USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘food’
Rituals, festivals, holidays

National Cherry Festival- Traverse City

I collected this piece of folklore from my brother, who went to school in Michigan. Traverse City has a Cherry Festival every summer, and this is his experience of it:

Skye: “Along the northern shores of Lake Michigan sits Traverse City.  The city is along Grand Traverse Bay and sits at the lower end of a fertile peninsula.  For decades, the area has been the self-designated Cherry Capitol of the world because of its good farmland.”

Me: How long has the festival been around?

Skye: I’m pretty sure it started at the turn of the century. The farmers would have an annual “blessing of the blossoms” in the spring–much like a blessing of the fleet in fishing communities. There is also a Cherry Blossom Queen, and a parade. The single day observance grew to be several days long.  And now, the contemporary festival is 8 days long.”

Me: What does the festival consist of?

Skye:”There is a professional mascot named Super Cherry.  Merchants set up stands and sell everything imaginable that is Cherry related.  Main stage entertainers come from all over the world.  There are baking and craft contests. Local restaurants and hotels are full and menus feature Cherry sauce, Cherry pie, Cherry mustard, Cherry wine, Cherry syrup, Cherry horseradish and Cherry ice cream.”

Analysis: Other communities in the US have food related festivals and observances– for instance Gilroy Garlic Days in California and the world famous Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Food festivals such as these are a reminder of how America became such a prosperous country, abounding with fertile soil. Many people nowadays do not farm as their main way of making money. But Americans who have multiple generations from the U.S. likely have ancestors who farmed. Celebrating the cherry is celebrating hard work, abundance, our history as an agricultural society, and our ability to innovate with simple foods.

For the official website, see here:

Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Dumber the Name, The Better the Food

My sister got this saying from a guy she was seeing at the time. He was extremely well traveled, and used this trick for finding close to/authentic Chinese food in America.

Allegra: “So his advice is to look for the Chinese restaurant with the weirdest name – the name that makes no sense in English. Go there and you are sure to have some authentic fare at the right price.”

Me: What do you mean by weird?

Allegra: ” Well there are names which make no sense and are a sort of enigmatic challenge for the discerning brain. Do they actually make sense and would be clear to those who were more culturally aware and cosmopolitan? Or are they purposely inscrutable so as to attract attention? Who knows, but here are some real-life examples:

I Don’t Know Chinese Restaurant

New Fook Lam Moon (was there an Old Fook Lam Moon?)

Concubine and The Shanghai

New Cultural Revolution Restaurant

Confucius Pao

The New Edinburgh Rendezvous Mandarin Kitchen

Nice Day Happy Garden

Me: Have you tried this out anywhere in New York City?

Allegra: “I haven’t yet. But now that I’m thinking about it, I fully intend to.”

Analysis: Perhaps perpetuating this rule of thumb – “The dumber the name, the better the food” is a way for people to deal with their fear of the unknown and bestow some honor on their xenophobia. Or, maybe the rule of thumb is true – at least as a self-fulfilling prophecy. People will think the food is better if they’ve found a place with a truly confusing name.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Argentinian Christmas Meal


Santiago is originally from Argentina, but now resides in Miami, Florida. However, he still avidly practices his traditions that he learned in Argentina.


Santiago: “Every year back in Argentina, we would have Christmas dinner with freshly…um, killed and skinned goat. Some families would have a member go and, like, find a goat out in the wild, but my family just bought a pre-skinned goat (laughs).        We would also drink a lot of mate, which is, like, a drink with made from herbs and cream and stuff. And this altogether is supposed to honor the mythical Argentinian cowboy who herded the giant herd of cows, or gauchos.”


They would practice this culinary tradition every Christmas.

My Thoughts:

I love hearing about different culture’s Christmas traditions because Christmas is my favorite holiday, and it is interesting to me to learn about how other people celebrate the holiday. Personally, I do not like the taste of goat, but I have tried mate before and I think it is extremely tasty. One day, I hope I can try to incorporate that part of the Argentinian Christmas into my own Christmas traditions.

Folk speech

“Que come solo, se muere solo”- Those who eat alone, die alone

My mom told me about the Colombian Proverb; “Que come solo, se muere solo”- Those who eat alone, will die alone.

My mom maternal Grandmother, Maria, who had diabetes, mostly raised my mom. So when my mom was eating a cupcake or a pastry as a child, her grandmother Maria, would tell her “those who eat alone, will die alone” as a way to guilt trip her into sharing the forbidden treat with her. She felt guilty giving her grandmother something she knew she wasn’t supposed to have but certainly did not want to risk dying alone. In her young mind, she says, that sounded awful. It worked too well, to this day my highly logical mom intensely dislikes eating alone and would rather skip a meal to wait to eat with anyone but especially enjoys eating with everyone. If she has to eat alone, she says the food is distasteful and makes her feel sad. She says dying alone is not something she fears anymore, she simply does not like eating alone.

Analysis: I found this proverb interesting that even the most logical and rational person can be scared at an early age and have a proverb turn into folk belief that lingers into adulthood. I found the proverb slightly similar to the American expression “You are born alone, you die alone and everything else in between is an illusion.” However the American version denotes nihilism while the Colombian version demonstrates a strong desire to be included even if it’s just a bite.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas “Novena”

My Great Aunt Nora clarified that at Christmas, the main holiday ritual in Colombia to celebrate the “novena” or 9 days of Christmas, not the twelve days celebrated here in the US. Between December16-24th, 9 families will coordinate parties at each of their homes. Everyone is invited to all the parties especially those who are hosting at some point.  If you are invited but not one of the families hosting, it is customary to bring a lavish hostess gift.  The party starts with a prayer, then food, songs and candies. People are expected to dress as lavish and festive as possible. It is traditional that each home will have a “Natividad” a nativity scene with baby Jesus in the manger and the three kings. Ironically, even though Jesus was born in a simple manger, people like to spend lots of money to buy very elaborate and beautiful manger that can take up a large coffee table to show off, which is a cultural traditional aspect of most Colombians, to always want to show off as much as possible even when it is not called for.

Analysis: I find it especially hilarious when they incorporate English Christmas villages with fake snow as ground covering and glowing windows in the cottages. As if the warm arid climate of Bethlehem would have look like that. Baby Jesus is always depicted as white having blue eyes and dirty blonde curls. There is strong cultural bias that having white skin, light colored eyes and light colored hair is highly desirable in Colombia. I once traded out baby Jesus at my grandmother’s house with a African American baby Jesus just see her reaction, priceless. The practice of holiday rituals even for those who do not attend church or practice their religion except during the holidays make these rituals even more important since they have to make up for their lapse from the rest of the year.


Christmas Time Nut Tradition


Daniel is a first year analyst at a prominent Manhattan based investment bank. He grew up in Northern California from a predominantly irish background


“Each year around Christmas time my grandfather would take us to this little nut shop in San Francisco. The shop was extremely small and barely had enough room for two people to fit between the door and the giant glass case of nuts. It was run by this tiny Russian lady who looked like she was birthed from a matryoshka doll.  We would always buy cashew butts, the broken pieces of the cashews, because they were much cheaper. But somehow a few full cashews always snuck into the bag. Those were the best nuts. Not cause they tasted better but cause they were special.

The shop closed and I’m pretty sure it’s a hat store now. But I always think about it whenever I have cashews.”

Collector’s thoughts:

The informant truly performed this piece of folklore when it was collected with large gesticulations and a more dramatic voice than normal. Additionally, the use of the specific russian word matryoshka is interesting because it is the russian word for what are commonly referred to as  russian nesting dolls in the United States. The informant has no russian heritage which adds to intrigue of where he learned this word and why he decided to use it when most of the americans to whom he was performing the piece were not aware of its meaning.





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. Rozata is a very traditional dessert in Dubrovnik.


“Rozata is one of many traditional cuisine in Dubrovnik. This type of desert has been made for special occasions in our family for generations.“


What ingredients do you need to make rozata?


“well to make it you need:

– eggs 12 pcs.

– sugar 0,22 dkg +0,12 kg (for the caramel)

– milk 1 l

– vanilla bean 1,00 Pc.

– whipping cream 0,35 l

– almonds 0,10 kg

– raisins 0,07 kg

– rum 0,02 l

– candied orange peel .”


How do you make it?


“You boil the milk and the vanilla bean, mix the eggs and sugar in a separate bowl. Pour the boiled milk through a sieve, cool and carefully add to egg mixture, stirring all the while. After that you want to mix carefully, paying attention that foam does not form at the surface. Then caramelize the remaining sugar and cover the bottom and sides of the forms. Fill the forms with the mixture and place in a medium hot oven in a water bath to fix the cream. When the rozata is half thickened, add a few rum-soaked raisins in the middle of the forms. The finished rozata is removed and cooled. Then you place it in the fridge overnight. Remove from the forms, and pour the melted caramel over the tops. Then you can decorate it and add flavor with whipped cream, thinly cut home-made candied orange strips and toasted almonds.”


Rozata has been prepared in my family for as long as I can remember and way longer than that. It has been passed down from generation to generation, but managed to keep your original recipe. I am grateful that I was a part of the generation who had the opportunity to grow up on this exquisite pastry prepared by our grandmothers, and I am even more honored to be able to present and write about it.

Dubrovacka rozata


Tourte Binchoise

Background of informant:

My informant YF is an international student from Brussels, Belgium. He spent the first two years of high school in Los Angeles, and the last year back in Brussels. He lived in Wallonia in Belgium, which is the French-speaking region that accounts more than a half of the country.


Main piece:

YF: “‘tourte binchoise’ is the food that only being made during the Carnival week, of the entire year. ‘Tourte’ normally means a sweet pie, and ‘Binchoise’ means ‘from Binche’. It’s basically a pie, with … just piecrust, made with sponge cake, as the vessel containing the cream. The filling is orange custard, with a layer of marzipan. That’s something made of confectioner sugar, you know, the really fine sugar, and almond meal. You can only find it during the Carnival. Because it is so limited in time and location, the recipe is so secretive, and it’s so hard to find one.”

Two weeks later, I asked about this pie again, and YF was trying to find a recipe of it online.

YF: “You will notice that the name of this pie is ‘Plus Oultre’. Plus Oultre comes from Latin ‘Plus Ultra’, meaning literally ‘More Far’, or ‘further in good’ in English. It is the motto in Spain, or the city where this pie is from, Binche, that is the name that backery gave its pie. [showed me a picture] This is a similar thing to ‘tourte binchoise’. This is the scandalous orange Tarte. It lloks a nit different than the one that I had in the carnival, but it has the same elements! So I believe it would taste the same!”


Context of the performance:

The first part was within a general conversation about the Carnival of Binche, within a interview I had with my informant YF. The second part was done two weeks later when I tried to acquire a recipe of the pie.


My thoughts about the piece:

After YF first talked me about this pie in our first conversation, I didn’t really pay attention to this pie. However, when I was transcribing the interview, I started to be really curious about the recipe of the pie. I then reached out to YF but he told me this pie is so rare and secretive, and it turned out that he couldn’t even find a recipe of it on the Internet, in 2017…


The orange Tarte recipe that YF showed me is online, here is the URL:

The recipe is in French.

Folk speech

Naming Pets in Rural Mexico

“Actually, when we had little chicks, too, we didn’t like, like, you name your pets here, like ‘little Peter,’ or ‘Johnny,’ or ‘puppy,’ whatever you want to call them. There, we didn’t name our pets, you know. We just name them Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. [laughs]


Not to feel bad when it was like time to slaughter them… ‘cause we grew pets for eating, you know? It was, it wasn’t like we were just playing with them, it was actual food on the line! [laughs]


Was that a common practice, did everyone name their pets something like that?


More or less, something like that. Very, very like, crazy names, like you know, like May, July, June, those. [laughs] Because they were going to slaughter them that month. [laughs]


There was a little rooster named father’s day [laughs] because they knew they were going to do that, ‘where’s father’s day, where’s father’s day,’ ‘donde esta dia del papa,’ you know, in Español, ‘oh you know he’s there, he’s there, and this and that,’ and sure enough, you know, time came and… cut some necks there. That was crazy.”


Analysis: This is a fairly straightforward but interesting and widespread folk practice in rural Mexico. Whereas pets are normally seen as members of a family in the United States, pets were instead viewed primarily as food sources in rural Mexico. As such, the cultural norms surrounding the animals are substantially different from what an American may expect. Naming animals after the date that they will presumably be slaughtered is a very efficient way of keeping the age of a pet on hand. It is worth nothing that the informant’s repeated use of the term “crazy” may be revelatory of a culture shift upon moving to the United States and owning two pets.




I met my informant at a cooking class in Cancun, Mexico. She and her husband hold these classes in their home just outside of the Hotel Zone. They’re both in their mid-50’s and have lived in Cancun with their three children for close to twenty-five years. My informant was born and raised in Mexico City, where she spent the majority of her youth mastering regional cuisines from throughout Mexico. She ultimately attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though she is well versed in world cuisine, she considers herself an expert in traditional Mexican cooking, as the majority of her recipes have been handed down through both her family and her husband’s.

The classes she holds are for no more than twelve people and lasts roughly six hours. She gives a short lecture on different culinary regions of Mexico and then begins an interactive cooking lesson where the group prepares twelve separate recipes. The lesson was too long to record the entirety of the performance, but I recorded some of her specific introductions and explanations of several dishes. She also gave each participant a copy of the recipes, almost all of which were passed down through the generations. The informant transcribed them and included her own specific instructions.


“You need crispy bread…In Mexico it is always a bolillo or teller, the Mexican version of…baguette…since the times of Maximillian in the 1860’s…You can use small baguettes or cut portions from baguette. Portuguese rolls work too. We eat these breakfast, lunch, and dinner…they are easy and cheap, so good for young people who maybe don’t have much time or money, like college (jokingly gestures in my direction.)”


4 teleras bolillos, petite baguettes or large baguettes cut into 6” portions

2 cups refried beans homemade or store bought

2 cups Mexican oaxaca mozzarella or monterrey jack, grated (any melting cheese of your liking will do)

2 tablespoons of butter

Serve with pico de gallo salsa or another salsa of your choice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the bread in half lengthwise to have 8 pieces. Spread each piece with butter then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of refried beans and add 3 to 4 tablespoons of grated cheese on top. Arrange molletes on a baking sheet as you make them. If you want, add additional toppings like ham, turkey, bacon or chorizo. Sprinkle them on top of the cheese. When they are all assembled, place the baking sheet into the oven. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the bread has a nice toasted crust around the edges. Serve with pico de gallo salsa, or a salsa of your choice, on the side or on top.


As Claudia suggests in the recipe, we used crumbled chorizo. It was interesting how familiar it felt to be eating a soft, white roll; despite the beans and salsa, the dish tasted decidedly European, like something I could buy on any street corner in Los Angeles. This can probably be explained by the historical context she provided; the rolls entered Mexican cuisine under the influence of a European monarch but has become a big part of everyday Mexican cooking.