USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘food’
Earth cycle
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese New Year

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions he shared with his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, which I think underscores the great importance of Chinese New Year for him; the fact that he travels to convene with his family while not being intimately close with them shows how much the tradition matters to him. The subject gave me a general overview of the traditions associated with Chines New Year but did not elaborate on specific details.

Main Piece

“For Chinese New Year’s it’s a huge deal for our family so we’ll have a meal together, but, like, it’s supposed to be a time where everyone goes home, so I try and do that as well. And, um, there’s a lot of Chinese cultural traditions associated with that: like the types of meals you’ll cook, how you eat them and like getting money from elders.”

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Material
Protection

Pre-Race Breakfast

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about some of his experiences at USC; particularly, I asked him if he knew of any strong traditions at USC (aside from the obvious ‘Fight On’!). The subject is a member of the USC Triathlon team and is very active and involved on the team. He described one of the strong pre-race traditions as having a regular breakfast before the grueling, hours-long race. Different teammates have different foods that they eat, but each individual on the team always eats the exact same thing before every race. Though I’ve categorized this as a tradition, this ritual also has elements of folk superstition as well—even though the athletes might not necessarily personally believe that eating the same pre-race food is lucky, it implies that it is a special ritual for them.

Main Piece

“Traditional foods that we’ll have for, like, breakfast, like, it’s not really routine as in like more traditional and meaningful. My food is pretty lame—it’s just oatmeal—but it’s sort of a comfort, like a pre-race food. And like everyone has that. Some people have like PB and J.”

Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Saint Patrick’s Day Food

Context & Analysis

My roommate (the subject) and I were sitting in our dorm room talking about how our families celebrated different holidays. The subject’s family is relatively large and extremely tight-knit, as reflected in the subjects emphasis on “we always always do [it]”. Most of her extended family live within an hour radius, and they value family gatherings. Though this is the case, the subject only celebrates St. Patrick’s day with her immediate family members. I thought it was interesting that the subject’s family celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, considering no one in their family is of Irish descent. Additionally, I thought it was interesting how the family doesn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s day in a traditional sense (i.e. celebrating by drinking or gathering with extended family); instead, I believe the incorporation of images from the Dr. Seuss story, “Green Eggs and Ham”, reflects the nurturing and supportive environment of the family and the encouragement of uniqueness.

 

Main Piece

“On Saint Patrick’s Day—my family and I—we always make green eggs and ham, um, it’s not really specific to St. Patrick’s day, it’s a Dr. Seuss book, but, um, we have everything green for that breakfast. This year my dad even made the butter green so the bagels look really wonky [laughs], that was a little gross, but, um, we always always always do that, and if it’s not breakfast or we can’t be together for breakfast we’re together for, um, dinner or something, and we’ll like dye our Indian food green [laughs].”


 

Folk speech
Proverbs

Chinoisms: Canning

Context & Analysis

The subject often mentions her mother’s “Chinoisms”, or unique sayings that her mother learned when growing up in Chino, CA. Below is the subject’s direct quote on the origin of her mother’s proverbs:

            “So my mom comes from Chino [California], and so she has a plethora of sayings that I didn’t even know what they meant earlier, I just said them until I got older and I was like “Oh! That actually makes sense!”

This proverb seems to suggest that the subject’s mother came from a background that was very conscious of food waste. The reference to the process of canning also implies that this saying could have originated before the refrigerator was the primary method of preserving food.

Main Piece

When you—when we’re eating food and we can’t finish it we say “Eat what you can, can what you can’t” so like you can’t eat what you can’t eat, so like you put it in a can if you can’t eat it, so like you’re saving it.”

Customs
Foodways
Material

Birthday Traditions

Context & Analysis

The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject’s mother was a stay-at-home mother; she also has four other siblings. The subject’s parents were both the children of Norwegian immigrants and emphasized the value of hard work and wise spending habits. The tradition of giving special foods or sweets as gifts is interesting because it reflects the family’s emphasis on not valuing material goods over kindness. The tradition of wrapping their birthday presents in comics is also a reflection of the family’s income level and how fiscally conservative they were in order to have enough money to send all of their kids to college.

Main Piece

“When we had birthdays we—my mom we didn’t have a lot of money first of all, so my mom would just get stuff that we could share ‘cus she wanted to teach us that we could share our gifts. So they would give us candy like licorice, cashews, Andes mints, or sometimes a box of sugar cereal—like cookie crunch or something like that—‘cus we usually didn’t get sugar cereal so we would get, like, candy or something like that that we could share and we could keep it in our room, but after dinner we would have to bring it out and share and the birthday person would bring it out and, um, it was always wrapped in the comic section from the Sunday paper which was always colorful ‘cus my mom didn’t want to spend money on wrapping paper that would be ripped off and thrown away [laughs] so it was always wrapped in the comics.”

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Haitian Halloween

Originally from Florida, this friend of mine grew up around a wide range of cultures and traditions. Raised by Haitian and Colombian immigrants, she speaks Haitian-Creole, French, English, and a little bit of Spanish. We share a love of food, and spend a lot of time talking about food and different recipes and whatnot, so when this project came down the pipeline, I knew I had to ask her about some unique, family recipes.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Um, so like Christmas dinners – my whole family would come into like – we would rotate which house we would go to. And then everyone was – not really assigned – but everyone knew what like, what dish to bring. Cause like, that’s the only thing you’re good for, so just bring that. I was desserts. My mom was – there’s this thing called Soufflé Maïs, so. It was so good. It’s like sweet corn and cheese. And then – it was soufflé because it’s cooked in the oven. And then my mom also makes – I call it egg salad because I like the eggs more than the potatoes. With spam and hotdogs or either like mayo or mustard. It’s so good, it’s so delicious. It’s not a Haitian dish, it’s just a dish. And then uh, ah, Diri Djon Djon. So it’s like black rice basically. It’s soooo good. It’s like rice – of rice, and then the type of mushroom you put in with the rice. Cause it blackens the rice. And then you put peas in it.”

She later told me that these same dishes would be served around Halloween, as her family created a tradition of having a Halloween dinner every year. The Diri Djon Djon was particularly popular then, as the black color lends itself perfectly to the spookiness of Halloween-time. It was cool to hear about how her family mixed American dishes with Haitian dishes, at times using each culture as a sort of springboard into unexplored food territory. Before I finished the interview, I made her promise to bring me some Souffle Maïs next time her mom made it.

Childhood
Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Musical
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Visiting Spirits and Dead Babies

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. She’d speak fondly of their unusual ceremonies and traditions, and how, by the end of it, her host families said she was so in tune with the culture, that if they closed their eyes, they couldn’t tell she was a foreigner.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

“In Japan, it’s a uh … a worshipping of dead ancestors day in August, Oh-Bon. They put out the dead people’s – the dead grandpa, the dead grandma, they put out their favorite food, and they put out chopsticks, and they will, you know, burn their favorite incense and they do all this so the dead can come and visit. They do this in their home. Every year, in August. It’s always in August. So it’s like Halloween, except it’s got a religious significance. It’s when the dead come back. They have festivals in town too, Oh-Bon-Matsi.

“It was a festival for dead children. And there was a river running through the town. Not dead babies but dead children. And, they… But. You know lanterns with lights in them? They’d float these lanterns with lights in them down the river and it was just gorgeous. Each lantern represented a dead child and they had this beautiful eerie music, just vocalizations for the occasion. Traditional Japanese instruments too. And incense burning. It was a very volcanic, sort of lunarscape in the far north. I can’t remember the name of the… the far north of Honshu. So you can look up ‘dead baby festival Honshu’ and figure it out.”

This is a very comforting view of the afterlife. It’s as if death is not the end, but merely a move to a different city. Growing up, she imparted this same sense of the dead on me. She’d always tell me not to fear death or the presence of ghosts, but to welcome them, as they were once in our shoes and only wanted to visit. The dead baby festival further illustrates their benevolent view of death. In America, when a child dies, we mourn and often times never speak of it. In Japan, it is tragic, however they still take time to celebrate their lives. No matter if that life was only for an instant.

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Colombianizing the Fourth of July

Originally from Florida, this friend of mine grew up around a wide range of cultures and traditions. Raised by Haitian and Colombian immigrants, she speaks Haitian-Creole, French, English, and a little bit of Spanish. We share a love of food, and spend a lot of time talking about food and different recipes and whatnot, so when this project came down the pipeline, I knew I had to ask her about some unique, family recipes.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“And then Fourth of July dinner – that’s the day my dad really likes to make the sliders with like the cheese inside. Yeah, and then he puts like pineapple jam and like pink sauce – it’s so good. He’s Columbian, so he likes to … Colombinize, Colombianize food.”

This is a perfect example of cultural fusion. To take the most American food there is on the most American holiday there is and ‘Colombianize’ the two is literally what America is all about. We come from all over the world to share our cultures and make something new and beautiful and wholly original.

Foodways
Material

Řízek

Interviewer: You said you had a family recipe?

Informant: So you take a piece of meat, usually it would be turkey or pork, but it could be whatever honestly. A lot of people use chicken. You first flatten it out by hitting it, so you basically make it into a flat piece of meat. Then, you have three key steps.

First, You have flour. You put the meat into the flour and cover it all with flour. Then, there’s egg, beaten, you cover the whole thing in the beaten egg. The final step, you cover the whole thing in breadcrumbs, that you would traditionally make yourself from old leftover bread. Then, you fry the whole thing, flip it in the middle of the frying process.

Interviewer: Then serve?

Informant: Yeah, then serve. Usually you would serve it with mashed potato and a pickle.

Interviewer: You said your family modified the recipe a bit?

Informant: Every family does it a little different. What changes usually is the type of meat people use, whether or not they add other stuff to the mix. Maybe herbs or something, each family uses different things. Furthermore, you could not use meat at all. A lot of people just use different vegetables and make this recipe with them, which strays further away from the original recipe but, it’s still a variation that’s common. Personally, me and my family use turkey. We think it gets the most tender during the frying. Also, we add a few small pieces of rosemary into the batter , not a lot, but enough for it to be noticed.

Context: My informant is a nineteen year old Czech national attending school in the United States. He’s lived in Prague for most of his life, and Czech is his first language. The interview was conducted face-to-face in a college dorm room.

Background: My informant was taught how to make Řízek by his grandmother while back home in Prague. He likes Řízek because Czech cuisine is a fusion of German, Austrian, and Slavic cuisines, and as a result doesn’t have many uniquely Czech dishes. My informant told me that, because of this, Řízek is considered a sort of “national dish” in the Czech Republic, and is thus close to his heart. My informant himself has made it many times, and considers Řízek one of his favorite dishes.

Analysis: Usually, recipes don’t strike one as the material for folklore, but Řízek is an excellent example of the malleability and word-to-mouth nature of cuisine. The dish apparently had origins stemming from Italian “chicken parmesan”, but used flour and breadcrumbs to make up for a lack of flour. From there, ingenuity led to it further being changed, to the degree that the meat, herbs, and even recipe of the batter itself are subject to interpretation. Řízek is a dish of variation, everyone makes it differently. I also found it interesting that the dish was considered uniquely Czech. Considering that the Czech Republic is still a young country, it appears to be a valuable source of national pride. One might note the use of folklore in this instance to reinforce a nationalistic attitude.

 

Foodways
Legends
Narrative

The Origin of the Řízek

Interviewer: So you just gave me a recipe for… I’m not going to try and pronounce it. You said you also have a story about its origin?

Informant: Yeah, during some battle of the Austrian-Hungarian army in Italy, the general that led his battalion there from the army saw the locals making some sort of food where they would take a piece of meat and cover it in parmesan and fry it. He thought, “well how could I recreate this for our emperor when we don’t have parmesan back home?” So, when he got back from the war, he had the chef at the royal palace recreate the recipe and that’s how this recipe came about

Interviewer: I assume the general was Czech?

Informant: Yeah, yeah.

Context: My informant is a nineteen year old Czech national attending school in the United States. He’s lived in Prague for most of his life, and Czech is his first language. The interview was conducted face-to-face in a college dorm room.

Background: My informant probably learned this story from his grandmother. He remembers it because Řízek is a traditional food that every Czech person knows how to make. He places great importance on this story because it disputes the Austrian and Hungarian claims to Řízek, a food widely considered by the Czech population as their national dish.

Analysis: I personally find this legend very believable. Řízek the food closely resembles chicken parmesan from Italy, and the story itself is quite believable from a historical sense. The Austro-Hungarian army was in Italy, and a general would conceivably had seen the traditional Italian dish prepared. From a more objective perspective, this story legend is also interesting because, despite being a Czech legend, it refers to a time period before the Czech people had an actual sovereign nation, but is still used to reinforce the claims of the Czech people on Řízek.

[geolocation]