USC Digital Folklore Archives / Material
Folk medicine
Foodways
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nepali Winter Holiday Food

Background

Informant: S.S. - a current Senior in college in Indiana, originally from Nepal.

Context

S.S. entire family still resides in Nepal and he always felt very connected to his heritage through food and by cooking the traditional meals from his home country. The collector has personally enjoyed S.S. meals and has observed the performance of Nepali culture and heritage while cooking with S.S. When prompted about special holiday meals or dishes in Nepal, the informant shared this which I have transcribed below:

Main Piece

“So we eat something called Kwati which is like a soup/stew. And it’s made out of 9 different beans- black eyed peas, cow peas, black lentils, chickpeas, adzuki, fava beans, soybeans, Mung dal, green peas. They’re all soaked before and cooked for an hour and a half along with garlic and ginger paste. We usually add momos to the soup too which are Nepali dumplings. And you can eat this anytime, especially in winter because of its high protein value and health benefits but during the holiday of Gun Punhi (Goon Poon-he) we make it and it’s a delicacy too. We add a tempering oil to it after it’s done cooking, which is basically heated oil or ghee and you quickly fry ajwain (carom seeds) and pour the mix into the kwati. So in my family and Newari culture, when the soul is served, before eating we have to look at/for our reflection in the soup and then only we can begin to eat it. This is like a ritual significance to show that eating this cleanses your soul and also rids your body of negative energy but it’s also very healthy so a way to tackle the winter.

Thoughts

From my relationship with the informant, I have learned that food is incredibly important in Nepali culture and that Nepalese people feel very connected to the idea of the clarity and pureness of their soul through the food that they create and consume. Much of the food made in Nepali requires a deep understanding of the rituals of cooking, meaning that each step in the making of the dish is specific and has a purpose. For example, the washing of rice multiple times prior to boiling it, from S.S. telling, serves a dual purpose. One is obviously the practical need to wash the rise of dirt before preparing it, but also the idea that cleaning the rice is important for the body and how the body receives it. Often, there are very specific steps and timing involved in the preparation of the meal, adding things at certain times and this requires a very intricate knowledge of the culture and the meaning behind each step from a spiritual understanding.

Customs
general
Material

Future Son-in-law and Poached Eggs

Context: The collector asked the informant (as MD) for some Shanghainese folklores. The informant is the mother of the collector.

 

MD: You know, when a couple in relationship want to make sure parents from each side agree with their marriage, they will visit the woman’s mother. When it is the first visit for the man, he should bring gifts, such as liquor or cakes or whatever, while the future mother-in-law is supposed to serve him a bowl of 水潽蛋 (Shanghainese in IPA: /sɻ̩ pú de/  Chinese Mandarin in Pinyin: /shuǐ pū dàn/  Literally: water boiled egg, specifically poached egg in Shanghainese), 水煮蛋 (Mandarin in Pinyin: /shuǐ zhǔ dàn/, literally: water boiled egg). The kind of water boiled egg that you break the shell first and then boil it. (The informant was emphasizing the difference between hard boiled eggs and poached eggs)

Collector: Yes, I got it. But why?

MD: I have no idea. It’s just a custom! If the woman’s mother does serve the man a poached egg, that means she recognizes the man as her future son-in-law.

Collector: Is there anything special with poached eggs? Aren’t they just daily matters?

MD: Well you know, life in the past wasn’t like now. Eggs weren’t something you could afford every day!

Collector: But you told me your family had hens when you were young… Okay, okay, I got it. Did Grandma serve Dad poached eggs when he first went to visit?

MD: She did.

Collector: Did she just give him the egg or she told him what that meant? Dad mustn’t know the custom. (The collector’s father is not from Shanghai)

MD: Well, she just served him the egg. Your dad is an outlander. He didn’t know.

Collector: Then did you tell dad what the egg meant?

MD: Yeah after the visit.

Collector: But wasn’t that meaningless for Grandma to do so? Because Dad couldn’t know what she implied.

MD: That doesn’t matter. It was the purpose and the feeling of the mother-in-law that mattered.

Collector: Alright. If CH (the collector’s elder sister) brings her boyfriend to you and you think he is a good man to marry, will you also serve him poached eggs?

MD: Yes, I will, if I like him.

Collector: Even if he is a foreigner?

MD: Yeah. That doesn’t matter.

 

Collector’s thought:

In the past, eggs were valuable food for ordinary people. Even if they had hens, they would probably rather sell eggs for money than consume eggs frequently. Thus, serving future son-in-law eggs is sharing something highly valued with that person, meaning that the man is viewed as a trustworthy husband and is welcomed as a new family member.

It is interesting that the informant values this custom and intends to actively carry it on even though she didn’t really know the background of the custom and in fact, the social context has already changed a lot, which to a certain extent reduces the special value of poached eggs and the meaning of the custom.

The custom might only be a practice in Shanghai, but it’s also possible that the custom is practiced in a larger region, for example, the Yangtze River region.

Customs
Festival
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Eggs on Dragon Boat Festival

Context: The collector was interviewing the informant (as MD, the collector’s mother) for folklores. After she told the collector a folklore about eggs, the informant came up with another folklore about eggs. This is a custom the informant practiced in her childhood.

 

MD: When I was a kid, we (she and her peers) would have hard boiled eggs on Duanwu Festival (Dragon Boat Festival). We would weave nets to hang an egg on our neck. (Collector’s note: The nets were made of colored thick thread which was thinner thread intertwined together, according to a follow-up interview). Ah, that was really interesting. Every girl at that time could weave nets.

Collector: Is there something to do with good luck or stuff?

MD: I don’t know. We just followed what adults told us.

Collector: So what did the custom mean to you?

MD: That meant we could eat (eggs)! Those were eggs! It was just, like, whenever it was Duanwu, we could have eggs. (Collector’s note: eggs were not food that could be served every day for most ordinary Chinese families in the 1960s and 1970s.) After we hung the eggs in the day, we could eat them.

 

Collector’s thoughts:

Festivals are time to have foods that are not available all the time.

The interview also indicates the social environment and the financial status of ordinary families in 20th century China.

During the interview, the collector recalled a prose written by a Chinese writer, Zengqi Wang, that was exactly about eggs on Duanwu. Wang’s hometown is Gaoyou, a city in Jiangsu Province, which is also in the Yangtze River region like Shanghai. However, the eggs mentioned in that prose was duck eggs. See:

Wang, Zengqi. Shidouyinshuizhai Xianbi [食豆饮水斋闲笔,Literally: Journals from a studio of eating beans and drinking water], Huacheng Citry Press, ver.1, June 2015, pp 23-26.

(It is in Chinese)

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

French New Year Traditions

The following is a piece from a friend whose parents are French immigrants.  I am represented by K and the informant is represented by I.

Piece:

K: Go ahead and tell me about your tradition.

I: So, in January, the start of the new year, there’s a tradition called Gallete du Roi, which translates to… uh, King’s Cake… and… one person will start by hosting a party in which… uhm, we make dinner, and you invite your group of friends over, and then you make the King’s Cake, which is usually almond paste and phyllo dough on top, with a little ceramic baby Jesus or baby Mary or baby lamb or something inside, and then… uhm… you cut the- you cut the pie, and the youngest person at the party like goes under the table or hides or something, and they dictate who each piece goes to.  So it’s … non…biased.  And then… uhm.. and then you eat the cake and whoever gets the baby is the King or the Queen and they choose their King or their Queen to host the next party with them and the guy brings the wine, the woman makes the food- bakes the cake- which is just really.. not… gender… equality… if you ask me, but uhm, and then the party keeps going all throughout January, and there’s another tradition we do!- Well, it’s not really a tradition, it’s like uhm, on the first day of January, so it’s like the first day of the new year, uhm, you hold a piece of like- like a gold coin in your hand. Uhm, or anything that has gold in it, like real gold… uhm, and you make crepes and you flip the crepe with the gold in your hand, and if it lands well and doesn’t break, you’ll have prosperity in the new year, and if it breaks or it doesn’t happen… you’re… gonna be poor.

K: And where’d you learn this from?

I: My momma.

Context:

We were sitting outdoors in a shaded area by a couch, working on a group project, but only the informant, one other member of our project, and I were there.  I asked the informant if she had any traditions or interesting pieces of folklore she would want to share and she readily agreed.  It was a really nice day out and the conversation felt very natural.

My Thoughts:

 

Her family is from France and she very strongly identifies with her French roots.  I thought this tradition was pretty interesting because it’s very religious, and my friend isn’t that religious, really, but she considers it more of a cultural tradition.  I know that this tradition is also very cultural, as well.  My family calls it Three Kings Day, but we don’t really celebrate it.  I went to Catholic school growing up, though, and I know we always had the cake in our of our classes, but the cake we ate was different than the one the informant described.  In Latin culture, this holiday also involved leaving shoes out, which my dad has told me about.  I think it’s cool to see the evolution of this holiday based on ethnicity.  It’s interesting to watch how it changes from place to place and how there are little cultural differences.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Material
Protection

Coffee Enema Can Clear You of Worms

Background

Informant: K.M. – 21 year old female, born and raised in Los Angeles

Context

When talking about health remedies and ways to eat better, K.M. presented this wives tale that has gained more attention due to the internet and the claims about this “healing treatment.” Told to the informant by a friend, she then researched and found multiple variations of the treatment and the benefits, even expressing that she herself would like to try it. I have transcribed her telling below:

Main Piece

“So I’ve heard that humans have a lot of toxins in their bodies and that due to all of the processed food we eat, most of us actually have parasites living in our intestines. So then I asked my super health freak friend about it and she showed me this thing called a coffee enema. I was super skeptical at first but then she showed me all this stuff about how it’s an ancient technique used to clear the body of the toxins. And then I started watching all of these videos of people who did it and got rid of their worms, so now I’m not sure if I should do it.”

Thoughts

This is an example of a homeopathic remedy, which are quite common both in folklore and in a number of cultural communities. Using natural techniques to clean the body and rid it of toxins and outside invaders is a common folk belief that has recently surged again due to overall consciousness of our health and the things that we put into our body. However, most science actually states the opposite, that there is no method humans can use to clear the body of these “toxins” and that the liver and kidneys actually physiologically do this already, as long as they are healthy. However, this specific belief  and others like it may be a call back to the times of widespread spiritual cleansing. Many believe in the power of burning sage to clear bad energies and spirits, perhaps the coffee enema is an extension of that desire to create a pure state for ourselves. An enema quite literally forces the body to expel waste, and this could be seen as a parallel to a spiritual cleansing ritual. However, what was interesting to me was the spread of this belief among our group of friends after she shared this folk belief, with most of us in the group initially believing the claims and then sharing it with others in our community.

Customs
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic
Life cycle
Material
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

South American Birthday Ritual

Background

Informant: A.G.  22 years old current senior in undergrad at USC, third generation from Honduras/Mexico

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Context

A.G. grew up in an Mexican and Honduran household, and has participated in and experienced this birthday tradition since he was a child. This tradition represents an important, but often unspoken facet of his culture, one that can be viewed and participated in as both heritage and tradition. I have transcribed his explanation below:

Main Piece

“So every time it’s somebody’s birthday, you have to sing ‘Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to Anthony, Happy Birthday to you. Ya queremos pastel!’ which means, ‘we want cake now!’ Then, right after you blow out the candles, everyone chants, ‘que lo muerda, que lo muerda,‘ which means, ‘bite the cake’ and when they go in for a bite, you grab the back of the person’s head and slam their face into the cake. After that, we start to cut pieces off the cake where the face did not touch and give a slice to everyone. In Honduras, it’s pretty much the same tradition but instead we say ‘feliz cumplanos’ which is just happy birthday in Spanish.

Thoughts

A.G. remarked after describing the tradition that it often makes him smile because it’s always done at a time of celebration, The celebration of one’s birthday and of coming of age is an important part of his culture and therefore this small tradition has a bigger importance in his cultural identity. He recalled learning the song as a child, celebrating his aunt Reina’s birthday, and how there were differences between the song when he was celebrating a birthday on the Honduran side of his family, or on the Mexican side. He specified that this tradition is not specific to children in the family, even though it can be more fun, but that the tradition is practiced with adults as well because it has such a cultural significance. He himself has experienced this tradition first hand for many of his birthdays, and sometimes the most fun part was picking out the cake, knowing that it would be used in this tradition later. It seems he views this tradition and the memories that stem from it with great fondness.

 

I found it particular interesting the small variations between the Mexican and Honduran version of the song. Linguistically, while much of South America speaks Spanish, there are small but significant variations in the words used or the common expressions. It reminded me of how certain regions in America will infuse different elements into their versions of Happy Birthday, that help differentiate it from other places. This brings to mind the idea of different folk groups and the multiplicity that they may express when performing tradition. There is no one way to perform this birthday ritual, but each has it’s own cultural value to the groups that claim specific heritages.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Pass the Salt Superstition

Main Piece:

“It is bad luck to hand someone the salt without setting it down on the table first to break the connection.”

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 47-year-old female. She says she first heard this superstition when she was having dinner with a couple of friends.  They were enjoying dinner when one of the ladies asked for the salt.  The person closest to the salt picked up the salt shaker and handed it to the person who had asked for the salt. The lady who had asked for the salt was reluctant to take the salt from the other person’s hand.  She then asked if it could be set down at the table because she did not want to take the salt shaker from the other person’s hand. The lady who had passed the salt asked why she had to set it down. The other lady responded that it was bad luck to pass the salt from one hand to another without setting it down first. My informant says she has since adopted the superstition claiming there is no harm in following the tradition and likes to think she is avoiding bad luck. I asked my informant where she thinks this superstition began, to this she responded she is unsure, but she thought it had something to do with the Jewish faith because the people she has encountered that strictly follow this superstition are Jewish.

I had heard this superstition before but was curious to know where it originates from and why this is the case. In looking into this superstition I found countless of other superstitions, beliefs, and traditions about salt. Such as the bad luck implied with spilling the slat on the table, and if one does so then they must immediately pick up a pinch of the salt and throw it over their left shoulder. It is also believed salt is a protector and would keep away evil spirits. To keep an unwanted visitors away some believed that if one sprinkles salt at the door right after they leave then sweep it up and burn it they will not return. I also discovered a belief in Buddhist tradition making it common to throw salt over your shoulder when returning home or after a funeral to keep the evil spirits away.

After finding so many beliefs about salt I looked into those related particularly just to the Jewish faith following my informant’s intuition this was a Jewish belief. To my surprise, there were also other Jewish superstitions related to salt. These included placing pockets of salt in the corners of a room or the pockets of clothing to drive evils away(myjewishlearning.com), and throwing salt over your shoulder if you spilled the salt. The likely reason for so many salt superstitions and beliefs is likely due to the value of salt in the Middle Ages. Salt was extremely rare and expensive therefore the thought of spilling it would be unspeakable; similarly to spilling a bag of miniature diamonds in current day standards(something of very high value). In Judaism salt seems to have positive connotations. It is customary to sprinkle it over the challah(ceremonial Jewish bread) and is used as a preserver making what it touches last forever, elevating its status (jtsa.edu).

I found it very difficult to find any information about the passing of the salt specifically. The most common salt superstition I found was about spilling the salt. I can’t seem to recall where I heard this but remember someone mentioning passing the salt being a taboo due to the high value of salt. Therefore setting the salt down before the other person picks it back up acts as breaking the connection between the holder of the salt and the person who is about to hold it. Therefore, if anyone spills the salt it will be clear whose fault it was. Whoever picks the salt back up is now responsible for the salt. This eliminates any debate or misplacing of fault if the salt is spilled.

“SPILLING SALT.” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly (1876-1904), vol. XI, no. 4, 04, 1881, pp. 413. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy1.usc.edu/docview/136551260?accountid=14749.

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/popular-superstitions/

http://www.jtsa.edu/sprinkling-salt-on-the-challah

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Drown the Shamrock

Main Piece:

Interviewer: “So did you learn any drinking-related traditions while in Ireland?”

Informant: “Yes! Drinking was so much fun there. My favorite tradition that I learned is called drowning the shamrock.”

Interviewer: “What is that?”

Informant: “So you only get to do it once a year on St. Paddy’s Day and at the last call for the night. So basically, everyone orders a shot of whiskey at the bar and then together everyone puts the 4-leaf clover pin from their clothing in their shot and then shouts ‘To St. Patrick!’ and then takes the shot. Then the clover pin is thrown over your left shoulder”

Interviewer: “Why throw it over your left shoulder?”

Informant: “I have no idea. I think it’s like for good luck or something”

 

Background:

Informant is a 21-year old female USC student who comes from New York City. She was told this tradition while studying abroad in Ireland.

 

Analysis:

The idea behind drinking traditions has been around since the invention of alcohol, so it’s not surprising that the Irish have a drinking tradition to end St. Patrick’s Day. The idea of putting a lucky object into a drink and drinking it appears to express a want to be lucky and to have good fortune. The throwing of the clover over the left shoulder most likely symbolizes the start of a new beginning and the clover represents sending good fortunes to your future self.

 

See also the following link for another example of Drowning the Shamrock.

http://archivalmoments.ca/2019/03/14/drowning-the-shamrock/

Folk speech
Game
general
Humor
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cool and Creamy

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student at the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat at a table with two other people, and we were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, he talks about a tradition that a student-run philanthropy (that holds a summer camp every year for the LAUSD community) does every year at our Spring Retreat called “Cool and Creamy”. Occasionally, one other person at our table, who is also a member of the organization,  interjected with her own comments. My informant learned this folklore just by attending Spring Retreat and watching counselors of past generations perform it. This is a transcription of his folklore, where he is identified as N, the girl that interjects is identified as L, and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

N: Okay, so “Cool and Creamy” is this voluntary tradition. It’s when two members, at Spring Retreat, perform this act in front of everyone as a part of the variety show, which is like a talent show, and they get, um, whipped cream, and they kind of sexualize it in a way… [laughs]

L: What, no not really!

 

(In the section directly below, when N speaks, I’ve recreated “Cool and Creamy” in the dialogue form that it’s actually performed, and the recreation is based off of my informant’s description. “Cool and Creamy” is essentially a ritualistic skit that involves a call and response between two people. Each person is given a bottle of canned whipped cream, and the goal of the tradition is essentially to put the whipped cream on the other person’s body parts until the can runs out. The names of the two people in here will be “A” and “B”.)

 

N: Yeah they sexualize, they totally sexualize “Cool and Creamy”! Yeah, yeah! They do!

      It goes like this:

A: Heyyyyyy B!

B: Heyyyyyy A!

      And then A goes like, “Do you like Cool and Creamy?” on a certain body part…. Like:

A: Do  YOU like Cool and Creamy on your elbows?

      And then B goes:

B: I LOVE Cool and Creamy on my elbows!

      And then A would spray the whipped cream on B’s elbows. And then it basically goes back and forth for like another five minutes, and it’s just kind of like a tradition. It’s um, like borderline funny. It’s almost It’s almost funny, mostly like, it’s mostly cause like we do it, but not funny because it’s funny.

K: How do you get chosen to do it?

N: Um, I think it’s just mostly older members… I don’t think people get selected to do it. But like, it’s something that like we’re guaranteed it’s going to show up at every single variety show.

K: Wait so then how do they pick who has to do it?

N: I think like two people just volunteer, like oh, which is a totally voluntarily process…. Yeah, people just volunteer… for some reason…

L: [laughs]

K: Why do people do it?

N: They do it because it’s tradition, you know? Sometimes you just gotta do it. Sometimes you just gotta do a little Cool and Creamy.

K: How did you learn this tradition?

N: How did I learn? They learn it from like past generations, so like, they’ll see that like the year before two counselors will do Cool and Creamy and then they’ll be like “Hey, this year we should do Cool and Creamy,” and then they’re like “Okay, let’s do Cool and Creamy” [laughs].

K: Why do people continue to do this?

N: Literally just because it’s tradition, it’s like literally just a weird thing that we do and it’s like “Okay, it’s weird, so we wanna just keep doing it every year… Forever.”

 

Thoughts:

This folklore is yet another example of a tradition that serves as a bonding experience. It’s not just the performers that become closer and more integrated into the organization; the camp counselors that simply just watch it happen also become a part of the “family.” As someone that is also a camp counselor in this organization, what’s particularly interesting to me about this tradition is it’s potential double reading. As my informant said, the tradition itself is not funny, but because it has sexual overtones (and just from the mere fact that we continue to do it every year) is what makes it funny. “Cool and Creamy” is fun because it’s weird and quirky, making is special to the organization, but the sexualization of the tradition also serves an ironic purpose that creates greater bonding potential. For example, the work that camp counselors do are meant to be very pure and good-intentioned, and when we’re around the kids it’s completely inappropriate to make any jokes that are foul or sex-related.

When we’re around the kids, we’re seen as leaders, role models, and adults, but this means that we have to keep our identity as college students hidden. Therefore, at Spring Retreat, when it’s only camp counselors with no kids around, we are given a chance to meld our camp counselor identities together with our college student identities, and thus comes the result of sexualizing things that, in a kids eyes, would just be seen as pure fun or just a few counselors messing around. Furthermore, “Cool and Creamy” is fun because it’s not explicitly dirty, but it has plausible deniability as a sexual joke. We can even see that my informant debated with L on whether or not the tradition is actually sexualized or if the sexualized interpretation is a way to trick counselors into making them feel bad for having a dirty mind.

“Cool and Creamy” is a perfect example of camp folklore being used to bond counselors together before summer camp happens, making counselors feel much closer so that, when summer camp comes around, everyone works together much more as a collective group. Because relationships are closer and everyone has had this shared experience, communication during camp becomes much easier. Counselors are much more comfortable around each other, thus making a much more successful summer camp than what would be without having this shared experience.

 

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Material

Venezuelan Hallacas

Context: The informant was speaking of Venezuelan foods eaten during Christmas, and she began to expand on this recipe and the history of the food.

 

Piece:

Informant: Ah ok um so one tradition that we Venezuelans try to do every year is hallacas. And hallacas is a dish that originally comes from when we were conquered by the spaniards and it was it is made with, it is like a tamale but it combines um chicken, pork, olive, raisin, and it is said that it is the leftover from the slaves, what they ate. And the tradition is that family gets together and one person prepares the inside and one person cuts the leaves um and it is actually wrapped in plantain leaves and it’s a tradition that goes from family from family, and there is a saying that the best hallaca is always from your mom. And every family has their own way of doing it.

Collector: Is there any specific part that this matters to you

Informant: I actually haven’t done it myself, but in my family I remember my mom would put boiled eggs on it and that is specific to region I am from, Puerto Ordaz. Other people will put other extra ingredients depending on the region or family.

 

Background: The informant, a middle aged Venezuelan woman, currently lives in Boston but lived the majority of her life in Venezuela. She still practices a lot of Venezuelan traditions, especially in her cuisine. The hallacas are an example of a Christmas dish in Venezuela.

Analysis: This recipe is very historically connected to the Venezuelan people. The dish is said to be made of the scraps that the slaves were left to eat during the Spanish reign. This implies that this tradition has been practiced since then and continues to be a major part of the Venezuelan cuisine. It also reflects how history is important to the Venezuelan people, as it is displayed in the recipes of their dishes. The community aspect in the cooking of the dish is also very unique, as it brings together the family to work together during Christmas time– a time that is typically focused on family. It also has multiplicity and variation within the recipe, as it becomes personalized to the family and/or the region they are from.

[geolocation]