Author Archives: Jalen Cassell

Indian Folk Dishes

“For Diwali – basically, specific foods are made around specific times, for specific festivals, that kind of how it works. So for Diwali, people usually make sweets – actually they make sweets for everything – but for Diwali, there are snacks called Karanga, Chakli, um…Shankarpali. Those are the main things, and actually my mom sends some to me every time one of the festivals is held. Hmmm, and for…Ganesh Chaturthi – uh, that’s what it’s called – they make Modak, which is a sweet kind of dim sum type of dish. Uh, in my…my…my region, I’m a Maharashtrian – so in my state – the staple food for breakfast is like, flat rice. It’s a yellow color and it’s called poha – it’s really good, I like it. Um, and India as a whole has like a natural…not staples, but, like nationally popular dishes; like Vada pav and then Samosas. And then…oh yeah! Pada puni and stuff, so yeah…those are pretty popular. And there’s an Indian version of ice cream called Kulfi, which is really good.”

I was particularly fascinated when I learned how often sweets were used for festivals in India. Whenever I had heard of Indian dishes in the past, the conversation was always geared to how spicy the food was, so hear about such an extreme opposite was a big eye opener. Hearing the passion with which my informant told me about the food really inspired me to get back into cooking and hopefully before the year is over the two of us can make his favorite dish, Poha, together.

Dahi Handi

“Festivals are very popular in India, especially with kids. One festival in particular is called Dahi Handi: D-A-H-I H-A-N-D-I. It’s held in honor of Lord Krishna, and we – how do I explain this? There’s a pot full of curd, and it’s like, hung off of a rope, like a number of stories off of the ground, you know, with poles and stuff.  And people, like volunteers, or groups, or teams, or whatever, they basically make like human pyramids; like you know, one person stands on top of another. And like, in the end, somebody basically crawls up and smashes the pot and like the curd falls, and like there’s happiness and good times and stuff. So that’s a pretty popular festival in India.”

My informant participated in this festival every year as he was growing up. The thing I liked most about collecting this particular piece of folklore is that the game is a collaborative effort to accomplish something. I’ve personally always found the Indian culture very fascinating, hence my collecting from the vast majority of the Indian friends I’ve surrounded myself with while attending USC. One major point that I’ve found to be a constant, is their love for life and their willingness to work together for a common goal. I feel that this story exemplified that and I’m very honored that he shared it with me!

Akbar and Birbal – Part One

“Akbar and Birbal were just traveling around in the wild, outside their castle, and they see this super cold pond; it was winter. And then, Akbar looks at the pond and says, ‘Whoever can stay in that pond all night and not die, shall be rewarded by me.’ Then this poor guy, like a farmer or something, volunteers because he needs the money, so he says, ‘I’ll do it!’ So he basically – yeah – he just jumps in the pond and he stays there overnight. Akbar comes the next morning and he finds that the guy is still alive, so he’s like ‘Oh, amazing, um, I’ll give you your reward. How did you do it?’ And the villager was like, ‘I was just looking at that light from the castle and it gave me strength.’ And then, Akbar was like, ‘You cheated! That light was probably warm! And it gave you the strength to stay alive!’ And he didn’t give the reward to the villager. So, the next night, there was supposed to be this huge feast at Akbar’s palace, and Birbal was invited. But it wouldn’t begin until Birbal arrived, because he was that important. So Akbar was pretty anger, so he went to Birbal’s house and when he saw Birbal, he was like, um, when he got there he say this candle on the floor, and about ten feet above it, there was this pot with rice in it. And Akbar was like, ‘Why haven’t you come for the feast?’ Birbal says, ‘I’m just trying to cook my rice.’ And Akbar replies, ‘That’s never going to work because that candle is small and far away from the pot.’ And Birbal was like, ‘Oh really, then how did the village from last night get warm from the light from the palace?’ After this, Akbar understood and decided to reward the villager afterall. So, it’s essentially a story to teach the kids that they should be nice.”

This a very entertaining story to hear from my informant. I was told that she learned this story from her father as he told it to her during before bedtime every now and again. She seemed to come alive and relive her childhood for a brief period as told the story again. I’m always fascinated to hear stories wherein wit is used to conquer practical naysayers. As opposed to the tricksters that are prevalent in European culture, I find it interesting to note, that that “archetype” is portrayed in Indian culture as more of a person who outthinks another instead of trying to make the other fall victim to a trap of some sort. Personally I find this to be a very effective to inspire kids to think outside of the box and be creative using their own means instead of trying to force another person to fail, for their own personal gain.

{Indian Folk Dance} Evolving Traditions

Modernized Folk Dance

[Click Link for Video]

“This dance is a modernized fusion dance of Bollywood with steps that my mother taught me as I was growing up. The beginning of the dance, like the first 40 seconds before you hear Jai Ho, is from a movie that was about learning how to dance, which is why the interaction between Blue and Pink  – just gonna call us by colored outfits – is such. The choreography is done in such a fashion to exemplify the learning how to dance and then just going forth and having fun with the dancing, hence how it is transitioned into Jai Ho and the third song. The entire performance essentially is characterizing oneself and expressing the lyrics of the song through dance. As far as my feelings on the dance, it was one of my favorites. I had a lot of fun with it and all. That performance you have is not one of my favorites. I didnt like it – only because i like to feed off audience energy and quite frankly thought it was rather stagnant for that performance. I feel that the energy of the audience is a crucial component to Indian dancing, and without it the soul is lost. That’s something I picked up on as I was growing up. My mom taught me traditional indian dancing, and how to embed the soul within it.  This dance was a mixture of traditional steps, along with a fusion of the entertainment to appeal to the younger generation of the crowd, so it has some influences from Bollywood dancing. This kinda dance is the heart and soul of indian culture!”


Hearing my informant speak on the matter of the dance was a very emotional process as she began to tell me how crucial it was for the audience to get into the spirit of the dance and provide the performer with the energy to keep the fire of the dance alive. Lately I’ve seen an increasing amount of youth beginning to pay more attention to their mobile devices and social media networks than to the beautiful art that is being performed right before their eyes. I love how, in an effort to circumvent this, Luna decided to mix in Bollywood type dancing to her traditional dance movements to keep the interest alive and give everyone a show that they would never forget!


Ganesha and Kartikeya

“So, children’s stories…basically, a lot of them had to do with Lord Krishna, who is another god that we have. And basically his story is, you know, saving the village he lives in and like his relationship with his wife-to-be, uh, Sita, uh, sorry, Rada, and uh, yeah…actually, you know, the funny thing is, Krishna was very much involved in the story of Mahabharat. So that’s how the various folklore stories intertwine. And a couple of other stories that I know, are based around Lord Ganesha, who I’d say is the most popular god in India – I don’t know why, he’s just very appealing to everybody. Probably because we have a lot of festivals in his name and people have fun at festivals, but, there are stories about how he and his brother Kartikeya travel around the world – do you want me to tell the story? Ok, so the story goes like this: Ganesha’s brother’s name is Kartikeya, or something. And his mother told them that the first person to, uh, go around the world would win a present from me, you know? Like, both of them got really excited and like Kartikeya started running immediately, and he, like, started running around the world, and he was almost there. But, the whole time Ganesha was like, eating food, just chilling, and then just when Kartikeya was about to come back from around the world, Ganesha gets up and like, walks around his mother and says, ‘Done. I went around my world.’ And then Kartikeya arrives and Kartikeya is very excited because he thinks that he has went around the world. But their mother, uh, accepts Ganesha’s act, because technically, Ganesha was right, and Ganesha gets the reward. It’s basically – every story like this has something didactic in it, you know? It teaches you some sort of lesson. It usually revolves around respecting your elders, or not doing anything bad, like killing anybody or creature, and things like that basically.”

This is a story that my informant learned from his parents, but the interesting thing that I found was in the lesson that the story teaches: It teaches children to value all life, even the lives of the animals that most Americans believe to be worthless, like wild creatures. This is something that strikes home for me as I am of the mindset that every creature deserves a chance at life and that no one being is greater than another. Therefore, my informant’s story resonated with me very deeply!

Indian Myth Folklore

“Ok, with respect to religious folklore – basically it revolves around the stories of the various gods that we have. The various thousands of gods that we have – but the two biggest stories are, um, actually two wars. The first one is called Mahabharat and the second one is called, Ramayan. Mahabharat is the war between…um…I forget the names, but it’s basically a war between the good gods and the bad gods – well the demons, I guess, obviously. And Ramayan, as the name suggests, is, well there’s an Indian god by the name of Rama. And it’s basically his war, where – the story goes like, he has a wife named Sita. And then Sita gets kidnapped by, um, an enemy king by the name of Ravana. And then Ravan takes her to Sri Lanka – which is where his kingdom is and then Rama decides to take revenge and um, take his wife back. And then a war ensues, which is what we call Ramayan. And of course, Rama rescues Sita, and takes her back to his home kingdom, Ayodhya.”

While my informant began this explanation with respect to religious folklore, the more I listened to it, the more I realized that it was better suited as a myth of narrative folklore. It was the morals and honor for the characters within the narrative that formulated the religion as he expounded upon. He learned this story from his parents and religious officials as he grew up in Mumbai. I find it especially inclusive to see how stories influence entire cultures all around the world!

Indian Wedding Ritual

“Alright, Indian weddings…Indian weddings are known for being the longest things on Earth. And, and, they usually go on for like a week. Well, they used to go on for a week, but now they’ve gotten more modern about it and they want to get it over with. Um, so it’s become short, which is like three days. And that’s not including the vari—uh—various, I don’t know, customs and traditions that like, come before it. Oh, I guess the one thing we have in common is an engagement. Basically the guy proposes to the girl, blah blah blah, and there’s a formal engagement ceremony where he puts a ring – they both put rings on each other’s fingers, and then there’s a party. That’s usually like the year before, because that one year goes into, like, preparing for that one week of marriage festivities, because it’s a huge deal in India. And like, relatives call, like, the most distant relatives you can ever imagine, as like, invitations for their wedding and stuff. And then, and then, yeah, basically, there’s like little things, like small games that the girl plays with the boy – just bonding games I guess. Oh, also, in India, there’s like a huge, I mean it’s decreasing, but it’s still a system, of like arranged marriages – like the parents decide who the kids marry. I don’t agree with it at all, but, I don’t know, a large majority of parents still follow that. So, um, yeah, and then the first one is like, the wedding, er, the day of the wedding. People wear like traditional Indian clothes and there’s lots of food caterers around and there’s like a huge deal that people splash a lot of money. And um, yeah, so the most significant part of the wedding is like these seven rounds that the couple takes around the fire – yeah, there’s a fire, like a controlled fire – they have this like, two by two foot box or square, and they light it on fire. And basically the guy and the girl, they like walk around it seven times – I don’t know why seven. The number seven has some significance, like seven lives or something. And yeah, so people throw rice at them – it’s a form of good luck – and yeah, there’s a priest who chants while the couple walks around and stuff. And once they get married, the wife puts a huge garland of flowers on the guy’s neck, of course but yeah, that’s also a very significant part. And then there’s little things, like putting tikkas – a powder that you put on the forehead and stuff – and yeah, that’s pretty much the wedding day. And then the next day is generally called a reception – like I said, it’s a long affair. The next day, people change their clothes, and wear like, westernized clothes, I guess – like suits and stuff. And this is just for like the couple to greet everybody – like everybody who came. So they literally stand on a podium or a stage, then they greet, hug, or shake hands with every single person who attended their wedding. So it’s a pretty tiring affair, then they shake hands with every person who comes. And then they have this huge feast – actually they have huge feasts all the time for wedding, but yeah. So that’s pretty much it – oh yeah! The next most significant part is saying bye to the bride. Basically, the girl goes and lives with the guy in a new house, or in the guy’s old house. But she basically leaves her own family, so it’s a sad affair, and the girls usually start crying and it’s very sappy – I’ve seen it happening a couple times. Oh! There’s also this thing called a Baraat, which is like this huge procession that happens before the wedding, where basically, before the wedding, the groom sits on a horse, uh, and like people dance around them and give them more. Like they literally make garlands for them out of money and give them to the groom and stuff. Then they like march towards the wedding, then they get married, and then after the wedding, the bride and the groom both sit on the horse, and then go to someplace. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”


As my informant is 18 years old, he’s a ways off from actually being an active bearer in the sense of being the groom in the wedding, but as he has participated in the activities that the guests partake in he is very much an active bearer in that sense. He was very enthusiastic in sharing this information with me as this particular section of information that he included the most details in. I find the length of the marriage celebration to be very fascinating. Three days for a wedding, and in previous years an entire week seems like a very tiring period of exuding nothing but excitement and joy. I actually wish to experience the festivities of an Indian wedding some day.

Spanish Proverb

“A Quien Madruga, Dios Le Ayuda”

God helps those who help themselves / The early bird gets the worm

This particular proverb is one that is found in American culture, but my informant learned it from her father when they were living in Mexico when she was a child. Due to their strong Catholic heritage, a religion that is held by much of the Hispanic culture, this proverb becomes an oikotype that deals not with birds and worms, but rather God assisting the people of the world who first put themselves in the line of fire and risk themselves to achieve a goal.

Prayer Egg

“Depending on what type of illness you have, we have different, strange cures. The most traditional one for my family is, if you’re feeling sick, usually, stomach ache or fever, or something like that, uh…well my mother – er – both my mother and father, used to rub me down with an egg and they would pray while they were doing this. Then, you know, once they got finished, you know, rubbing me down with the egg, you know, they’d put water in a cup and crack the egg into it. After that they’d ‘read’ what the white stuff in the cup, you know, said in it. My dad is the actual one that does the readings, because he can – well, me and my older sister have always wondered how can tell what signifies what. Then the tradition is, I think, three days after you let it sit out, you flush it down the toilet. But when you do that, you can’t look at it when you flush it. You have to turn away and throw it into the toilet and flush. ‘Cause otherwise, the sickness will come back to you, is what they say.”


This specific cure is one that I have never heard of before and it strikes me as fascinating because it requires more than one person as two separate pieces of the ritual must be carried out at the same time. In learning this from his mother and father, my informant seemed very convinced that this type of folk medicine would be beneficial and for him it has been! Modern medicine better watch out as cultural remedies are once again on the rise.



Chicken Breast



Cheese Sauce (Optional)

Jalapeno Peppers



Cooking Oil

Cheddar Cheese

“You get you, chicken breast, because it’s the easiest. Get chicken breast, and boil it in water – add salt or whatever. Uh, once it comes to a boil, drain out all of the water and let the chicken sit for a little while. Then start shredding the chicken breast, and uh, while, uh one person is shredding the chicken breast, the other person is heating the tortillas. Once the chicken is all shredded and the tortillas are all heated for however many people it’s going to feed, they uh, start rolling them up into, um, like tacos basically. One person starts rolling them up, while the other person starts frying them. And you fry them until the tortillas are like a golden brown. Once it’s golden brown, it’s ready.

There’s also a cheese sauce that we make – well my mom makes it. Not every Hispanic person does that. Some use green salsa or some other kind of side dish. My mom, her side of the family, use this cheese dip. Um, the way you make the cheese dip, is you, char about, well my mom does it this way, you char about five jalapeno and two tomatoes and once they’re finally charred, uh, you put them in a bag and let them steam themselves, and that way, they’ll be easier to peel. Once that’s done, you put them in what we call a molcajete – which is basically a rock grinder. And you use that and a cone shaped rock to grind the jalapenos and tomatoes together. Then you put in salt and garlic and you mash it together as finely as possible, then you add that to a pot and start boiling it. And you add a little bit of oil to it, then my mom puts in approximately ten slices of cheddar cheese into it, and then you have your cheese sauce ready to go with your flautas.”


Hearing about the preparation of the flautas made my mouth water, and for good reason! This dish includes some of my favorite recipes and I convinced my informant to prepare it for me during the summer. I could tell that this was a very special dish to my informant, as he learned to prepare it from his mother, whom he is very close to.