“Have you eaten already?”

Have you ever wondered why we’re so time-obsessed about when we should eat a meal? Westerners tend to have clear times of day for meals like lunch and dinner; you won’t find many people who will have pasta for breakfast or at 3:30pm. It just doesn’t fit into our view of what different meals consist of and when meals should be eaten.

Not so where I lived in South-East Asia; there the important thing is that you eat together and make sure that your guest is well fed. The time that this happens is not very important at all.

One of the first questions my friends would always ask me was: “Have you eaten already?” It’s a way of checking that I’m OK, of showing care and making sure that I’m looked after. Invariably it didn’t really matter what I answered, as we’d still end up eating as part of spending time together. Food and showing hospitality is a very important part of that culture.

Eating together is an essential part of building a relationship, and is a must if anyone visits you. When a guest comes over you don’t ask them if they want a drink; instead you just put out water or tea and some form of snack. But rarely does it just stop there, as a snack is not really feeding someone; and by ‘snack’ is meant anything without rice! It was a constant source of amusement to our friends that we would just have bread for breakfast, no rice; so of course we frequently got fed again in the mornings.

Once, when we were walking around an area looking for houses to rent, we got talking with a man working outside his house. When he realised we were looking to move into the area he told us of a place to rent nearby, then invited us in while we waited for someone to come and show us. On meeting all the family, we had the usual water, tea and snacks set before us. While we were talking a subtle phone call was made, and a little while later a food delivery came to the house. It was only mid-morning, but we were each provided with noodles from a local street seller. It might not have been ‘lunch time’ in my mind, but that really didn’t matter; people we had just met were swiftly becoming friends as they showed us hospitality and we ate together. This was the start of a relationship that could build into a chance to talk of God and spiritual things. But it all had to start as it would continue: with hospitality and food.

Rachel and her husband worked with churches in South-East Asia for a number of years.