Credit: GG Illustrator Dorota Dziki (@drawing_dorota)

Halloween food around the world

By Jasmine Urquhart

Jasmine Urquhart looks at some of the best Halloween foods worldwide.

Halloween treats are usually associated with trick-or-treating, but spooky celebrations go back centuries. Irish immigrants brought the ancient festival over to the USA in the 19th century, and the Mexican Day of the Dead has been celebrated since pre-Aztec times. Aside from marking All Souls’ Day, Halloween is also associated with the end of the harvest season in the northern hemisphere.


Ireland is the origin place of American Halloween traditions. Samhain, celebrated on 1 November, is an old Celtic festival marking the transition between autumn and winter, and the start of the new year. It is believed that fairies, ghouls and goblins come out during this time – in case they get hungry while they visit people’s houses, snacks are left out overnight for the ghosts to eat. 

One tradition is to leave out champ on the night of Samhain. Champ is mashed potato with spring onions and butter, and people leave it for the spirits that come by their houses. Some communities in Ulster still make food for ghouls every year. 

Another Celtic Halloween food is barmbrack (bairin breac), a sweet bread closely related to the Welsh bara brith. It is a rich fruitcake made with sultanas, raisins, and the leftover froth from beer. On Samhain, the bread is made with a small token that predicts people’s fortunes for the year ahead; if a coin or a ring is found, it is an indicator of wealth and a happy marriage. But if someone finds a thimble, a pea, a matchstick, or a piece of cloth, it could mean spinsterhood, a marital dispute, bad luck or poverty for the next 12 months. A rarer item is a religious medal, which indicates that a person could become a priest or a nun in the future – this could be good or bad news, depending on what your ambitions are.


In the Philippines, Pangangaluluwâ is celebrated on 31 October, a tradition similar to modern day trick-or-treating. Filipinos go from door to door, and sing songs in exchange for food. Kakanin, which are sweet treats made from rice and coconut milk, are handed out to trick-or-treaters. One popular type of kakanin is sapin-sapin, a layered cake that resembles a fruit tart. It usually comes in purple and pink colours. Also very popular is biko, a sweet rice cake that is very similar to rice crispy cakes.


In Mexico, Halloween celebrations last three days, from 31 October to 2 November, but in Aztec times, people celebrated the dead with a month-long fiesta. On 31 October, children invite the angelitos (spirits of children) to come and visit, and on 1 November, the adult spirits are welcomed to the house. On 2 November, people visit their family cemeteries and build ofrendas (altars), adorning them with marigolds, incense, and photographs of late family members. Most people make bagels and hang them on the ofrenda, and pour a shot glass of tequila, if the dead person enjoys that. When spending time with late loved ones, snacks are essential. 

One snack is Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead). This sweet bread is eaten throughout the festival and is decorated with skulls or candied oranges. It can be made at home, but it is ubiquitous at shops and bakeries in Mexico. It can also come in regional variations. 

Calaveras are another snack: chocolate or sugar skulls are placed on the ofrenda and eaten during the festival. They are decorated with sweets, maybe in the favourite colours of the dead relatives. If a family has lost someone during the year, neighbours will usually give them food offerings. Unlike the somber All Souls’ Day in Europe, Mexicans respect the dead with a street procession where vendors sell meat, sweet breads, and mezcal or tequila.

A popular drink is atole, a comforting drink made from brown cane sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract, hot milk, and cornstarch. But people can also drink the favourite drink of their departed loved ones instead, while sharing stories about the dead. 


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