The informant has a lot of different parts of her background which influence her. Her family is Haitian and Comorian (an island off the coast of Africa) and she is still close with family who live in those places and visits often. She grew up for the first 10 years of her life in the U.S., but then spent the rest of her life living in Paris, France until she decided to come to school in the U.S. She likes to say that she’s a hodge-podge of different identities.
The informant made this dish for the eight people she is living in a dorm with at college for a special “finals study break with a little bit of [her] culture.” She then described how to make the dish to me. She said that she originally learned how to make the dish from her sister.
Text (J is the informant, M is the collector)
J: So, chicken mafé is a Senegalese dish and the best American translation for it would kinda be like “peanut butter chicken.” So, you start obviously by, like, cleaning your chicken. My mom taught me that the best way to do it is, like, after you’ve cleaned it — you know like, rinsed it off, and taken off the skin, and you’ve put in the vinegar and everything– you put it also in coffee, because it really gets rid of the smell. So, hot coffee. And, then, um… you.. cook the chicken a bit before. At least, I do. Um… with like, you know, just generally salt, pepper.. Barely.. Just, maybe a tiny bit of olive oil, onions, garlic. Really get all that in there. And then.. Um… once you’ve got it a tiny bit browned, you add in, uh, one tomato, a BUNCH of peanut butter.
M: (Laughing) Very scientific amount
J: I mean, African… when you — African dishes don’t ever.. Like, I’ve never heard of an African dish that has actual measures. Like, my Grandmother’s tried to teach me a bunch of stuff. She’d just like “just, add these in. And.. YES.” Um.. and so, yeah.You cook that. Um.. you wanna, maybe — it depends how thick you want the sauce, you might wanna add a bit of water to it. Or don’t. I like having the sauce really.. slightly… like pretty thick. My mom likes it a bit less thick, so she always tells me to add some water to it. Um, and, yeah, let’s see: garlic, onions, tomatoes, peanut butter, salt, pepper.. chicken, obviously. And, I mean, some basic spices, i guess. Like, you could add cayenne pepper, if you wanted to, or stuff like that, but..
M: Yeah, so, did you learn this recipe from your mom or grandma or who did you learn it from?
J: Um.. so, I learned this one, actually, from my big sister. Because, uh, chicken mafé is one of her favorite African dishes, but it’s not a dish from where we’re actually from. But.. So, she learned it from one of my aunts — or, like, well, the African version of aunt, so really one of our close friends– who is senegalese. Um, so, the aunt taught her how to do it and she taught me how to make it, and.. Yeah.
M: And would you make it with your sister?
J: Uh, I think I made it once with my sister. The few other times I made it, I made it when I actually got.. well, since, like, I’ve been in the U.S. Either, like, for other people or friends, or, yeah. I always make a ridiculous amount, too, because I’m so used to making it in African portions that I’ve forgotten. Which is ridiculous, because you’d never think that African portions are bigger than American portions, but, hey.
I thought it was interesting how the informant identified with this dish as a part of her culture, even though it is from a completely different part of Africa than where she’s from. I think, in the context of serving this dish to a group of Americans, this foodway was used to assert her general African-ness, rather than demonstrate a specific part of her Comorian culture.
For another version of this recipe, see:
Lam, Francis. “Chicken Mafe Recipe.” NYT Cooking. The New York Times Company, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.
The informant describes themselves, “I’m a queer cis-gendered female, I’m part Mexican-American, part Persian-Israeli. I’m a student at USC. I’m Jewish. I’m about to hopefully be an EMT, if all works out.” Also – “I’m a really big cat lady.”
Do you know any legends?
I know an urban legend that used to gross me out. ACTUALLY? I have this aunt. She used to work for a – she was a medical assistant for a hand surgeon. He did reconstruction surgery. And as you can imagine, reconstructive hand surgery is usually because something really bad happened to your hand, like a bad accident. So she would always have – she had this like polaroid picture of some guy’s pinky, just out and about, and she would use to it be like “Don’t do bad things, ‘cause your pinky will fall off and you’ll be like this too.” Actually? She used to tell – I’m pretty sure this is a popular urban legend that probably still rolls around today – that’s actually not really related to her as a medical assistant, just her telling us gross things. And, um – she told us about how this guy went to Jack-in-the-Box, and ordered the spicy chicken sandwich – also, even when I did eat meat, before I was vegetarian, after I heard this story I never wanted to eat another spicy chicken sandwich ever again. Because she was like “Yeah, I had this friend. Who went to Jack-in-the-Box. And he was like “Yo. I want a spicy chicken sandwich. And he asked the guy for a spicy chicken sandwich without mayo. So he gets the spicy chicken sandwich, and he looks in it, and he’s like “Ok, why does my spicy chicken sandwich have mayo? I asked for it without mayo.” And the guy is like “No, we didn’t put any mayo in there.” Apparently after they looked at it, he realized that the chicken had some weird tumor thing, and it was just really nasty. And I know that that’s not really even a thing, but it still grosses me out. So that’s kind of a grody urban legend that’s forever turned me off of spicy chicken sandwiches.
How old were you when this was told to you?
Uhhm, I was probably about 10 or 11.
Did it influence your decision to be vegetarian?
I would sometimes think about it – actually, I – one of the main reason I stopped eating meat is it just creeped me out to begin with. And then one of the solidifying reasons, after I was already creeped out, was that – I’m ashamed to say – I watched this PETA video. I don’t like PETA now, but at the time I was like “This is terrible,” – I mean animals are still treated terribly, but PETA’s just a terrible organization. And I was like “Yo, I can’t eat animals because people are not treating them in the – in an ethical way. And – but, before that happened, I was already grossed out and I didn’t like the idea of cooking meat. Because I would watch my mom prepare chicken, and I remember watching her cut pieces of chicken on the cutting board in the kitchen, and I was just like “HOW DOES THAT NOT GROSS YOU OUT?” and she was like “No, its ok!’ and I would just think about that STUPID CHICKEN SANDWICH and I would be like “That is nasty, how are you eating that?” So yeah, actually – it actually did. Ohh. I never thought about that. Eww. Euughh. So I guess that stupid urban legend has impacted my life.
Do you know where your aunt heard it from?
I don’t know where she heard it from, um, but I do know that a few years later I brought it up – no, a friend of mine brought it up in a class in middle school. And I was like “Oh, I’ve heard the same story too!” And then the teacher was like “That’s totally fake ‘cause I’ve heard it too, and it’s fake,” and blah blah blah. One part of me was like “Dang, I was lied to.” And I felt kinda disappointed. And then the other part was like “All right, wait. That’s not real. So. That’s good. Because that would be super scary.” Heheheheheh.
How often have you talked about this to people?
Actually never after that one time in middle school. I’ve literally never talked about it after that.
This was the best retelling of a story I’ve collected yet. It’s hard to notate inflection in the transcription.
Typical fast-food horror story, reflects collective fear about methods of food production and distribution.
“I don’t wanna be a chicken, I don’t wanna be a duck, so shake my butt”
My informant learned it from a couple girls in second grade who made fun of him and shook their butts at them. He said that it feels like it means an insult because you’re calling the other person a chicken/duck. He remembers being very offended.
This was a song that was sung from time to time among young kids.
This seems to be the start of young children learning about gender differences, and a way to cope with them. One could even argue that this was a way that girls started learning about their own sexuality since the butt is a fairly sexualized part on a female’s body. Perhaps this was just a way that kids could bond within their own gender.
“It’s a bed time story that my mom used to tell me about this human eating monster that like terrorized a village in Vietnam. And I don’t know, this one hero got him to like try this delicious Vietnamese chicken dish and he liked it so much that he just ate chicken”
My informant liked this story because was funny and so easily resolved.
In this little story, it connects my informant with her Vietnamese heritage, not only in the location, but also in food. It presses that Vietnamese food is so good, that it can stop a terrifying monster who now loves it so much, it is all he eats. It is her mother telling her that their culture is important for her to know. It is the last thing she hears before she goes to sleep and what she eats every day. It was important for my informant to hear this because she grew up away from Vietnam in American culture.
Chicken (preferably drumsticks)
Tony Chacheres Cajun Seasoning
Lawrys Seasoning Salt
So heres the recipe. You take chicken, preferably drumsticks and you wash it with cold water. It has to be cold water, because if you use warm water it will start to cook the chicken early and you dont want that. Mix together the flour, and seasonings, and then put the chicken in it. Some people dip the chicken in raw scrambled eggs first, but I dont. Then, you take the vegetable oil, and put it in a frying pan/pot, ect. Put the pan on the stove, and then heat the pan on medium heat. This is important, it has to be medium heat because if you heat it on high, the oil will be too hot and the chicken will just burn. After heating the pan on medium, add the chicken to fry. This is how the trained fried chicken cooker knows when to turn it over (holds up her hands for emphasis): you have to LISTEN, LISTEN, you cannot see when to turn it over. You have to listen. Youll hear the frying noises, and when they quiet down, youll hear it subside. Thats when you know to turn it over. Repeat the same process on the other side, and remove it. Then to prepare it to be served, put it in-between 2 paper towels, and that way you can soak up the oil, and you wont have greasy chicken. This is usually served with mac and cheese, cornbread, black eyed peas, collard greens, general soul food, you know.
I learned to make fried chicken from cousin and grandmother. I had to learn it from them, because in my household my mother doesnt cook. I cook it at family gatherings. To me, chicken brings people together. I know that sounds funny but its true. I think that homemade fried chicken is like comfort food. Ive always had it when we have family get-togethers, for people that I dont usually see. Black people get made fun of for liking fried chicken, because its become a stereotype. But thats not really fair because its not necessarily because of the chicken, but because of its association with comfort and family.
While it may seem funny to put fried chicken down as a folk food, it is relevant. While few people think of fried chicken to be a personal folk dish, it is. I think that the validity of certain foods as a individual recipes and folk food can be jeopardized by their commercialization as fast food, or their classified as a food that only certain people eat. In addition I feel that Terika makes a valid point about the fact that fried chicken has become stereotypically a black food, or a food that black people are supposed to like. I think that people just like food because it tastes good, and not because they are genetically predisposed to like it. In addition certain foods can become comfort foods that are eaten and have connotations of happy times or family gatherings, as is the case with Terikas fried chicken.