Tag Archives: food

Bah-tzan Legend

Piece
During celebrations, we eat bah-tzans. The reason we eat bah-tzan is because there was a story. There were two friends, they were very good friends. Normally you stay in your town, but these two friends were in different towns, so they said they would meet by the river. One would wait by the river and the other would come. The story is that the friends are so loyal that even when there was a flood, he waited. But he died in the flood but the friend want to remember him so he made so many bah-tzan sand threw them in the river so that the fish would eat them instead of his friends’ body.
Context
A bah-tzan is sticky, glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. It is more commonly called zongi in China. There are many different types of this type of dumpling depending on the region as different foods are mixed in with the rice such as meats, egg, peanuts, and mushrooms.
The informant learned of this story from their mother during a celebration in her childhood. The story was interesting, however when asked about how they felt about it, the informant responded with, “wasteful” and while an entertaining story, not significant to their personal cultural identity.
The family was eating a different kind of bah-tzan than normal and so one member asked about the different types and if there was a story behind bah-tzans.
My Thoughts
My initials thoughts were in line with my informant, it seems wasteful to throw so much food into the river. And while I admire the friends’ loyalty to one another, I feel that one must have a certain amount of discernment in dangerous weather and trust that the friendship can stand a missed meeting. This story says a lot about Taiwanese culture which heavily values loyalty, family, and friendships. Self-sacrifice for others is highly praised in Taiwanese culture, thus this story has appeal to them. Furthermore, the story shares the importance of the body when honoring a deceased individual.

Japanese New Year Feast

Piece
Every year, the informant cooks a Japanese New Year Feast for their family. It is an all-day affair where hundreds of guests, friends and family, can come and go to eat lunch and/or dinner and socialize with those present. The informant makes the following traditional dishes:
Ozoni (rice cake in vegetable soup) is the first thing eaten on New Year’s day and wishes good health and prosperity to the family
Gomame (dried sardines) to bless attendees with health
Kombu Maki (rolled kelp) to bring happiness and joy
Kuri Kinton (sweet potato or lima bean paste with chestnuts) to bring wealth
Renkon (lotus root) as a symbol for the wheel of life
Daikon (white raddish), carrots, and other root vegetables to promote deep family roots
Ise ebi (lobster) for the festive red color and to symbolize old age and longevity; note: the lobster must be served whole and cannot be broken lest the spine of the old ones break
Context
The informant learned to cook and serve these dishes from their mother and has trained their daughter in how to give the feast. To the informant, The New Year is the most important holiday of the year as it is when the entire extended family comes together. Food preparations begin weeks before the event and there are leftovers for days after as a result of the concern that the table could run out of food.
My Thoughts
Some of the foods look similar to an object such as the lotus root looking like a wheel or the lobster’s spine curving like the spine of an older person while others symbolize good things for their cost or how the word for the food sounds similar to the word for whatever it symbolizes. The feast was a time to celebrate and welcome the New Year and do things that would hopefully ensure prosperity. It was a time where social barriers could be crossed and family meant everything. The extensive amount of time taken to prepare the foods probably shows the care that the family and friends have for one another and the desire to serve each other. The pursuit of good fortune in the food symbolism is an acknowledgement of the lack of control that they have over many aspects of their lives, particularly for the peasants who depended so much on the rulers of their areas.

Traditional Armenian Dish

Պասուց Տոլմա

Transliteration: Pasus Tolma

Translation: Lent’s Stuffed cabbage

Description: Pasus Tolma is a popular Armenian dish which is a lent classic meal that most Armenians eat not only for lent but also year round. Pasus Tolma can be see seen on the table’s of any Armenian gatherings such as birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and other gatherings, but it is the most popular dish before Easter when people are on the lent diet. Pasus Tolma is cabbage leaves stuffed with beans, lentil’s, garbanzo beans and bulgar. Best served cold.

Background Information: Pasus Tolma is a popular traditional Armenian dish prepared primarily for lent but can be served at many different gatherings.

Context: The informant told me about this dish during a video call in which I asked her to tell me about an Armenian traditional recipe that she knows about.

Thoughts: As an Armenian I am also aware of this dish and have participated in its consumption during lent. The name Pasus Tolma literally translates as a Lent version of Tolma which is a popular Armenian dish that is comprised of cabbage leaves stuffed with meat. I understand why this dish would be used in lent as Georgian Christians do not eat meat during lent so they had to make a vegetarian version of the popular dish Tolma. This is a folk religious tradition/recipe because it is not an official meal for lent. It was made by the people as a way to find something to eat during lent. It is also folklore because of its multiplicity and variation. Some versions use rice instead of bulgar and other iterations have different legumes instead of garbanzo beans and lentils.

Russian Wedding Tradition

каравай

Transliteration: Korovai

Description: Korovai is a large bread that is baked for the wedding day. It takes a few days to prepare it. The bread is always round, decorated, and supposed to represent the God of the sun. The bread is brought out on a towel or a blanket that has symbols of love and happiness. On the day of the wedding, the couple need to take a bite out of the bread. It is supposed to provide a blessing to the couple. After the couple takes a bite, then the rest of the guests can have a bite.

Background Information: Common Russian wedding ritual. Not necessarily practiced by Russians living outside of Russia. Seen as an older ritual that does not necessarily need to be practiced in the present day.

Context: The informant told me about this tradition through a video call. She told me this after I asked her about Russian wedding rituals/traditions.

Thoughts: I think that the wedding tradition of baking and eating Korovai is done to make sure the couple’s marriage is prosperous and fruitful. I believe that the laborious preparation of the bread is to show the immense amount of work that it takes to ensure a successful marriage which includes having children, sustaining a household and finding happiness. Possibly shows that Russians value a prosperous marriage and want to make sure that it is.

Armenian Tradition on Saint Sarkis Day

Explanation: Saint Sarkis day is celebrated on January 11th every year. St. Sarkis is believed to be the warrior patron of love and youth. There is a tradition where it is believed that an Armenian girl who is single should eat a homemade extremely salty cookie on St. Sarkis day. The saltiness of the cookie will make them very thirsty but they should not drink water so that when they go to sleep thirsty they will have a dream where a man will bring them water. In the dream, the guy who gives her a glass of water will be her future husband.

Background Information: Armenian tradition practiced on St. Sarkis day by young Armenian girls who want to see who their husbands will be.

Context: The informant told me about this proverb during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about an Armenian tradition that she knows about.

Thoughts: I believe that as the patron saint of love and youth, a good way to celebrate St. Sarkis Day is to incorporate love and youth into the holiday. I think this tradition also shows the importance and pressure that is put on Armenian women to be marriage minded. It could have roots in misogyny as there is no salty cookie for males to eat and see their future wives. I believe that this is done because women have always been expected to be submissive, strive for marriage and children, and to put other aspirations to the side. I think that this idea has changed a lot in the Armenian community, but traditions like these give a glimpse into what society was like a long time ago.

The Day of the Dead

Main piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between informant and interviewer. 

Informant: The day of the dead for example. This one is very popular throughout Latin America too. And it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor… everyone celebrates November 1st and 2nd. There are festivals in the streets and everyone buys those skulls that your mom has as decorations. Some make them and paint them. And they’re very colorful. You can paint them any color you want and add a bunch to it so it looks nice. 

Interviewer: Do you make them or buy them? Or how do you celebrate it? 

Informant: We set pictures of them. We prepare their favorite foods and drinks. We get openwork paper and we adorn with sugar skulls and tequila… every family sets at least one bottle. Umm. bread too. Candles and wine and there. And that’s set before the 1st. And it’s there the 1st and 2nd. And on the 3rd day you don’t throw it.

Interviewer: Do you eat it? 

Informant: Yes, it basically means that your dead are sharing their food with you so you can eat. 

Background: My grandpa was my informant. He was born and raised in Guadalajara and did not travel to the U.S. until a couple years ago. He has lived in Mexico for about 70 years so he knows of a lot of Mexican traditions. He has been celebrating this one every year from as far as he can remember and that it’s a special day for him because he is able to feel the presence of his dead. 

Context: This conversation was held on the patio. I was playing basketball and I came to sit down and rest and my grandpa had been watching me and I asked him about a big tradition he does. I’m really close to him so it was easy to ask him for more information about a tradition or festival he celebrates for part of my collection project. He was very happy to help. 

Thoughts: I personally haven’t celebrated it but I know it’s a big tradition across hispanic cultures. Even in my family my grandparents are big on it and my mom to a lesser extent too. They make very good food and drinks and have a very nice and colorful set up these two days. They never talk to the spirits but it’s a way for them to remember their dead and welcome them for a family dinner again. Some people might think it’s spooky but it’s not. The dead are not mourned but actually celebrated. 

Day of the Dead Ritual

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my younger sister. She told me this from one of her conversations with a friend at school.

Background: The informant was relating to the annual Day of the Dead rituals her Mexican friend and her family performed. Although they didn’t necessarily believe in everything, such as the dead actually eating food, they still performed the ritual without fail.

Main piece: 

Friend: Every year on Día de Muertos, my family makes pan de muerto, which is just normal bread with decorations like bones on it. We always make a lot of it, and although we eat most of it, we always leave some for my grandmother also.

Informant: Did she –

Friend: Yeah, she’s dead. So we usually just leave it out overnight along with the things that she liked.

Informant: Like what?

Friend: Oh… things like some stuff she knitted, I guess? That’s all I really remember right now.

Informant: What do you do with the bread the next day?

Friend: We just throw it out. But we eat the rest of it ourselves though. I don’t think my parents really believe in the whole thing, but we always leave it out anyways.

Analysis: Looking at how the friend describes pan de muerto as “normal” bread, I’m led to believe she may be from Oaxaca as it seems that fits the description for the area. It’s interesting to see that she and her family appear to be participating in this festival perhaps due to a mix of social festivities and nostalgia rather than due to actual belief that it is the Day of the Dead.

Dayenu, a Passover song

The following is transcribed from text exchanges between my informant, A, and myself, M.

Main piece:

A: On passover, there’s this tradition that Persian Jews have, and somehow only us. There’s this song called Dayenu that you sing as part of the Passover seder, which is like what we call the food and tradition we do.

A: Passover is about Jews being slaves in Egypt and Passover is specifically about when the Jews were freed, and that’s basically the whole thing. But this song is part of it, and its about thanking God for each specific thing He did in the story. And for Persian Jews, while we sing the song we hit each other with green onions because they symbolize the whips from slavemasters. We get pretty agressive, and it looks really stupid.

M: Why just Persians?

A: I don’t know how it started or why it never made it to any other ethnic Jewish group. I didn’t even know it was a Persian thing until like late into my life, so when I talked about it with my white friends, they thought I was insane.

She later texted me that her parents told her Italian Jews do it as well.

Background: My friend is Persian Jewish from Beverly Hills. Judaism has played a large role in her life, having gone to Jewish high school and been an active participant in the community since birth.

Context: She and I were texting casually, and I asked if I could collect from her.

Thoughts:

Food is a way of communicating, and from what I have learned about the Passover ritual is that it is a very active one, almost like a play. Also that food is heavily involved. I am left curious as to why Persians specifically do this part.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes (Italian)

The following was told to me by my informant.

Main piece:

“It’s called the feast of the seven fishes, it is an Italian tradition. A lot of my friends do it too, but there’s a lot of variations depending on what region you are from. Every Christmas Eve, we did this and it was led by my grandparents at their house in Pittsburgh. Basically, it’s a big fish feast, and you had to have 7 kinds of fishes. Usually there were mainstays, like calamari, bakala…it could switch around a bit, but there were always seven fish. We always made a special fried bread with mashed potatoes in it that we called rispelli. Then, the tradition came to our house, and I was more involved then, going to the fish market and helping cook starting in the morning. The entire family helped out, and we would have fun, and drink wine, then enjoy the dinner feast. Nobody’s sure what it symbolizes– Seven sacraments maybe? It’s an important number in the Bible. My dad’s family did it when he was little too. It felt special because we only ate that food at Christmas Eve, and when we were kids, we didn’t really like it. But by the time you grow up, you really like it and enjoy the food.”

Context: This was told to me when my informant came over to my house.

Background: My informant is Italian-American from the East Coast. She is from a big, close extended family who enjoys their Italian heritage. Her grandparents were immigrants from Calabria.

Thoughts:
I participate in this every year, too. I love this tradition, and I find it very true that the food really does not taste good but because you associate it with happy memories you learn to love it.

Not Eating the Last Bit: An American Superstition

Background: The informant is my mother, who is a third generation Irish immigrant from Bridgeport, CT. She learned the superstition from her mother and has vehemently abided by it ever since. 

Context: The following piece was collected in a casual, in-person interview at the informant’s home in San Diego, CA. 

Piece: 

Informant: “I can’t eat or drink the last bit or piece of anything.”

Collector: “Why?”

Informant: “Because then I will become an old maid.”

Collector: “I don’t know why that’s just the way it is you know that’s what my mother taught me.”

Analysis: I grew up hearing my mother refuse the last drop of wine or last piece of food at nearly every meal. I believe that it is entrenched in American gender roles and concepts of femininity from the mid 20th century. The words “old maid” imply that the practice is gendered, although it is worth noting I have witnessed my uncle practice this superstition. I interpret the piece as perpetuating the idea that women should be selfless and thus offer the last of their food to others and not consume it themselves. Throughout my life, I questioned my mother’s practice and particularly what was implied by the words “old maid.” Continuously, my mother interpreted becoming an “old maid” as dying old and alone. This is particularly dire to her as she grew up in 1960s America, a time in which a woman’s self-worth was still largely tied to her relationship status and the wealth of her husband. Although this concept has been largely contested in American culture today, my mother and her mother who value family and marriage considered being old and alone a fate worse than death, the ultimate symbol of being unwanted and unloved. By controlling the tangible, they attempt to control and quell these fears.