn't turn out the same b/c I used square wonton wrappers rather than the round ones shown. Enjoy!

    Reeni -I'm the same way! I love to eat my pizza in parts - toppings first, then cheese and finally crust. Pizza Night is special for Mr. Noodle and I - I'll be posting soon about it! 8-)

  • Lori said...

    What amazing family memories. Thanks for sharing. I am in love with Dim Sum. We went to a place in Portland outside of town and were the only two people of non-Asian decent there. I am told this is how we tell if it is a good place. Ha, ha! Because of feeling dumb not knowing how to use chopsticks that day, I have now perfected my skill. :)

    This recipe sounds great. I have made dumplings before, but I really think I need to use a bamboo steamer to make them turn out right. Is that what you use?

  • Chef E said...

    Tangled, There is a key to no 'slimy' Okra...when you saute onion, turn up the heat add a bit more oil and drop those babies into the popping oil (use soup pot) and fry them till they begin to turn brown then add 'tava fry' or curry, stir and then tomatoes a little water and simmer...I learned that cooking in an Indian restaurant for three years...

  • Tina said...

    Hello - thanks for visiting my blog! The Fresh Market has only been in our area for a few years and it took us ages to go check it out. Love it.

    I am glad you posted the recipe for these dumplings. My hubby (Lord of Squirrel Head manor) and I have been wanting to prepare dumplings and make a full meal with some Asian foods. I am going to try this one!


  • Sapuche said...

    What a great post! Your intro was beautifully recollected – is it from a memoir you’ve written? Or, since it’s in 3rd-person, did it perhaps come from a novel?

    I don’t recall any family food traditions other than my mom’s homemade pizza every Sunday night. (I’ll have to compare this with your upcoming entry on Pizza Night Thursdays.) And your recollection of going out to eat after Mass brought back my own memories of rare restaurant outings as a kid (my family nearly always ate meals at home). Back then, Red Lobster was such a treat, and I still remember how I’d always order flounder, which seemed so exotic back then! I don’t think I’ve gone to Red Lobster in 30 years...

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Lori - Thanks! And yes, I did use a bamboo steamer. I bought it just a couple of months ago and love it! I use it over a wok but fellow blogger Manang Kusinera had a great idea of using her canning boiler or large stock pot: just put a round cake rack to keep the bamboo steamer above the water and cover with the lid. The steam is better trapped than on a wok. I have yet to try it but the concept sounds good! Are there any dim sum or good Chinese restaurants in your part of Brazil? I understand that there are great Japanese places because of the huge Japanese population there.

    Duo Dishes - I made myself crave them again.

    Chef E - Thank you for the tip! I love okra when I order it off a menu but make a hash of it on my own.

    Tina/Pierce - You're welcome! I enjoy both your blogs. Definitely try it out these dumplings and do check out the video tutorial at the link I provided. They make putting the dumplings together look so easy!

    Sapuche - Thank you! It is absolutely autobiographical although not something I'd previously written down. I remember the episode very well - I took off like a shot the moment that coin hit my hand. My nanny didn't have time to tell me what it was for - I just assumed it was for my good behavior . . . 8-)

    I can't completely vilify chain restaurants because they are often our first taste of 'cuisine' and they can be a stepping stone toward trying new foods. However, I'll take your Vietnamese fish in curry sauce over Red Lobster flounder for now!

  • Michele said...

    Great post! I too have lamented the loss of certain family food traditions, due to either changes in dietary restrictions or the family being so scattered.
    One of my family's traditions, that we are still maintaining, is chicken-and-sausage gumbo for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinner. My mom makes it from scratch, starting with a roux, and it is simply divine. I can't imagine Christmas without it.
    Your dumplings look amazing, by the way! Do you think it is possible to find a wheat-free wrapper?

  • Chef E said...

    Tangled- Yes, it is just like regular mayo, but totally vegan...texture great, flavor has to be substituted, if you use for just a sandwich add horseradish or paprika, or garlic for flavor.

  • Anonymous said...

    My parents were never particularly religious, so I have not memories of Sunday’s Liturgy.
    However I have wonderful memories of Sunday breakfasts.
    Until I was 17, my family breakfast was an extraordinary complex with milk, coffee, grilled bread, grilled graviera cheese, green olives, butter, orange jam and crepes with yogurt and rose petal sauce made by my father.
    And they were promptly served to us in very fine porcelain!
    It is not surprising, then, that the marvelous food, the splendid sight of porcelain and crystal water glasses, the laugh and talk were brightened my childhood’s Sundays in a way I will never forget.

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Michele - The trend toward families eating in restaurants may not be all about convenience (i.e. no time to cook at home) but rather those points you've mentioned, such as members having dietary restrictions (me and my peanut intolerance) or preferences (my vegetarian sister) which makes eating outside of the home a way to still eat together while meeting individual needs.

    It's wonderful that your special holiday meal is alive and well! I bet you look forward to that gumbo as much as opening presents! As for the dumpling, there are rice wrappers but they are not normally used for steamed dumplings (think of the wrappers for Vietnamese or Thai fresh spring rolls). Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any wheat-free wrappers although I've seen recipes to make your own with gluten-free flour.

    Chef E - Thank you! I'm making a new recipe that calls for quite a bit of mayo. I'd like to stay as close as possible but want to slim it down a bit.

    Mariana - What an incredible meal! Would you say your conversations (mood if not substance) during those breakfasts were different than those over other days' meals? Have you carried that tradition in some way into your adult life? It's truly fascinating how Sunday is/was a special day in terms of food traditions, even for those who don't relate the day with religious activity.

  • Joie de vivre said...

    Hi there! I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to be reviewing Mindless Eating on my blog in the month of March. Thanks so much for the recommendation! I LOVED it! Would you be interested in some sort of collaboration for French Fridays in March or a guest blog post?

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Elra - Thanks! They were surprisingly easy to make so I say, Go for it!

    Joie - I would be thrilled to collaborate or do a guest post! Thank you so much for asking. And I'm so pleased that you enjoyed the book. It's disconcerting to think that we put ourselves on autopilot when it comes to eating and are then influenced by so many outside factors!

  • Cris said...

    Ohhh happy days huh... beautiful story, it brought me back to my childhood, mom said to wear new clothes for the first time on Sunday Mass. So I guess we all looked neat. And I like to see my kids wearing nice clothes for church. Hey beautiful, the barquillos are sold here at the beach. Have a great weekend! xoxo

  • Lory said...

    Just wanted to clarify whether the ingredients to be mixed are all of those listed, as in the last ones - soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, and water - get into the mixture? If so, what would be the proportions of the ingredients you listed for the sauce?
    Thanks for sharing!
    BTW, you have been awarded the Lemonade Award here for your unrelenting unselfish, sharing and caring attitude, and your gratitude that shines in your blogposts. Please continue with your good work!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Cris - Thank you! I hope to taste those barquillos at the beach. I remember wearing jeans to church for the first time - I felt a little bit guilty, as if I weren't being properly respectful!

    Manang - First, thank you for the Award and your very kind words! I really enjoy blogging and I hope you and others will continue to find them interesting and informative. As for the recipes, thanks for pointing out the clarification - the water is actually only meant for sealing the wonton wrappers, nothing else. As for the sauce, I didn't put precise proportions (and again, I should've clarified it) because the vinegar, soy sauce and garlic or ginger should be to taste. I literally just pour them and spoon them into a bowl and take a taste test, adding a little more of this or that until I like the flavor!

  • Dee said...

    Our Sunday dinners after church when I was a kid often were at my Grandparents house. My Grandfather would make a large roast with all the side dishes & as a kid I recall sitting next to my Nana so I could ask her for the things I wanted on my plate. It always seemed special if the handed me my food. When we did go out do eat it was to my Grandfather's restaurant where he would hand me a coin after my meal. Sunday meals no matter where were special events. Your recipe is wonderful. Fabulous post!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Dee - Thanks for sharing such wonderful memories and ones so closely associated with your grandparents. That was the most difficult part for my family - moving halfway across the world and leaving behind our relatives. I never got to know either set of grandparents so I can fully appreciate that you have such lovely remembrances of yours.

  • Joie de vivre said...

    Hi Tangled,
    If you try the waffle mix sans waffle maker, use a whole lot less oil. That is the difference between pancakes and waffles. Enjoy experimenting and if you find a winning cornmeal pancake recipe, let me know!

  • Jescel said...

    Nice post.. we didn't out on Sundays. We did go to mass as a family but I knew that my mom would always cook something special on Sundays for us. Good siomai!

  • Susan @ SGCC said...

    What a lovely post! My memories are very similar to yours. I grew up in a very close-knit Italian community. Sunday mass was the big event of the week. My father always got up at the crack of dawn to go to the bakery for crumb buns and crullers to tide us over. Then after church, we would all congregate at my grandparents' house for a huge meal.

    Sigh...I really miss those days.

    Your dumplings are making me drool a little! I love them and don't make them nearly often enough.

  • Navita (Gupta) Hakim said...

    oh how i love those chicken dumplings...yum! hve been living on shrimpo dumplings here...i just love dumplings...lol..

    ok b4 u think i am crazy...hi, its my first time here n i love this place..

    wud be nice if u cud swing by mine sometime :)

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Jescel - Thanks! When I think about it, it was my dad who usually chose where we went. Perhaps it was his way of getting involved in our meals since my mom cooked most of the time.

    SGCC - Thank you for sharing your memories! It's fascinating - I'm seeing several comments where our dads or grandfathers were the driving force behind special Sunday meals, as I commented above to Jescel. Hmmm . . . I should look into this!

    I never realized how much fun it is to make dumplings - I just made a whole batch for my parents-in-law this weekend and they really enjoyed them.

    Navita - Thanks so much for your sweet words. I just took you up on your invite and stopped in at your site. I really enjoyed it! You have such a great mix of recipes, nutrition info and historical facts. I've seen your name on comment pages at other sites so it's wonderful to finally 'meet' you!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Jennifer - I was surprised at how easy they were to make. It's funny you mention ravioli - after I made these, I thought to myself, "If I can do this, I should be able to make raviolis!"

  • Anonymous said...

    I remember snacking on barquiullos.. There's nothing else like it. I wonder if I can find a recipe for it somewhere. Any ideas?

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Jude - The ones filled with polvoron are a personal favorite but they're hard to find in Minnesota. I've checked all the cookbooks I brought back from the Philippines but none have a recipe - perhaps Marvin at Burnt Lumpia or MarketManila might have something in their archives. If you find something, please let me know (or post it among all your other fantastic delicacies!)


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