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Knocking on wood to ward off bad luck or steering clear from the evil eye are cautionary tales we were once warned about as kids. Stay in Hong Kong long enough and you’ll discover a long list of old wives’ tales about the very food you eat as well! “Eating black sesame will make your hair dark and shiny,” or how certain foods will make you “less heaty” are well-intended reminders that may not be seen as empirically true, but that people nevertheless still adhere by.
What were once absolute truths that had do-or-die connotations are now met with incredulous disbelief or a good old laugh about how creative our ancestors were at explaining away the misfortunes of a bad day or a relationship gone sour. In fact, we wonder if you believe in any of these old wives’ tales yourself? Our friends at Mint City share five everyday ingredients that, in the past, could have saved you from evil spirits, chronic pain, or even a guest who has overstayed their welcome!
We all know the act of breaking a mirror carries seven years of bad luck—but did you hear the old wives’ tale about spilt milk? According to some superstitions, spilling milk causes seven days of bad luck. Milk boiling over while on the stove is said to also cause the same misfortune, and while it was being heated on an open fire, a pinch of salt would be chucked into the coals to ensure a continuous milk yield. While the origins of this folk myth are unclear, it is likely that the idea was also perpetuated to discourage people from being careless and wasteful with their food.
There are many variations on this common superstition, but all agree that spilling your salt container means bad luck and that each grain of salt equates to a drop of tear you will shed later. To forestall this doom, throw a pinch of said salt over your left shoulder. If you’ve ever felt the urge to help enhance a friend’s meal with salt, think again; sprinkling salt onto someone else’s dish can mean severing your friendship! Salt was an expensive and precious commodity in the past, so it’s easy to see why misusing or wasting salt was curbed with the threat of bad luck.
But this mineral is not all bad news—salt has had a long history of being used to repel evil spirits and negative energy. If you’ve ever had the inexplicable feeling that you’re being watched or followed by a malicious spirit, old wives’ tales recommend hanging a bag of salt by your bed to fend them off.
It’s no secret that oysters are the go-to food to induce a little romantic action, but it isn’t always easy to get your hands on them. A less glamorous but cost-effective alternative lies in the pantry of every home: pepper. This old wives’ tale about its aphrodisiac properties likely comes from how a pepper’s fiery bite could excite the body. There may be a (tiny) grain of truth to this as the heat-causing capsaicin chemical definitely increases circulation and gets the blood pumping.
Interestingly, pepper can be used to repel as well as attract. It is said that sprinkling a bit of pepper on the chair of an unwelcome guest will cause them to leave promptly. We suppose a sudden burning in the nether regions is as good a reason as any to beat a hasty retreat!
Suffering from achy muscles and rheumatic joints? According to an old wives’ tale, the humble potato is such a potent painkiller that you need only pop one in your pocket to feel the effects! Apparently, it only works with fresh, uncooked potatoes—hardened or dark-coloured ones will be ineffectual.
For extra relief (and another ingredient to keep up your sleeve, should you get hungry later on), you can also try rubbing a rasher of bacon on the affected area. Weirdly, though, it’s supposed to work better if the bacon has been stolen. You didn’t hear it from us!
By now, most TikTok users will already have seen that clip of a “life hack” in which a man snips each forkful of spaghetti with a pair of scissors before eating it, instead of struggling to pull the pasta strands up and out. He may be touted as “living in 3020 while we’re still in 2020,” but the Chinese would disapprove. Noodles traditionally symbolise longevity in Chinese culture, which is why there will always be a noodle dish during meals celebrating birthdays. One should always slurp up their noodles regardless of length instead of cutting, biting, or otherwise shortening them.
Is this the first you’ve heard of these superstitions and old wives’ tales, or do you know of even more? The folks at Mint City, one of our choice destinations for quality foods, will be more than happy to swap stories with you!
Home to a wide selection of fresh produce and international ingredients, Mint City is an independent grocery store that offers Hongkongers premium goods with an affordable price tag. Working closely with exceptional vendors all around the world, they stock a diverse range of flavours from Southeast Asia and beyond. Check out Mint City’s expansive space in Hung Hom and their online shop for all your food-related needs, so the next time you spill salt or milk, you’ll know how to rescind the bad luck, and where exactly you can stock back up!