USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘food’

Mao Zedong’s Birthday

  1. The main piece: Mao Zedong’s Birthday

“Okay, so Mao Zedong’s birthday is December 26th, and on that day, we eat long noodles. It’s because if you cut the noodle, you’re cutting his life. Which doesn’t really make sense because he’s dead.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

“Mao Zedong is the communist leader of China, and he’s very important because he led the communist revolution and changed China forever, for both better and worse.

“Oh yeah, everyone loves Mao. Mao’s on all the money. It’s either Mao or flowers. It’s the day after Christmas and the day before my mom’s birthday.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This tradition of eating long noodles on Mao Zedong’s birthday symbolizes a long life for him, and, accordingly, for the communist nation and ideals that he created. I think that this is a key example of the usage of folklore to build nationalistic sentiment and to increase feelings of personal connection and importance to central sociopolitical powers. Even though the informant is from a later generation from the one in which Mao Zedong was active and alive, the fact that this tradition continues years after, even after his death, shows the lasting impact of using folklore as a nation-state building device.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is an 18-year old female of Japanese and Chinese descent. She grew up in Oahu, Hawaii in a family that had moved there five generations earlier, and explained how none of her parents or grandparents knew any Japanese or Chinese. Celebrating Japanese and Chinese cultural traditions helped her feel more connected to her heritage growing up, because she felt that her parents and grandparents were very disconnected from the culture other than with these traditions.


Panes con Pollo y Rellenos de Papa

Main Piece:


The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (KA) and I (ZM).


KA: For Christmas, um, my mom tends to make panes con pollo and for like my birthday because I ask for it, she makes rellenos de papa.

ZM: What is panes con…

KA: Panes con pollo? So we have what we call… bolío, or frances. Mexican people call it… um… I believe its bolio and we call it frances. I may be mixing it up though. It’s the exact same thing. It’s bread. And do you know what a torta is?

ZM: Uhhhh…

KA: Okay so a torta is kinda like a sandwich, but in a specific type of bread and Mexican people tend to make it. So, it’s a Mexican dish. So we use the same bread and we put like chicken in it. And there’s like this special sauce that you like put… I guess it would, it’s like tomato. Is it tomato sauce? Yeah. You have to… I don’t know how to make it. And then you put like vegetables in it and that’s how you would eat it. Kind of like a…

ZM: Like a sandwich?

KA: Kind of like a… Yeah, like a sandwich and then… But, like a moist sandwich because you put the sauce…And then rellenos de papa… It’s potato cut in half. So, you’ll peel the potato and then you’ll cut it in half, and you’ll put cheese in it, and then you would, um… you whisk egg and you dip it in the egg, and then you kinda like… It’s not fried, but it’s, it’s cooked like that. And then you would make like tomato sauce and you would put that on top and you can put cheese on top, if you want.


Context: This performance was recorded from a conversation with KA about her heritage and Salvadoran culture.


Background: KA was born in El Salvador but raised in South Central Los Angeles. She is a junior at the University of Southern California.


Analysis:I was unfamiliar with both dishes discussed. One of them seemed pretty much just like a sandwich, but the stuffed potato was the most interesting to me. I haven’t heard of any similar dishes.




Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (EC) and I (ZM).

EC: Stuff that we would do is we would eat goulash on holidays. Which is like a German stew.

ZM: What’s in it?

EC: Umm… It’s just basically a stew I guess. Like vegetables and some form of meat. I feel like…it was probably just like beef or something normal like that, but like it has a German name so…

ZM: Who makes the goulash?

EC: My aunt does. So… yeah.

ZM: She’s the one that was in the military?

EC: Umm my uncle by marriage was in the military and then she is my like blood aunt. My dad’s sister.


Context: This is from a conversation I started with EC about her German traditions.


Background: EC is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. She is of German descent. She was born and raised in Sacramento. Most of her German traditions were not passed down, rather influenced by aunt’s family who lived on a military base in Germany.


Analysis:I thought it was interesting that even though EC is “significantly German heritage-wise,” the only German traditions practiced by her family are not due to their lineage rather a modern-day influence.




Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese New Year

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (HH) and I (ZM).

ZM: What do you do for Chinese New Year?

HH: Umm… In terms of when I’m here in college or when I’m back home?

ZM: When you’re at home.

HH: When I’m home um my parents would clean the house, like um frantically because we need to be clean for the new year and we also can’t wash our hair on the first day of New Year’s too because if you wash your hair, you’re washing your luck. Yeah. Very interesting. Um, it’s nothing really special, it’s just being with your family, um… The whole day you um… Do you know what Yum ta is?

ZM: No.

HH: Like going out for morning tea, like with dim sum…

ZM: I’ve never heard of that. I don’t, I don’t know.

HH: Okay um so uh we do yum ta, which is like going to um a local, um a nearby restaurant around our house and inviting all of our relatives and…

ZM: Is that New Year’s day?

HH: New Year’s day yeah. Um, and all of our relatives will come and we exchange um red envelopes with money inside and um its umm… If you’re married you give, you give a red envelope to the kids so…As long as I’m not married I can still receive them.

ZM: But you don’t give any?

HH: I don’t give any until I’m married. Yeah it’s a perk. (laughs) Uhhh yeah and then um on the day, or like… Chinese New Year goes for like a few days like up to fifteen days. It depends on how long you want to celebrate it. Umm, like the first few days um either relatives and friends come to your house or you can go to their house and you bring gifts like oranges or like crackers or whatever to uh to bring to their house and you get to exchange gifts, and you guys talk and drink tea and all of that.

ZM: Do the oranges have any significance? Like why oranges or…?

HH: Umm… I feel like they do, but I don’t know (laughs) Uh that’s pretty much what we do. And um we eat chicken. It’s for a reason, but I don’t know why also. But, chicken is like a good kind of meat like… Um you always want um, like for dinner you always, for like the first few days, my brother’s in-laws and us we all eat together as a big family. Like a sign of um, a union. Um, so we have like up to ten dishes for like not even ten people. Like, um it’s very lavish dinner with like chicken, umm duck, fish, all kind of veggies, noodles, noodles really important as a sign of longetivity in life. So, yeah.


Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.

Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.


Analysis: I thought it was interesting that you only begin giving red envelopes when you are married. Even if you are an adult and you are not married, you do not have to give the envelopes, you only receive them. But, if they’re married and they don’t have kids to give envelopes to they exchange red envelopes between husband and wife. While marriage and adulthood would’ve previously been equivalent, in today’s society they can be very separate, and this changes the tradition a little bit.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

August 15th

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (HH) and I (ZM).

ZM: Are there any other large Chinese holidays that you don’t really see celebrated…?

HH: Um we also celebrate, um August 15th. That’s Lunar New Year Calendar. Um Lunar Year Calendar. Um it’s to celebrate… I…um it’s the, the Mooncake Festival. That’s the English name.

ZM: Mooncake?

HH: Yeah. We eat mooncakes during that time to signify the round shape of the moon, that’s when it’s supposed to be the roundest, that month. And um… There’s a story behind it, you have to um google it. It’s about um these ancient, this ancient couple. I learned it in my Chinese class when…in high school, but I forget. It’s a love story. And we just watch the moon and eat mooncakes um and we um we go to relative’s house to exchange um boxes of mooncakes. Yeah.

ZM: And the mooncakes are like the store mooncakes, right? Or are they like, a different…?

HH: Store mooncakes yeah. Rarely people uh make it themselves. Um yeah they come in squares and then there’s like eggs…um egg yolks inside. They’re pretty good. You should try them.

ZM: But not like…They’re not like the Hostess like moon pies…Are they different? What are the moon… Like can you… What are the mooncakes? Are they the like chocolate covered like…

HH: NOoOo they’re not chocolate. They’re not that. (laughs) They’re a lot more traditional you’re gonna have to search it up. Um it comes in squares and there’s egg yolks inside and then like…I don’t know how to describe it…

ZM: Is it sweet?

HH: Umm… Yeah. It depends on what flavor it is. It comes in different flavors.

ZM: Okay, what are the different flavors?

HH: Like, red beans, and some other nuts. (laughs) I don’t… A lot of these things are meant to be said in Chinese.


Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.


Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.


Analysis: This holiday in particular was difficult for HH to explain because it is often discussed in Chinese and the translation is not always clear. I think my confusion with the American Moon Pies also confused me. If I had never heard of a Moon Pie there would have been less confusion about the Chinese mooncakes.




Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (KM) and I (ZM).

ZM: So, for Zozobra, is there food?

KM: Yes. There’s a lot of food.

ZM: Are there any like special dishes that are like…You bring these out FOR Zozobra?

KM: Well, there’s not… There’s like… You can get them at restaurants too, but it’s like specifically at Zozobra, you can get… Do you know what sopapillas are?

ZM: I’ve heard of them, but like… You would have to describe it again. Like I don’t…

KM: It’s like…It’s kind of like a puff pastry type thing that you fry and it’s like a really like pillowy, like…treat. And you put like honey on it.

ZM: But, there’s nothing inside?

KM: There’s nothing inside. It’s just like fluffy inside and then you pull it apart and like put honey in it. So, it’s kinda just like a fried tortilla… But, like better.

ZM: Oh wait, so, but you said it’s fluffy?

KM: But it’s… So, yeah so if it’s like… When it’s not cooked it’s like a tortilla, but then when you fry it, it like puffs up.

ZM: Like a biscuit or something?

KM: Yeah, kinda… I’ll show you a picture. (laughs)

ZM: Is it corn or wheat or…?

KM: I have no idea. That’s a good…great question. A lot of people… Like, I’ve never had a churro…

ZM: Really?

KM: Which is crazy. But, like sopapillas are kind of like our churros.


Context: This is from a conversation with KM about her New Mexican culture. Zozobra is a New Mexican festival composed of multiple fiestas.


Background: KM is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. KM was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Analysis: From the description given by KM, sopapillas seem kind of like beignets, but also kind of like biscuits. Either way, they sound delicious.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

12 Grapes on New Years

I interviewed my informant, Brianna, in the study lounge of the band office. When I prompted her for her knowledge of folklore/folk tradition/folk beliefs, she was reminded of her family’s New Years tradition.


Brianna: “We eat twelve grapes each — one for every month of the year. And when you eat each grape you make a wish. Oh, and you eat your grapes at midnight. It brings good luck for the year.”


Me: “And how do you know this tradition?”


Brianna: “I learned it from my grandmother. She passed the tradition down.”


Me: “And what does it mean to you?”


Brianna: “It’s just a nice superstition. Start of the year with something fresh.”



Like my informant shared, this is a good example of a superstition or folk belief. It is also similar to a few other New Years traditions of eating special dishes with family members. My informant did not share why grapes were particularly magical, so it’s plausible that her family does this ritual out of tradition to feel a family connection.  


Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays


I interviewed my informant, Vanessa, in the band office lounge. As I prompted her to think of the folklore/folk traditions/folk beliefs she knew, she was reminded of a New Year’s celebration in her family:


Vanessa: “We have this rice pudding we eat on New Year. It’s called ‘anoushabour.’”


Me: “What is anoushabour? What’s in it?”


Vanessa: “It’s, like, a rice pudding with shredded almonds… and grapes and walnuts. And you put cinnamon on top so it spells out the year.”


Me: “You said it’s eaten on New Year?”


Vanessa: “Yes. It’s eaten at midnight. Everyone gets a bowl and eats together. And it’s bad luck to eat it after the week of New Year.”


Me: “Is this tradition accompanied by any other rituals?”


Vanessa: “Well, we give kisses — like on the cheek — right at midnight before eating the pudding.”


Me: “What does it mean to you? What’s the significance of this tradition?”


Vanessa: “It’s, like — you are gathering with family, and celebrating another year that you are blessed with. It gives good luck for the year.”


My informant also told me that her great grandmother taught her the tradition, and that her grandmother carries on the tradition today. The eating of the anoushabour happens in someone’s home where the family has been invited to celebrate.


The eating of the anoushabour is similar to many other New Year’s traditions that are meant to bring good luck and unite the family in good health. I am also aware of other families (of varying heritage) that eat special dishes on New Year because it brings good luck. It’s a fun tradition that carries on Armenian folk belief.





This is a Japanese story called Momotaro which translates to “peach” or “first son”. One day a grandma and grandpa find a giant peach in the river, they take the peach home to have for dinner. When they cut open the peach a baby boy comes out of it and they are overjoyed because they have always wanted children. The boy grows up to be very strong and one day goes off to fight the demonic ogres. On his way he meets a talking dog, a monkey and a bird who decide to help him fight the ogres. They all go to the island where the ogres reside and attack the ogres. When they defeat the demonic ogres they return home as heros and with many treasures taken from the ogres.

Background & Context:

This story was told to me in a casual interview style in the evening on a weekday. It was told to me by a Japanese American USC freshman, who has grown up in Honolulu, Hawaii but has visited Japan several times. This student has grown up listening to these stories as bedtime stories or just for entertainment. These stories were told by her parent or grandparents who reside with her family.

Final Thoughts:

My thoughts on this story is that it seems to be a popular piece of folklore as I have heard different variations of this story before. The moral of this story is what goes around come around because the old couple happily raised this little boy who eventually helped them in turn by defeating the demonic ogres and bringing back riches.


Another place you can find this piece of folklore is in the children’s book Peach Boy: A Japanese Legend by Gail Sakurai.


The Rolling Rice Ball


This story is a Japanese folktale titled The Rolling Rice ball. The story begins with man who is chopping bamboo in the mountains, he stops for lunch and pulls out his rice ball to eat. He drops his rice ball and he follows it as it rolls into a hole, inside the hole he hears mice celebrating the rice ball. To thank the man for rice ball the mice gives him a choice of a small box or a big box, the man chooses the small box. Inside the small box he finds treasures and distributes it with his family and neighbors. His next door neighbor hears the man’s story and becomes  jealous so he decides to do the same thing. However when he reaches the mouse hole he acts as a cat to scare the mice and to try and steal all their treasures. However the mice get angry and attack the neighbor and kill him.

Background & Context:

This story was told to me in a casual interview like setting in the evening on a weekday. It was told to me by a Japanese American USC freshman, who has grown up in Honolulu, Hawaii but has visited Japan several times. The student grew up listening to these stories either as bedtime stories or just for fun. These stories were told by her parent or grandparents who reside with her family. Something she also explained was that she did not remember the original Japanese translation for the title of the story.

Final Thoughts:

 My thoughts on this story is that it holds an important message. The message being not to steal, be greedy and to share with others. I believe these are the messages that the story is trying to convey because the man who was kind and shared his rice ball with the mice was rewarded. While the neighbor who was greedy and plotted to steal from the mice was punished and killed at the end of the story.