USC Digital Folklore Archives / Foodways
Foodways

Why we can’t eat pork

Informant GP is my grandfather who has been a Muslim is whole life. My father’s side of the family has been Muslim for many generations. My grandpa is a devout Muslim who follows the Quran and all the practices described within it. Unfortunately my grandpa’s generation is the last generation in my dad’s side of the family to practice Islam. My father and my aunt and uncles do not practice it, so even though I know many of the things they believe and practice, I don’t know the reason behind it.

So why can’t you eat pork?

GP: “Well, technically not being allowed to eat pork is not only a Muslim thing, but should be followed by Christianity and Judaism since it is the Bible. The bible states that pigs are unclean and therefore humans should not eat it or else we will get contaminated and get diseases. Back in the day pigs lived off of dirt and their own feces so people thought they were gross and disgusting. Of course, I don’t know if nowadays things are different or if there is any health correlation between pigs and disease, but yea, that’s why I don’t eat pork.”

Thoughts: To me this just sounds like people in the past just thought pigs were dirty so they didn’t eat them. Of course that is well found, it’s like saying why don’t people eat earthworms. I did a bit of research and found that eating pork does in fact lead to health issues since pork holds more fat than other meats which can cause heart attacks. That being said, I feel like eating any kind of meat could lead to health problems, so in conclusion I feel like the Muslim tradition of not eating pork is a little nonsensical.

Customs
Foodways

Molletes

Background:

I met my informant at a cooking class in Cancun, Mexico. She and her husband hold these classes in their home just outside of the Hotel Zone. They’re both in their mid-50’s and have lived in Cancun with their three children for close to twenty-five years. My informant was born and raised in Mexico City, where she spent the majority of her youth mastering regional cuisines from throughout Mexico. She ultimately attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though she is well versed in world cuisine, she considers herself an expert in traditional Mexican cooking, as the majority of her recipes have been handed down through both her family and her husband’s.

The classes she holds are for no more than twelve people and lasts roughly six hours. She gives a short lecture on different culinary regions of Mexico and then begins an interactive cooking lesson where the group prepares twelve separate recipes. The lesson was too long to record the entirety of the performance, but I recorded some of her specific introductions and explanations of several dishes. She also gave each participant a copy of the recipes, almost all of which were passed down through the generations. The informant transcribed them and included her own specific instructions.

Performance:

“You need crispy bread…In Mexico it is always a bolillo or teller, the Mexican version of…baguette…since the times of Maximillian in the 1860’s…You can use small baguettes or cut portions from baguette. Portuguese rolls work too. We eat these breakfast, lunch, and dinner…they are easy and cheap, so good for young people who maybe don’t have much time or money, like college (jokingly gestures in my direction.)”

Recipe

4 teleras bolillos, petite baguettes or large baguettes cut into 6” portions

2 cups refried beans homemade or store bought

2 cups Mexican oaxaca mozzarella or monterrey jack, grated (any melting cheese of your liking will do)

2 tablespoons of butter

Serve with pico de gallo salsa or another salsa of your choice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the bread in half lengthwise to have 8 pieces. Spread each piece with butter then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of refried beans and add 3 to 4 tablespoons of grated cheese on top. Arrange molletes on a baking sheet as you make them. If you want, add additional toppings like ham, turkey, bacon or chorizo. Sprinkle them on top of the cheese. When they are all assembled, place the baking sheet into the oven. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the bread has a nice toasted crust around the edges. Serve with pico de gallo salsa, or a salsa of your choice, on the side or on top.

Thoughts:

As Claudia suggests in the recipe, we used crumbled chorizo. It was interesting how familiar it felt to be eating a soft, white roll; despite the beans and salsa, the dish tasted decidedly European, like something I could buy on any street corner in Los Angeles. This can probably be explained by the historical context she provided; the rolls entered Mexican cuisine under the influence of a European monarch but has become a big part of everyday Mexican cooking.

Customs
Foodways
general

Bean Tamales

Background:

I met my informant at a cooking class in Cancun, Mexico. She and her husband hold these classes in their home just outside of the Hotel Zone. They’re both in their mid-50’s and have lived in Cancun with their three children for close to twenty-five years. My informant was born and raised in Mexico City, where she spent the majority of her youth mastering regional cuisines from throughout Mexico. She ultimately attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though she is well versed in world cuisine, she considers herself an expert in traditional Mexican cooking, as the majority of her recipes have been handed down through both her family and her husband’s.

The classes she holds are for no more than twelve people and lasts roughly six hours. She gives a short lecture on different culinary regions of Mexico and then begins an interactive cooking lesson where the group prepares twelve separate recipes. The lesson was too long to record the entirety of the performance, but I recorded some of her specific introductions and explanations of several dishes. She also gave each participant a copy of the recipes, almost all of which were passed down through the generations. The informant transcribed them and included her own specific instructions.

Performance:

“Tamales…they’re party food. We have them for weddings, for birthdays, for…everything (laughter)…so we make the cooking of tamales a party too! We invite people over to come and work on the tamales…it helps because there are many steps, and we make…uh…lines, you know? We take turns doing steps. So when you make tamales, tell your friends and your family and bring out the tequila for a tamale party (laughter — she gestures to Lorenzo who brings out a bottle of tequila and begins to pour shots).”

Recipe

5 cups corn flour maseca

3 tablespoons of bacon fat or lard

2 cups of refried beans

4 jalapeños in strips or julienne

30 corn husks

1/2 teaspoon salt

Oaxaca string cheese or salsa

2 cups of chicken stock or the stock of the process of cookings the beans or water as kneed

Soak the corn husks or totomoxtles in hot water for half an hour and allowed to drain. Mix the flour with salt and little by little is added warm water. Add the melted bacon fat and mix well with the flour, beating vigorously for 10 minutes. Cover a large wooden board (25 X 40 cm.) With a piece of plastic and spread the dough with your hand, evenly, to half an inch thick. With the dough make small tortillas. Place the refried beans on top of the dough and add the peppers or cheese or salsa cover with the masa by rolling, help yourself with the plastic and to form a cylinder an roll it to make it thin with the hand on top of the board. Then cut into regular pieces of 3 inch long. Then graph them with the corn husk. The tamales are steamed for one hour and served with cream and salsa.

Thoughts:

Just as Claudia said, participating in this ritual was a lot of fun. This was the part in the class where, as a group, we all began to get to know and enjoy each other’s company. Both laughter and tequila were plentiful. This, in particular, was a great example of the joyous and communal nature of Mexican cooking and the ways in which it is used to bring people closer together and bond over a shared recipe.

Customs
Foodways
general

Tortillas

Background:

I met my informant at a cooking class in Cancun, Mexico. She and her husband hold these classes in their home just outside of the Hotel Zone. They’re both in their mid-50’s and have lived in Cancun with their three children for close to twenty-five years. My informant was born and raised in Mexico City, where she spent the majority of her youth mastering regional cuisines from throughout Mexico. She ultimately attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though she is well versed in world cuisine, she considers herself an expert in traditional Mexican cooking, as the majority of her recipes have been handed down through both her family and her husband’s.

The classes she holds are for no more than twelve people and lasts roughly six hours. She gives a short lecture on different culinary regions of Mexico and then begins an interactive cooking lesson where the group prepares twelve separate recipes. The lesson was too long to record the entirety of the performance, but I recorded some of her specific introductions and explanations of several dishes. She also gave each participant a copy of the recipes, almost all of which were passed down through the generations. The informant transcribed them and included her own specific instructions.

Performance:

“You’ll need a big cast-iron skillet or griddle and a tortilla press, too (gestures to a very old, metal tortilla press) this belonged to my grandmother, who got it from her mother, so has been in my family for…130 years? More? A long time (laughter). In most every recipe for corn tortillas the proportion is 2 cups of corn flower to 1-1/4 to…maybe 1-1/3 cups water. The difference between 1/4 and 1/3 cup can be a lot…can be very important. Also, don’t confuse corn flower and corn meal. Very different. Corn meal is a completely different process and it won’t work…when you’re done, you can keep them warm how you like…I use this (holds up a dried gourd with the top cut off as a removable top)…gourds keep things nice and warm, how we like.” 

Recipe

2 cups corn flower

1-1/4 to 1-1/3 cups of water

Mix the corn flower and the water little by little. Work with your hands to form your masa and roll it into a big ball. Take a pinch off a golf-ball sized piece of masa.

    1. Set the masa on a piece of plastic in the tortilla press and core with another piece of plastic
    2. Press the masa in tortilla press
    3. Transfer tortilla to a hot dry skillet
    4. Cook for about 30 seconds on one side, turn
    5. Cook for about 60 seconds (it should puff slightly) turn back to the first side
    6. Cook for another 30 seconds on the first side
    7. Remove and keep the tortilla warm

Thoughts:

Though both simple and fairly generic, Claudia seemed to take the most personal ownership of this recipe. This seemed to be in large part because of the antique tortilla press we used to prepare them. She was very proud of the press and its history, and appeared to have an almost spiritual connection to its personal and cultural significance.

Customs
Foodways
Material

Salsa Xnipec

Background:

I met my informant at a cooking class in Cancun, Mexico. She and her husband hold these classes in their home just outside of the Hotel Zone. They’re both in their mid-50’s and have lived in Cancun with their three children for close to twenty-five years. My informant was born and raised in Mexico City, where she spent the majority of her youth mastering regional cuisines from throughout Mexico. She ultimately attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though she is well versed in world cuisine, she considers herself an expert in traditional Mexican cooking, as the majority of her recipes have been handed down through both her family and her husband’s.

The classes she holds are for no more than twelve people and lasts roughly six hours. She gives a short lecture on different culinary regions of Mexico and then begins an interactive cooking lesson where the group prepares twelve separate recipes. The lesson was too long to record the entirety of the performance, but I recorded some of her specific introductions and explanations of several dishes. She also gave each participant a copy of the recipes, almost all of which were passed down through the generations. The informant transcribed them and included her own specific instructions.

Performance:

“This is a salsa from the Yucatan peninsula, right here (gestures to map of Mexico)…right near Cancun…the word ‘xnipec’ comes from the Mayan language…in English it means like ‘dog nose’ (laughter)…but it’s good…very spicy so you just do a little drop like this…(takes a spoon and makes small drops on the back of her hand)…and you taste first…don’t do too much…we’ll have to take you off the floor (laughter).”

Recipe:

2 limes

5 roasted habaneros

1 garlic clove roasted

2 tablespoons of chopped red or white onion

Salt

Pinch of oregano

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Squeeze the juice of several limes (Yucatan lemons, which are more like limes) into a small bowl if you don’t find them lemons are ok. In a mortar add garlic roasted Habanero pepper, ground the ingredients and add spoons of chopped onion, oregano, juice of limes and olive oil and season. Mix all this and set aside you can make the salsa a day in advance and this will make the salsa milder.

Thoughts:

This dish was prepared with a stone mortar and pestle; the habaneros had been roasted on the flame of a gas stovetop shortly before we began the lesson. Claudia spoke at length about the different kinds of peppers used in Mexican cuisine, but interesting she did not appear to enjoy the habanero flavor herself.

Foodways
Game
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

12th night

Subject: 12th Night

Informant:

 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.

 

 

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jewish tradition

Subject: Jewish Traditions

Informant: Abby

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.

 

Folk Beliefs
Foodways

Soul Food

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.

Foodways
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bagna Càuda

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.”

Analysis:

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.

Customs
Festival
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Croatian Bakalar Recipe

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.

“Bakalar”

“Dried cod”

Ingredients:

  • 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.”

Analysis:

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

Photo Credit: Croatia Week Magazine

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