USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘family tradional foods’

Lunar New Year Traditions

The informant is my grandmother from Taiwan, her hobbies are going to church and cooking. She says because Chinese tradition is very custom and done in certain ways it is weird to “stray” off on doing certain traditions. However, our family has done many of the same traditions, except starting from my great-grandparents time (4 generations), we had done some of these Lunar New Year traditions differently.


We also eat a whole chicken but cannot eat head, legs, butt. We leave the leftovers to the 5th day, this means keeping your leftovers like your money.

Day 1 – eat only vegetarian for breakfast, a tradition that is still practiced in our family, but do not know the reason for it. Leftover rice is always made into dry rice, making into porridge will bring about rain. For breakfast, we have to eat boiled spinach. When boiling it, we put the whole spinach piece in as a symbol of living longer. 羅波糕 (Ruo Buo Gao) – In the Taiwanese dialect it means being “lucky winning lottery”. This is radish cake that we eat every Lunar New Year, specifically on the first day.

A lot of the traditions are practiced still, but in some cases, the meanings were lost. Although that may be the case, our family still blindly continued the rituals. Our family mainly continues to do many of the traditional rituals, but if it is too complicated or annoying we would rather change it to accommodate our preferences. This was interesting to hear because I had never asked or understood what doing all these actions implied, because I was rarely in Taiwan to celebrate lunar new year, I had no idea what or why my family would do such specific things.



Family customs during Lunar New Year

The informant is my grandmother from Taiwan, her hobbies are going to church and cooking. She says because Chinese tradition is very custom and done in certain ways it is weird to “stray” off on doing certain traditions. However, our family has done many of the same traditions, except starting from my great-grandparents time (4 generations), we had done some of these Lunar New Year traditions differently.


Our house has specific dishes that we make:

蛤蠣 (Ha Li)- These are small clams. After eating the clams, we put the clam shells under the table. this is to signify having money, as olden times clams were a symbol of money and wealth with pearls and such.

年糕 (Nian Gao)- This is rice cakes. This is a homophone to 年高 (Nian Gao) which implies promotions or prosperity year after year.

鯧魚 (Chang Yu) – A type of butterfish. we are supposed to eat fish because it is also a homophone in an idiom 年年有餘 (Nian Nian You Yu). This means to wish abundance year after year, so every lunar new year we eat fish. In my family, we eat this specific type of fish.

I personally do not know why we eat that specific fish, I do not think it was because it was anyone’s favorite or anything. I think it was just a really cheap fish back in my grandparent’s time so it kind of became custom to eat that specific fish. We still practice all of these traditions today, including putting the clams underneath the table. This was interesting to hear because I had never asked or understood what doing all these actions implied, because I was rarely in Taiwan to celebrate lunar new year, I had no idea what or why my family would do such specific things.



Moon Festival

The informant is my father who has always grown up in Taiwan but came to America for grad school. Understanding both cultures, he has a very wide understanding of the traditions in our household and its practices.


中秋節 (Zhong Qiu Jie) – It is a celebration of when the moon is the biggest during the year. We celebrate it by eating 月餅 (Yue Bing) which is moon cakes. We also have a tradition to go outside and have barbecues with friends and family while enjoying the beautiful moon. In our family, we do not go do barbecues outside because it is too much of a hassle, so we usually just go to a barbecue restaurant to eat. After that, we always go home and eat fruits, one particular fruit we eat is pomelo. When you were a child we used to eat the fruit and use the shell of the fruit as a hat for you to play around with. As a kid, we even used the fruit shell as slippers to save money. It also has a great smell so we always leave it outside as a fragrance.

I have sometimes been in Taiwan during this time, I for one personally love this holiday because I get to eat delicious barbecue. I definitely do not remember doing such a tradition of putting fruit on top of my head, but it does sound like something I would do as a kid.



NK is my grandmother who was born and raised in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Being a local she knows a lot about the city and its folklore. She knows a lot about the local and traditional cuisine. The Green Menestra is another gastronomic specialty from the list of traditional, indigenous dishes of the Dubrovnik region.


“There are three kinds of green menestra (cabbage and smoked meat stew).

Green Menestra ingredients are:

– Dalmatian prosciutto

– smoked lamb

– bacon (home-smoked)

– sausages (home-made)

– potatoes

– kale

– cabbage (white,head)

– cabbage (green-raštanj)

– olive oil

– salt

-Various kinds of smoked pork can be used to prepare green menestra, and ingredients can be added or changed but this is the most common recipe.”


How do you make zelena menestra?

“First you want to wash the prosciutto (koljenica) and the smoked lamb in warm water and scrap if needed (smoked surface). Put in hand-hot water and cook. After a set time, add and cook the sausages and bacon. After a while you want to remove the softer pieces of cooked meat so they remain intact. While that’s going on wash the green cabbage (raštanj), and the washed kale and head of white cabbage are cut in thick pieces. Each vegetable is blanched for a short time, removed and drained. The potatoes are cleaned, washed, cut in four and cooked. When the stock boils, add olive oil, and then add all the blanched vegetables. Remove the cooked meat from the bones, and cut into serving pieces. Place the cut meat over the vegetables and cook all together for a short while on low heat. Remove from heat and keep covered for one half hour. Pile up the vegetables in a serving dish, encircle with all the meat. It should be served like this; the vegetables together with a portion of each variety of meat. Stock is poured over the dish prior to serving.”



In the original recipe, the vegetables do not have to be blanched, but then the vegetables might not have the nice green color of blanched vegetables. Also, some of the bitterness found in the vegetables disappears with blanching. The green menestra is usually prepared for a large group of people. If you never had it might taste different and unusual but it is very delicious. This specific delicacy has been in my family for generations and is a part of our culture. Nowhere in the world will you find something like this.





My informant’s grandmother is Russian, and what was a common food in her country became a family tradition for holidays and other get togethers once they moved to the United States and settled in New Orleans. Her memories associated with that side of the family always involve making pelmeni together, giving it a lot of sentimental value. It’s interesting how the tradition is passed down and each person has their own role that they fill, including the younger children being given something to do so that they also feel included.

“Whenever we’re all together, we always make pelmeni, a Russian dumpling. My great grandma would sit down and make everything by hand (dough, meat, etc) and would pound out hundreds of absolutely perfect and soft pelmeni, the most amazing you will have in your entire life. She had 5 kids, the oldest is my grandma and youngest is my Aunt Tanya (a 24 year difference between them). As a little kid, would go to grandma’s house and get little wrappers and sit around the table and make the dumplings. My grandma would give my little sister one tiny piece of dough and meat, and my sister would fix it and say “okay that’s good but I think you could do a little better” with same piece. She would play with same piece of dough and meat for hours while the older kids and adults made the actual pelmeni. My great grandma’s five kids each have several kids who have several kids, so I have tons of super close cousins all living in new Orleans. The torch was passed down from my grandma and my mom is now the honorary one in charge of making them, and it will probably be passed on to my sister later on, since she has the knack for it.”


Candy Family

The informant’s family had been a traditional Mexican family then they moved to America and expanded their culture here. His parents were born and raised in Mexico and learned many cultural forms of folklore with the informant who was born in America. He shared some of the folklore that he was told that stuck with him as he grew older and more wise and mature. 

The Candy Family


“My family, we have been making candy for 200 years. Good Mexican candy. No one knows where it started but my great great great grandpa is who we believe started it and passed it down though each generation. Making Mexican Candy is how my grandparents survived through the Mexican Revolution. My grandfather use to say, “people may be poor but they are always going to have a couple of cents for candy for their kids.” That was how my family survived being poor then it turned into this thing that our family does. My uncle who lives in Mexico, is know as the King of Candies in that area and he was able to put his kids through college. My dad brought it here to America and that is what he did for the longest time, and once he retired he decided to take up the candy trade. Over here in this are my dad is known as the Ducero or the Candy Man”.


Family traditions are interesting and it is interesting to hear about the different family traditions that families possess. I collected from this informant and he was more excited to tell me about the traditions that his family has started and continue to do apposed to the scary stories or the legends and myths he shared with me. Family history, traditions, culture, and backgrounds are important to us because they give us a sense of identity and I thought it was neat hearing about how the informants family survived.

Mexican Candy is extremely popular, it has the sweet taste of regular candy but with an extra tangy bitter taste to it. The taste of Mexican Candy is so much different than any type of food combinations we may be use to, giving a nice flavor burst in our mouths. We enjoy different things and Mexican Candy is definitely different and I think that is what makes it so popular.



Food: German Dumplings

German dumplings- In my informant this is a family dish reserved for special occasions, particularly Thanksgiving. He learned this recipe from his mother and he passed it down to his daughters. The recipe is formally written down for convenience but the recipe is taught by example. There is no designated person responsible for making the dumpling it is just whoever volunteers. He says that he feels that dumplings are unique to our heritage and family tradition

Ingredients:Potatoes, Water, Salt

How to make:

Chop potatoes into small cubes.

Blend them in a blender to mush

Place the mush in a cotton rage and squeeze the juice out

Mix with flour and salt

Roll into baseball sized spheres (though the size may vary depending on how big the cook’s hand are)

Boil for thirty minutes until they float on their own

Serve with Chicken gravy

Part of the tradition is making jokes about how dense they are. Here’s a few that the informant told me:

“You can use them for bowling”

“In the Civil War they used them as cannonballs”

“We used them in floods to keep the water away”

“We tried to use them as Christmas ornaments but they pulled the trees down”

“In way back in Austria instead of throwing the first pitch they throw the first dumpling”

I find it fascinating that cooking the dish appears to be the most important part of the tradition. Dumplings are reserved for special occasion, they are jokes that only get told around that time, and children are taught how to make the dish while it’s being prepared. It might be because making the dumplings is so labor intensive. When someone makes dumplings they spend hours in the kitchen peeling, chopping, and blending potatoes. Then there’s the manual labor involved trying to ring out the water. Maybe the jokes and teaching other people came about in order to make the process more fun.


Baba Ghanouj (my daddy is spoiled)

Baba Ghanouj is an Arabic dish that means “my daddy is spoiled.” It’s also known as Mutabbal in different regions, which means “it’s mixed up.” She said that it’s common for kids to make food for their parents after a certain age in her culture, and baba ghanouj was such a delicious and straightforward meal, kids would make it and say something like, “look, see how spoiled my dad is?” My informant ate it a lot growing up; she learned all of her recipes from her mom, because recipes were passed down in her family and her mother also inherited recipes from her stepdad’s mother, because he is Palestinian-Jordanian, so compared so Saudi food, theirs is a little bit lighter and distinct in her mother’s recipe knowledge.

This recipe, as well as many others, is significant to my informant, because since her family was poor growing up, her mother cooked cheap recipes like lentils stews (which are also used as a folk remedy for colds) hummus (which literally means “chickpea” in Arabic), and baba ghanouj with pita for her and her siblings all the time.

She also listed the cooking directions for me:

Burn eggplant skins on stove until eggplant juice is bubbling out, this is when they’re fully cooked
Let them cool & remove skin
Toss eggplants in bowl
Mash with fork
Place mashed eggplant in strainer over other bowl to remove excess water (save and use in soup or other recipe)
Return pulp to mixing bowl
Add smashed garlic (smash in wooden mortar)
Add salt and lemon juice
Mash together
Add tahini 1 tablespoon at a time
Mash together
Add Salt, Sumac & Olive Oil to taste
Mash together
Top with sprinkled sumac, chopped parsley, tomatoes and olive oil
*Do your best to get all of the skin off. Don’t use any hard parts of the eggplant (usually the little bump at the bottom)