USC Digital Folklore Archives / Foodways
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tradition of Gift Giving- Christmas (Cali, Colombia)

During Christmas, it is, really common for people to make a lot of breads and pastries in Columbia to just give to surrounding neighbors. The more popular treats would be empanadas which are a pastry in which the inside is filled with different type of sweet pastes. The sweet pastries are a form of telling your neighbors to enjoy the festivities and have a great time, basically a good omen for the holidays. Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people. This seems like a great way to start the holidays with gifts, as how usual Christmas goes in the United States.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ferias De Cali

Cities are important to the location, each city has its own party, they call it ferias, the feria de Cali just happens to be during Christmas time , the carnivals are in Barranquilla Carnival. These carnivals are huge festivals in which the Colombian people showcase different sets of parades and a lot of other different stands just to show off their different type of foods or even toys for the kids to have fun with.These carnivals last for many weeks sometimes in order to celebrate through the time change of the seasons.Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people

Folk Dance
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ferias Monucipilanas

Every city, every town, has a yearly party, feria monucipilanas, and each have their own saint in which they cherish and praise during the festival. The people of the city make a big tower that you light at the bottom of the tower so then the fireworks make really colorful designs upon explosion. Alex is a Colombian native who immigrated here when he was just a little boy. His family left Columbia in response to all the violence that was emitting from Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror. In order to keep his family traditions alive, his parents constantly told him about the vast events and beauty of his homeland and people. These fairs seem like the walks that Catholics due in Los Angeles during Easter to acknowledge a saint.


Food Preparation

Every time food is prepared, there are always a variety of spices available. The mexican-cuisine culture surrounds that taste. A common tradition of Juan is too have habaneros ready at hand for every meal. This has been a tradition between his dad, and grandpa, and so forth, mostly the males of the family, in which they would spice up their food to extraordinary levels. He says it comes as a way to show that food is fought for, and the spiciness not only adds taste, but also shows that the literal sweat and tears are needed to have food on the table.


Juan is a Mexican-American from Mexico city. He works demolition, but is super into his religion of being a Jehovah Witness. He has been passing down his traditions to his kids, just how they were passed down to him by his dad and grandpa.


Ecuadorian Parties in Chicago

Main Piece:

Participant marked with CM below. I am noted as LJ.

LJ: What was it like growing up in Chicago as an Ecuadorian?

CM: We had a lot of parties where you pay $20 at the door. We have a lot of Ecuadorian artists that um donate their time. And we have, um, a lot of people who make food for us. Oh, and we all dance from like 7 to 2am.

LJ: What else happens at these parties?

CM: We don’t really like to spend money on outside people. The community supports eachother…we’re a small community so we’re really family based.



I asked the participant to tell me about what it was like to grow up Ecuadorian in Chicago. She touched on parties and food–above is the party aspect of it.


The participant is a first generation Ecuadorian-American in Chicago. She is currently a first year at the University of Southern California.


The Ecuadorian community in Chicago seems very close knit by the way that the parties seem to operate. The participant spoke about feeling a great support within the community. It is evident in how she mentions that, for their parties they reach out to other people within their neighborhood. Music, food, and fun serves to help the keep the group together.

The participant later went on to tell me that she feels that these parties help maintain the traditions of Ecuador–that they are especially important to those who have never been or can not go back to Ecuador.



Street Scenes in Urban Mexico City

The informant is from Mexico City, currently rotating at UT Medical Center.

The interview occurred at a family barbeque on a Sunday.

 He and I discussed what he thinks about when he thinks of his home, which is originally Mexico City. He said that there is nothing quite like the sights and sounds of the urban squares of the densely populated capital.

“Those of us who are from Ciudad de Mexico, it’s represented as CMX, instead of as the old Mexico, Distrito Federal, is the official title. We are known as Chilangos. We love to eat street food, sold at mobile markets called Tianguis. They sell esquite, which are roasted corn kernels mixed with mayonnaise, chili powder and lime juice, fruit with chili powder, gorditas, which are fried tacos of all sorts and tamales, which are known as the Student’s Menu, and used to be ten pesos each. We also have lots of informal commerce, even on the Metro, which is always chaotic and crowded. Many of the products are chafa, which means imitation of famous labels; sold very cheaply, and that’s why we frequently say “Lo Barato Sale Caro”, or “what’s bought cheaply becomes expensive (since it never lasts).”

The informant describes an urban environ filled with constant access to food, trinkets, and other vendors. As a young medical fellow in the city, Jesús experienced busy city life first hand, and often ended up eating at these mobile merchants. Thus, the street food of Mexico and the small carts one buys tacos, tamales, and other foods from, have become a part of the memory Jesús has of Mexico City. Also interesting is the nickname of “Chilangos” given to city dwellers. This is a moniker widely used by Mexicans, who call Mexico City “Chilangolandia.” There are numerous theories as to why this nickname exists, yet no concrete answers have been found. Some believe the “Chil” portion refers to hot sauces, while the “Angos” portion refers to the Nahuatl toponym “Tenango.”

The market of knockoff goods exists in many Latin American countries and is a cultural economy that many depend upon. His reflections on Mexico City are an interesting case study in Mexican urban culture and its imagery. For a similar experience, I suggest visiting Santee Alley near downtown LA, which features many of the same authentic street foods and a similar market setting.


Proper Tea

Informant was raised in an upper middle class household in suburban Connecticut, by parents of English and German extraction.  Her grandfather was one of the first of the ‘Mad Men’ and her parents were the first wealthy generation of her family.  She attended boarding school in upstate New York, and went home on the weekends.  Her family’s emphasis on understanding how to assemble and consume a proper English-style tea seems to emphasize in-group identification with the upper middle class, as opposed to their actual, slightly more humble, origins.

I think we were the last class of the Victorian era, because my mother had the last of the Victorian headmistresses. Part of being a young lady or gentleman was participating in afternoon tea, you know, correctly.  She made sure we learned how to prepare and serve and take tea the in the proper way. It was just afternoon tea, but there were special occasions when we got high tea as well.

High tea is supper, but early with tea, sandwiches, scones and crumpets and whatnot, and it’s savory as well as sweet. It’s a light meal. I spent Sunday afternoons being taught how to pour tea and eat a sandwich like a lady and not like a street urchin.

First of all, you have a pot of tea, and you don’t have tea bags, you don’t have mugs with tea bags in them, you have a pot of properly brewed tea, tea spoons, cups, saucers, cloth napkins… this training did not include treats because it’d have blown our little minds.

You always pour the cup on the saucer, you hand it to your companion or companions, you don’t just put things down in front of them, it’s about graciousness, not, you know, feeding. So you have a dish of sugar, tongs or a spoon for the sugar, and a proper small china pitcher to contain the cream, all of which you pass from hand to hand, never letting anything touch the table if it is about to be used.

You have to have a designated host or hostess, or it’s just chaos and pandemonium. That is the person who, you know, pours the tea and hands you—HANDS YOU—your cup on the saucer and all of that sort of thing.

Context: interviewer and informant were sharing an informal afternoon tea, and informant became agitated when interviewer failed to pass a sugar bowl correctly.


Dried Fruit Strudel For Company

This was collected while the informant was in the hospital, recovering from surgery.  She wanted the interviewer to prepare the strudel for visitors, so that she could be a good hostess.

Informant: I wish you would try this, but you probably can’t do it. But I’d love to taste it again and have it for when they visit me. It’s something that Eastern European Jewish people would make for company. Dried fruit is expensive, but it keeps well, and then if you can make the dough right, well, they know you’ve got it.

Interviewer: It?

Informant: You know, that you’re good at figuring things out, patient, a good homemaker and what have you.  My mother couldn’t always do it just so, and she did it a lot, but when she did it right, oh, it was like candy. It was chewy like candy. It’s not a recipe, she just knew how to do it sometimes. She just learned and she did it.

Look, so I don’t remember everything but I know the dough had oil and salt and water in it but no egg. And she kneaded it and kneaded it and kneaded it. She had very strong arms and hands.

So then I don’t remember too well. But I think she let it rise? With a cloth on it. For as long as it would take to make the filling.

For the filling I know she said you had to boil it to make it chewy. This is the first part you probably won’t be able to, to—you know, because you can’t get the thing. The grinder. For the fruit. But I think she used cherries and prunes and grapes. All dried, you know. And she boiled them with orange peels which she would save and dry out and grind up into a very fine powder. You probably don’t have time.

But she boiled it all and she said boiling it was important. And she put down maybe some nuts or some toasted stale bread or something, I don’t know.

And she’d put that aside to cool after she ground everything up.

Interviewer: Did she put the bread in the filling? Like crumbs?

Informant: No, on the dough.  Walnuts.  Sometimes walnuts instead of bread, if we had.  And the dough she would roll out at first and then when she felt it was the right time, felt the dough, she would just pick it up on her fingertips and she would stretch it until you could read a newspaper through it. I tried.  I never had the patience for it. On a piece of clean linen, she would roll it out. I don’t think you can get plain clean linen like that now. And then she’d put the fruit on it and the nuts or crumbs or what have you, and she’d pick up the end of the cloth and it would just roll itself up. And then so you bake it and it’s done.

Interviewer: Did she put oil on the dough? Or sugar?

Informant: She wouldn’t have used any sugar. Oil or margarine. And then more maybe on the outside. And then just enough sugar to make it sparkle a little bit but not so much you could see it from across the room.

Interviewer: Well, I’ll try.

Informant: She would cut it crosswise before she put it in the oven. Not all the way through.

Folk medicine

Chicken Soup

Informant was asked if she knew any good cold remedies.

Informant: So if you’re not feeling well, you should have a lot of fluids and mostly chicken soup, if you can.  Water and what have you is for the birds.  And sweet stuff won’t help unless it’s orange juice.  Fresh squeezed.  But soup, soup is what you really should be having.

Interviewer: So just a can of soup is okay?  Like Campbells?  Do you add anything to it?

Informant.: You know better than that.  You don’t open a can of it.

You need the vegetables, you need them to cook together.  Just opening something doesn’t give you anything.  It’s the making of it that makes it do for you.

Interviewer: Okay, so–

Informant: So you know, you start with a pot of water and what they used to call soup herbs.  Soup herbs, you’d get at the green grocer tied up together in a bundle and it was a little parsley, a little dill maybe, a parsnip, a carrot, some celery with the leaves, and you put that in your water with enough salt to make the water taste like something.

And then if you have it and you have the, you know, you feel you can do it, you put in a whole chicken and you just put it on the low fire.  And you let it go.  You don’t want to boil it all the way up, you want just small bubbles, you want to keep it clear and it keeps the meat from being tough, if you don’t, you know, if you let it boil and what have you.

So you don’t have a chicken, so you use maybe bones leftover from your roast chicken or I don’t know you can still, if you can, if you can get them, but chicken feet make a very rich-tasting soup, and depending on the butcher, maybe you don’t pay for them at all.

But you put these all together and you cook it for a couple of hours and you put maybe a little pepper or lemon juice in it if you want something more to it, rice or kasha [buckwheat groats] if you want it substantial, and then you throw away your soup herbs and you shred any meat you want to have with the soup, or you save it and you make chicken salad, but you can put more vegetables and heat them through and let them get soft before you eat it.

And don’t skim off the fat, that’s the best part.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Longevity Noodles

“Every birthday celebration, no matter where, and no matter the age, we always ate noodles to signify a long life.”

The informant was born in Taipei, and grew up in Shanghai.

After thoughts: Longevity is one of the most respected ideals in Chinese culture, and reflects Taoism philosophy. Longevity is most commonly associated with birthdays, and noodles became the food metaphor because it;s long and continuous in shape. It’s important to not break off the noodle you are eating, since the longer it is, the longer it suggests your life will be. Also, cutting the noodles is considered unlucky and equivalent to cutting your own life. Longevity noodles symbolizes a long and healthy life.