USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘food’
Customs
Foodways
Material

Bandeja Paisa

The informant, S, is 18 years old and from Miami, Florida, but he grew up in Cartagena, Colombia (Northern, Columbia). His mom is from Barranquilla, Columbia (Northern Columbia), while his dad is from Cartagena, Columbia. He considers himself a Latino Columbian and is majoring in Civil Engineering Building Science.

S- “Ok so my Colombian culture has a lot of folklore, um primarily food. One of the main dishes is called Bandeja Paisa. It’s uh in my opinion a very good dish.”

What does it consist of?

S-“It consists of usually white rice and egg on top the rice. You have your steak and then you have an arepa, which is like a flour and corn thing. And usually we have chicharron (pork rinds) on the side and the dish usually also has patacones, which are also known as tostones (fried plantain slices)”

When do usually eat it?

S-“Anytime usually when you go out to a Columbian restaurant this is your go to dish”

Does your family make it?

S-“Yea my mom makes it all the time, but we go out to eat it from like the different Columbian restaurants from Miami, where I’m from”

Would you say each family has its own different recipe or it’s the same everywhere you go?

S-“Just like any recipe it can be tweaked here and there. Like for example the steak can be either carne asada (steak) or carne molida (ground beef), so it’s two different kinds of steak. And some people don’t like having the arepa on the side. It depends on the time when you have it. For example if you’re having it for brunch then you’d have the arepa and if you’re eating it more towards dinner then you wouldn’t have the arepa present on the dish”

Are there any other sides that go with it?

S-“Um yea I actually forgot to mention they usually have frijoles (beans) or lentejas (lentil) on the side so you can put it with your rice”

Analysis- The dish consists of many of the local and plentiful types of food that are present in the area and in the country. It is also evidence of the impact different cultures have left there over time, mainly from the conquistadors from Spain, France, and Britain. The name also is part of the country as it consists of the area it originated from (Paisa) and its appearance of a bandeja (large pot or bowl). While there may not be one official authentic bandeja paisa, due to the fact that it can be tweaked and no one can for sure know which is the original recipe, the people don’t seem to mind this, for they even go out their ways to try it at different places.bandeja Paisa

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

French Kiss Cookies

Me and my grandma, my Gigi, we would always make cookies together, these like these French cookies, they’re called like, Bisi or something, it’s “kisses,” like bissou, I think the plural is Bisi (Bises?), I can’t remember but you can just look it up. But we would always make them and she invented these cookies which she called them French kisses, and they’re basically like buttery as fuck, even though cause like French people love butter, like even though a lot of the stuff like in their pastries they love butter, in their croissants and stuff. And then we have this meal that we have every Christmas, I’m not good at this cause I don’t speak French, it’s called…oh it’s just Chicken Kiev, but you just change the chicken, whatever chicken is in French. But it’s so good, it has like cheese inside, you stuff the chicken, and there’s asparagus and different vegetables, and then you kinda pair it with like Ratatoui or stuff like that, so it’s kind of weird, but it’s good. And my great grandma has the recipe, she just died. It’s a really old family recipe. We have it every Christmas. Basically a lot of like, for us, how we’ve taken on our French culture is through food, so we have a lot of French food, and all those have come through my great grandma, it just keeps getting passed down. My great grandma lived in France, she was the first one from our family to come to America.

 

If you see my mom, she has black hair, like all my family has really dark brown hair and really tan skin, so they all call me white bread. Cause for some reason I came out like this, really blonde, blue eyed, like a little German kid. They all have green eyes.

 

ANALYSIS:

This is an example of a family tradition that has been kept alive and continued in an effort to preserve their original (French) heritage and nationality, even generations after having moved to America. It is apparent that even so, much of that tradition is being lost, as the informant doesn’t speak French or know what the cookies are called, or much about the French culture surrounding the food that her family makes. It seems that she has a very American view of French culture, but yet has a desire to hold onto and continue her family’s French traditions as best she can. Her family’s ethnic traditions are important to her, and this is one way for her to access this, through food. This ritual of making cookies and other dishes with her grandmother is her way of expressing or trying to get close to her French heritage, and it has become much more of a family ritual and tradition than a national one.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
folk simile
Foodways

The no-flip rule for fish

The informant told me about the following custom when I asked her about her family customs regarding food and eating.

“When we’re eating fish in my house, after we finish a big fish, after we finish the top layer, we cannot flip the fish. We have to eat from the side that we placed it on the plate. So my dad tells us the story of back in the day, when the fishermen go out to fish, when they come bring the fish home, they never flip the fish because it would be a symbol of their boat flipping upside down, and he learned that from his dad. So now whenever my mom cooks fish, we are never allowed to flip the fish over; we always have to eat it from the topside, down. So you eat the top, and then you take out the bone, and the long tail, and then you finish the fish like that. Other Chinese families do it [as well] because I think it’s passed down from my grandfather to my dad, and then my dad passes it down to us. So it’s a common thing if you ask a Taiwanese person, do you flip the fish, it would be a commonly known thing that you don’t flip the fish”

In folklore, it is well known that groups of people who interact directly with nature, and things that are out of their control, tend to have superstitions and beliefs regarding their actions. Thus, it’s not uncommon to see a belief or superstition such as the above one in a fishing culture. However, it’s interesting to see that some of these beliefs and superstitions are passed on to the next generations even though it might not even be directly relevant anymore.

Childhood
folk simile
Folk speech
Foodways
general

Finishing your bowl of rice

The informant was asked about some sayings, proverbs, and customs in her family.

Informant: “A lot of families, to get us to finish all the rice on our bowl, they [parents] say that if you don’t finish the rice on your bowl, your spouse is going to have a lot of pimples and blemishes on their face, so every time, they always remind us of that story, like ‘you know how so and so has a lot of pimples? Their spouse must not finish their bowl, so you don’t want to do that. Mom and dad… they’ve been telling us this since we’re young so it’s expected that our bowls are clean. Otherwise the stories will be reminded every time there’s something in the bowl… what I’ve heard from my German friend, when you’re growing up, it’s either your spouse is going to have a lot of pimples, or there’s a lot of starving kids in Africa. But then I met a lot of international students while I was in college, and he actually says that his parents tell him because there’s a lot of starving kids in China. So there’s a lot of different countries there involved. ”

Collector: “Are Asians specifically more afraid of pimples than other people are?”

Informant: “I think that in Chinese culture we definitely do care about our appearance so having your spouse having pimples I guess it’s not really… it can be frowned upon in the community and since Asian cultures are very community centered, you want to look good so you don’t want… it’s always community centered so you need to care for your spouse’s pimples. You know, its not just about your pimples, it’s you know, you’re responsible for somebody else in the community”

A lot of people in the US probably recall being told by their parents when they were young to finish the food on their plate because there are starving kids in Africa who would be extremely appreciative of whatever food was on that plate. Thus, it’s quite interesting to observe an alternative version of essentially the same saying parents use to get their kids to finish their plate of food. There are likely many more variations of this well-known guilt strategy around the world.

Customs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Foodways
general
Material

Ethiopian Food Serving

The informant is a good friend from one of my clubs. We had met up for lunch and she shared many of her Ethiopian traditions and customs with me, as well as some superstitions of her people.


In Ethiopia, everyone at the dinner table eats the food from one dish, and no one has their own individual plate. The communal plate is very large, and an assortment of foods are served on it for everyone to share. Large pots of each type of food are made separately, and small portions are added to the communal plate at a time, since it’s not good to save leftovers that have been on the plate and touched. The saying is “it tastes like hands.” Therefore, leftovers are foods still in the pot that have yet to be touched, while the food on the communal plate is expected to be finished in that sitting.

ethiopian-food-1

The lesson is not overload the plate with food, since it can’t be eaten the next day because it will taste like the hands that touched it. Ethiopians eat their food with their hands instead of utensils, so the saying comes from this custom.

Background & Analysis

The informant is a student here at USC as well, and although her mother is from Ethiopia, she was born and raised here in California. However, she often goes back to Ethiopia with her mom to visit friends and family.

The meal serving tradition in Ethiopia is so different from what I’m used to here in America. We are accustomed to getting our own dish with a serving size of our own choice. Eating without utensils is also often seen as  mannerless behavior, unless the food is something such as chicken or corn on the cob. The Ethiopian dinner style is similar to the traditional Hawaiian way of eating, especially the eating with your hands part. The foods are in their own bowls, and the bowls are passed around to everyone present, who each in turn take one bite and pass the food along to the next person. This will continue until everyone is full or the food is gone. The sharing of food in such intimate ways in both cultures, definitely brings people together.

Customs
Foodways
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ethiopian Food Etiquette

The informant is a good friend from one of my clubs. We had met up for lunch and she shared many of her Ethiopian traditions and customs with me, as well as some superstitions of her people.


In Ethiopia, no one uses utensils to eat, they just use their hands. While there are forks people can use, most choose not to. However, because cleanliness and hygiene were a problem in the past, only one hand that is designated for eating touches the food on the plate, while the other can be used for any other task, such as using the bathroom. The informant said that even though cleanliness is no longer a problem, the custom still remains. In fact, there is even a hand-washing ceremony before every meal, where the host will bring around a special tea pot and a bowl, and the guests will wash just their eating hand. Traditionally it is the right hand, but nowadays, if you are left-handed and prefer to eat with the left, it is acceptable.

I also asked whether people eat by taking turns, and the informant said that they all can eat at the same time, just not before everyone has been seated. She also explained to me the tradition of “gursha”, where you would feed a family member or a lover to show the close relationship you both share.

Background & Analysis

The informant is a student here at USC as well, and although her mother is from Ethiopia, she was born and raised here in California. However, she often goes back to Ethiopia with her mom to visit friends and family.

I think the one-hand eating rule is super clever, especially since soap used to be an issue in Ethiopia. The tradition of gursha is also very similar how people in east Asian cultures will, for example, cut a piece of meat and feed it to a friend, family, or lover as a way to acknowledge the close relationship and comfort towards the other.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material

Brisket and Kugel – “although they’re not as good as Marcia’s”

The informant is a 95-year old man who grew up in Davenport, right near downtown with his parents and two brothers. His father came over from Russia and owned a grocery store in Davenport. He is a father, grandfather, worked in advertising for 60 years, and loves baseball.

 

Interviewer: “Do you remember anything your mom used to cook?”

Informant: “Yes, she made brisket. It was so good.”

Interviewer: “Did she make it from a recipe?”

Informant: “No, she made it herself. And it was something her mom had taught her. It was so good, nobody could match it. She gave the recipe to Nancy way back when. She also made the keegal or kugel, whichever you call it, she made that on her own recipe.

Interviewer: “Is that the one Aunt Nancy uses at Seder?”

Informant: “Nancy has it, yes. She makes that one. Although it’s not quite as good as Marcia’s was.”

 

As with my previous collection of food-related folklore, I see a strong emotional connection to the discussion of food. This could be because the food talked about is usually something cooked by an immediate family member at some special occasion or holiday when family is gathered. So it isn’t so much the food alone that makes the informant emotional, but the memories tied up with the food. When a recipe has been passed down from family member to family member it only strengthens and nuances the connection to a food.

Customs
Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Russian Sinus Remedy

The informant is a 19-year old student attending the University of California Berkeley. She is majoring in Media Studies and Journalism with a minor in Hebrew. She grew up in West Los Angeles with her two parents, immigrants from the Soviet Union. I mentioned that homeopathic remedies were a form of folklore and she told me about this remedy her mom taught her.

 

Informant: “I got colds a lot when I was a kid, so I remember this one very well. My mom used to take eggs, boil them and then take the warm boiled eggs—two of them—in a towel. You use two because they go on either side of your nose so that your sinuses get released. It’s super weird sounding and it looks funny too. But it works! It actually felt really really nice. It was super comforting.

Interviewer: “Wow, I would never think to do that! But it makes sense.

Informant: “Yea, well Russians had them, the eggs, because chickens were a thing they had. Even in the Soviet Union where there was so much poverty and people had almost nothing. They still had chickens! So I guess this was a way to alleviate sinus pressure when it was cold as hell and people would get sick.”

 

Thoughts:

What the informant said about eggs being something readily available to people in Russia during the time of the Soviet Union makes a lot of sense. Homeopathic remedies from different places often involve plants or food with similar properties, but that grow in different regions, native to whatever area the person giving the remedy is from. This says a lot about the nature of folklore, and once again reminds me of the film, Whose Song is it?, in the variety of folklore concerning one topic, or the variances of a particular piece of folklore.

 

Foodways
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Margaritas at La Barca

My informant is a USC student of Armenian and Caucasian origin, born and raised in California and regularly exercises through distance running. She is also a human biology major with an emphasis in human performance.

“So during a long day of a run—Melissa and I would hate it—and really count down our ten miles until we could go eat at La Barca. And finally when we were done we were rewarded with two-three margaritas, chips and salsa, and a grande colossal burrito and surprisingly we would wake up and run ten times faster. A couple times we averaged a 6:33 mile for 8 miles consecutively so, every time before we had a hard workout the next day we would prep at La Barca before…and it worked pretty well this past summer! And so I guess its just tradition now kind of, with me and her and the other girls who run with us sometimes.”

 

Analysis: This example of acquired folklore demonstrates how superstition and repetition can create a ritual. My informant believed that there was an undeniable tie between her performance while running and the consumption of several margaritas and Mexican food at La Barca restaurant prior to her hard workouts the next day. The initial improvement of her mile time gave her “proof” that her ritual/ceremony before her rough workouts was successful which prompted her repeating the ritual and spreading what she had learned with her other running buddies until it became a tradition within their group to partake in drinks and Mexican food before workouts. This piece of folklore also serves a social purpose and a means of bringing people together and strengthening bonds between friends, as well as marking a distinct trait or practice within this specific running group.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays

Easter Lamb Cake

*Collector note: The Lamb cake in question is a cake in the shape of a lamb, not a cake made from lamb.

Informant: “In my family, we always had a lamb cake for Easter, I think this was a Central European tradition, mostly in Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic. When I grew up in Chicago, there were a lot of German people in the neighborhood, and there were always German bakeries full of lamb cakes around Easter. The connection to Easter was that Easter was about Christ, you know, the Lamb of God. And so we would eat these lamb cakes for Easter. My mother would make it, so else sometimes we bought them in bakeries in Chicago. My aunt [M] said that her mother made lamb cakes as well. I always thought it was funny having lamb cake because we would tell people about it and people would say ‘oh, it’s like a meatloaf or something’ when really there was no lamb in it, is was just shaped like a lamb and didn’t have any meat at all. Though I know some people would sometimes hollow out the cake and put strawberry jam inside so when you cut it it looks like its bleeding [laughs]. I know other people would color their lamb cake with red food coloring to make the inside look like meat, but I always thought that would seem a bit to gory for me”

The informant is a 77 year old retired anthropologist living in Portland Oregon. Her grandparents immigrated to the United States from the Kingdom of Bohemia (in the modern day Czech Republic) in the 1890’s to escape the economic turmoil within the country in that time period. She was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and studied anthropology at Stanford University, during which time she became interested in learning more about the traditions of her heritage. She has on several occasions traveled to the Czech republic to visit relatives there.

Collector’s analysis: This particular tradition is an interesting take on some very core Christian symbolism. In the Christian faith (or perhaps, more specifically in the Catholic faith), there is this idea that the religious figure Jesus Christ was sacrificed for mankind. Because of the old, pre-Christian tradition of sacrificing ‘pure’ animals for religious purposes including lamb, Jesus Christ is frequently referred to as “The Lamb of God”. Thus, there is a connection between the Easter holiday and lambs. As for why the tradition is eating a lamb shaped cake rather than an actual lamb, the most likely explanation comes from the Catholic tradition of not eating meat on religious holidays, to which Easter was no exception. It should also be noted for this reason that the Czech republic, as well as the other Countries that the informant believes this tradition originated from, were all primarily Catholic nations during the period of time in which this tradition originated. As a side note, in this collector’s opinion, these cakes are absolutely delicious!

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