The interviewer’s comments are denoted through initials GM, while the interiewee’s responses are denoted by a VA.
GM: Has anything happened to you or your family that you found strange and inexplicable?
VA: Like, a supernatural presence?
GM: Yes, anything along the lines of that. Can you tell me about a certain such incident?
VA: Okay, this isn’t really like a ghost story, but I still can’t think of scientific reasoning for it so I’ll tell you it. In 7th grade, my parents decided to buy a house in Gurgaon, just outside of New Delhi. The house was at a very good location at a very good price. The only reason the house hadn’t been sold yet because of the direction it faced. Really silly stuff for people outside of India to hear that, but it’s a very common thing in India to make sure your house faces north and east.
GM: Why do you think that is?
VA: Generally, it has to do with the sun. Since the sun rises in the east, and north is generally synonymous with “up” and “good”, both those directions are preferred. Having the sun rise in front of your house is considered a good omen, bringing positive energy in. This house, however, faced directly Southeast. Most of our relatives and friends strongly advised against buying the house because of the stereotype I just mentioned. However, my family, generally not religious, thought that it was a silly idea to only buy houses that faced a certain as all directions could be peaceful if the people inside remained happy. So, my parents went ahead and bought the house. Within a couple of months, we moved in, and initially everything seemed fine. Now, I don’t know if this was because of the paranoia stemming from our social pressures, but somehow strange things started happening in the house after a few weeks. The first night that something strange happened, my parents were awoken by loud sounds coming from the kitchen. I was young and deep sleepers so I assumed my parents were just being paranoid. However, more weird things started happening over the course of the next year. I found myself having weird nightmares. Sometimes, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and my bed would be covered in sweat. My parents at the didn’t feel comfortable: it didn’t feel like the type of house anyone wants to come back home from work every day.
VA: You see, the people inside the house weren’t happy: there was no positive energy. Whether this was because of influences from others, or whether there was a genuine lack of positive energy in that house, I’ll never know. Despite the fact that my parents didn’t believe in the directional theory earlier, we were eventually convinced that there was some truth to this idea. So, the next year we moved to another house, strictly facing East, and sold the other one. We lost a lot of money in the process, but my parents have no regrets: today we live in a house that we all feel comfortable coming back to each night.
Conclusion, written by the interviewer:
This story shows the fine line between self-guided perception and the belief of a genuine supernatural force. Had there been no preconceptions going in to the house, this would have been a much more concrete ghost story: but such stories are never concrete in the real world. A “weird experience” is the name given to such events not only as a means to repress them but also to understand them. My interviewee still did not think there was a ghost present, but that they went against nature – a dark energy, in hindsight, was inevitable for him. This story is told by an international student from India, and I especially chose to ask him for a story because I knew that not only would the social views be different, but his reaction to the weird events as well. While loud noises in the US could be attributed to a poltergeist or spirit, he just noted a “lack of positive energy” –nothing more.
Subject: 12th Night
Liz was born in a traditional English household but grew up traveling around Southern England and the middle east because her father was in the Royal Air force. Her mother was a Nurse and her father a serving officer. She had two siblings a brother and a sister. Her family was not religious but consider themselves members of the Church of England.
Original script: “On the 6th of January a cake is bake usually a fruit cake and inside the cake a bean was hidden, and the person who received the bean in their cake became the lord of misrule for the night. It was a general practice in Britain at the time. My father always got the bean and we were always disappointed because we were so looking forward to being in charge. I don’t know where they learned it from, just tradition.
Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Preformed on January sixth or the last day of Christmas in the Church of England and usually coincided with taking Christmas decorations down.
Context of the Performance: Preformed on the sixth of January.
Subject: Jewish Traditions
Original script: “Matzo Ball soup is a Jewish tradition usually made for high holidays like Yom Kippur or Shabbat. However, in my family we make it when we are also sick. I don’t know, it really makes us feel better.
Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Abby grew up in a traditional Jewish family but they ere very reformed and adapted the soup to sickness as well as holiday celebration.
Thoughts about the piece: The matzo ball soup has been removed from its traditional place in Jewish tradition and made it’s was to everyday practices of Abby and her family. Much like chicken soup, matzo ball soup, for Abby, is associated with home and curing sickness, a comfort food that has it’s origins steeped in tradition.
My informant is an American from Minnesota, who has ancestors from Czech republic and Sweden, back to 1880.
“The other thing that Sweden has, we have the kitchen witches. So hang a witch in the kitchen and they protect the kitchen. I still have kitchen witches, I have several. It’s like a little figurative witch on a broom, but they go in the kitchen, they’re called kitchen witches. They protect the food in the kitchen. So it’s a very Scandinavian sort of thing. It may have different looks in each family, but it has to be a witch, and you hang it in a kitchen. It keeps you up from messing up your kitchen.”
She is very proud of this specific object that they keep in Sweden culture, even though she has been immigrated to US for a long time. I think it’s very lovely that in many Scandinavian cultures they believe in magic and magical creatures, and sometimes they really work when you believe in them. In this case if you do believe in the kitchen witches can protect you from messing up your kitchen, and hang them there, you may really become more cautious while cooking.
My informant is an African-American from Dallas, Texas.
“We have soul food. I think only African-American have this term to use on food. Sometimes they’re not healthy, but we love them. Other people could make those food with same names, but I like the ones we made with special recipe. like those macaroni with cheese, creamed corn…they’re very different from what we have at school dining halls. My grandma always makes them for me during holiday. But I can’t cook haha.”
I think this is a really sweet and proud thing that black people have their own favorite recipes on certain food that have been handing down for generations, which could also become a pretty identical thing for each family.
Informant AB is a 23-year-old male who is from the East Bay in Northern California. He is a student at the University of Southern California in his third year as a civil engineer major. AB and his family have made a special Italian dish called Bagna Càuda for Easter for many generations. Bagna Càuda is a traditional Italian dish originated in Piedmont, Italy, which is typically made during the winter months of December and January:
AB: “Ever since I could remember, my Noni would make Bagna Càuda for Easter every year. It’s always been something she has enjoyed making.”
Where did your Noni learn this particular traditional meal?
AB: “She actually learned it from her parents who also learned it form their parents. Once my Noni’s parents immigrated to the United States from Italy, they brought the recipe with them and continued to pass it down throughout the years.”
Can you please explain what kind of Italian dish Bagna Càuda is for those who are not familiar?
AB: “Yes it’s kind of like a fondue, but it’s not like a cheese. It’s more of an oil, garlic, anchovy mixture that is really thin. It’s not a thick mixture. You take whatever it is whether it’s cabbage, mushrooms, red peppers, meat, or chicken and you put it in the garlic, the oil, and the anchovies and mix it all around and let it sit for a while. Once it is ready, it taste delicious.”
As a fellow Italian, I am familiar with this dish being made on Christmas and New Years in particular. Why did your family choose to carry on this dish only on Easter?
AB: “Well my Noni told me once that her parents often would make too much food on Christmas and New Years and there wasn’t enough time to get everything ready so they decided that they would only make this dish on Easter.”
Who do you invite over for Easter dinner?
AB: “Well since it’s Easter, we try to get all of our family members together to celebrate. We also invite a few friends to join in on the celebration. My Noni always ends up making too much food, especially the Bagna Càuda, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Will you continue to pass this traditional meal on as you get older?
AB: “I definitely do plan on carrying on this dish as I get older. Luckily I paid enough attention when my Noni made it over the years so now I can make it myself.”
What does this traditional meal mean to you?
AB: “Bagna Càuda is a dish that will forever remind me of the times as a young boy and the times that my Noni shared with her parents and the times that are spent over this meal.”
AB has fond memories of celebrating Easter with his grandmother and his family. AB’s example of the Italian dish, “Bagna Càuda,” is a representation of a family tradition that has been kept alive over many generations in an effort to preserve his family’s Italian nationality. As a fellow Italian, I am familiar with Bagna Càuda, as my family has made it before during the winter holidays, however, I found it very interesting how AB’s family only makes the dish on Easter. The ritual of making Bagna Càuda every Easter is a way that AB’s family connects to their Italian heritage and it keeps the memory of his grandmother’s parents alive. His desire to uphold his Italian roots is evident and he will continue to carry his family’s ritual along with him.
Informant MV is my mother who is both Croatian and Italian. She was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles, CA. Her parents immigrated from Croatia to the United States in 1958. MV speaks Croatian fluently and has two daughters who she raised within the Croatian and Italian traditions and culture. Bakalar is a traditional Croatian dish from the coastal region of Dalmatia that is served on Christmas Eve.
- 2 pounds salted cod
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 slices lemon, rind removed
- 1 pound potatoes
- 4 finely chopped cloves garlic
- 1 large finely chopped onion (optional)
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
What kind of dish is Bakalar?
MV: “Bakalar is a salted cod stew with potatoes that is always cooked and eaten on Christmas Eve. Bakalar, meaning ‘cod’ is the main ingredient. The cod must ferment for at least 2 days for all the favors to come out. Once the fish is cooked, other ingredients like onions, garlic, and olive oil are added to a large cooking pot where you have the potatoes. Then you add the cod to the cooking pot with the potatoes. You can adjust how much garlic or olive oil, depending on your preferences in taste. It’s important that you remove the bones from the fish before you add it to cook in the pot. Then you let everything simmer until you have a consistency that suits you. You also add salt, pepper, parsley, and more olive oil. You can never have too much olive oil.”
How did this dish become so popular on the Dalmatian Coast?
MV: “Well, your Dida (grandfather) told me that cod is not known in the Adriatic Sea so it has to be imported from areas that have cold waters. It has been said that the reason why we have Bakalar in Croatia is because the fisherman from Dalmatia were working on ships that were in the North Atlantic, who learned about this dish while they were away. When they came back to Croatia, they shared their experience with this dish and it became a staple in our cultural cuisine.”
Why do you like making and sharing this recipe?
MV: “It’s a delicious recipe that is pretty easy to make but it takes time to make. If you have the patience and the urge to try something new then it’s a great option. I have shared this recipe with my American friends and they found it to be very tasty.”
Who did you learn this recipe from?
MV: “I learned how to cook from both my parents growing up. I found cooking to be fascinating and relaxing, so as a young adult I picked up a lot of the recipes that my parents made, Bakalar being one of them. My mother taught me this specific recipe while I was probably 15 years old. She showed me step by step how to successfully make this into a stew.”
In what context is Bakalar usually cooked and eaten?
MV: “Bakalar is mostly eaten on Christmas Eve, but we also eat it on Easter and during Lent. Since we are Catholic and don’t eat meat on certain days of the year, Bakalar is the typical go-to dish on those holidays.”
What does this dish mean to you?
MV: “Bakalar is a classic dish that is from our region and it brings back a lot of great memories while growing up. It is a dish that I love to cook and eat. I have enjoyed making and eating it over the years so much that now my kids have learned to make it. You really can’t go wrong with a great dish like this.”
Bakalar, a Croatian cod stew, is a staple of our Croatian culture. It is a main dish that we eat during Christmas Eve and other religious holidays as part of our fasting traditions. You will find Bakalar at almost, if not all Croatian social events or gatherings. This is a dish that brings our families and friends together because it is a dish that is universally loved and cherished by many.
Photo Credit: Croatia Week Magazine
Informant CT is in her third year as a neuroscience major at the University of Southern California. CT is Hawaiian and is from the island of Oahu. Here, she describes a traditional Hawaiian celebration that is a large part of her Hawaiian culture.
CT: “Hawaiian Luaus are so much fun. Basically, they are big parties with a ton of different food and of course music. It’s like the ultimate celebration for any important event in life like birthdays, graduations, and weddings. When I graduated from high school, my family threw a luau at our home. It was great. All of my friends and family members came over to celebrate. It was just one giant party.”
In what context or location are luaus held?
CT: “Well luau parties vary in range, depending on how dedicated you and your family are to the Hawaiian culture. Like for my family, we often have these parties because it’s a fun way to celebrate major events that happen in all of our lives, but our traditions have become somewhat Americanized. For example, it is traditional to serve poi, but we don’t really do that anymore. Instead we replace it with like chips and dip. But we tend to have luaus in our backyard of our home.”
What kind of dish is poi?
CT: “Poi is made from the taro plant and it is made by mashing and whipping until it forms in to a liquid like consistency. Honestly, I am not a fan of poi. I think it has a strange, unique taste and the texture is kind of weird, but my grandparents love it. It’s a kind of dish that you either love or hate, there’s no in between and it’s traditionally eaten with your hands only. Like all of the food that is at a luau, you are supposed to eat with your hands.”
What kind of other dishes are commonly found at a luau?
CT: “We serve different types of meat like pulled pork, that is usually roasted over a fire pit, which is called the ‘Imu”, chicken, salmon, poki, which is a mixture of seafood like tuna and a ton of different fruits. The list goes on.”
Do luaus have any significant meaning to you?
CT: “Ya definitely! Being Hawaiian, family is a huge part of our culture and having luaus or going to a luau is a great way to celebrate with your family and friends for a special event or holiday. It brings everyone together to have fun with some great food and music. It’s just a great big celebration and feast that I love to be a part of and it is a fun way to continue to uphold my Hawaiian culture.”
Throughout the world, feasting is a universal way to celebrate happy and important life events such as birthdays, holidays, weddings, commencements from high school or college, etc. However, the Hawaiian culture has sure changed the way people celebrate with their friends and family. After the Polynesians settled on the central pacific islands, their culture and traditions started to form and spread among the island locals. Polynesians had much influence on Hawaii’s luau traditions, which has now integrated into the foods and festivities of Hawaii. It was interesting to learn how the informant’s luau traditions have partially become Americanized in that they use utensils with their meals and replace certain dishes like poi with chips and dip. Luaus are still a large part of the Hawaiian culture as a way to mark a milestone in a person’s life and it is a festivity that is meant to be celebrated with family and friends.
MH is a third-generation Irish-American, originally from Battle Creek, MI. He splits his time today between San Francisco, CA and Pasadena CA, where his wife and 18-year-old son live.
MH talked about a ritual his family performed:
“My father was the head of New Product Development at the Kellogg’s corporation, which is why we were living in Battle Creek. He oversaw the development of cereals like…Sugar Smacks, Frosted Flakes, Apple Jacks and Rice Krispies…those were all his projects. We used to get to test new cereals, and they would come home in these white boxes so we wouldn’t be influenced by any packaging. He eventually became president of their International Division, so he had to travel a lot. At home of course we could only eat Kellogg’s cereal, but when he’d prepare to go out of town it was a ritual for us to decide what non-Kellogg’s cereal we were going to buy for while he was away. My mom usually tried to limit us to Cheerios, but my favorites were like, Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I think my dad knew but he never talked to us about it…”
Family rituals that involve secrecy from a parent are common, and they usually seem to be invented to help the other parent bond with their kids. In this case, MH (who has 9 other siblings) thinks it brought his brothers and sisters together. With so many of them, meals weren’t necessarily a family event, but when they all got together to pick their contraband breakfast cereals, they spent some rare time as a whole group. MH says he and his siblings all buy Kellogg’s cereal for their families, but would look the other way if their spouses decided to give their kids something from General Mills.
KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.
KM gave me some insight on chopstick etiquette that was passed down from her Japanese parents:
“So in Japan, when you’re eating rice with chopsticks, or really anything which chopsticks, you NEVER rest them by sticking them straight up in your food. It looks like the number 4 spelled out, and in Japanese culture 4 is a very unlucky number – it means death. If you go to Japan you’ll never find anything grouped or sold in 4s, it’s just superstition, like how in America people are scared of the number 13. Also, you never point your chopsticks at people, like if you’re talking at the dinner table. It’s rude, and a little threatening.”
Many cultures have different traditions surrounding food and table etiquette, and this folk belief offers insight into utensil practices many American might not be familiar with. While Asian cuisine is not absent here, it’s often transformed over time by the influence of other places, or even other Asian cultures (like common Japanese-Korean fusion). People from all over use chopsticks, but it’s important to be aware of protocol observed by those whose heritage is more authoritative.
Apparently, chopsticks stuck straight-up in rice also imitate incense sticks on the altar at a funeral, another symbol of death or bad luck. Oftentimes people avoid mixing their foodways with death imagery, compounded by the prevalence of rice in Japanese meals.
I also think it’s interesting that the subject is Japanese-American, and three generations removed at that. Seeing which customs are continued when a family emigrates shows both their cultural and individual values, or superstitions that for some reason or another “stick” in places where they’re not observed.