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

Greek Easter Bread

The informant was sharing an important Greek Easter tradition within her family:

*Names are reduced to initials

Me: Can you tell me about the Easter bread you make?

Informant: Tsoureki is a traditional Greek Easter bread that’s prepared during Greek Easter week. It’s usually braided and the red eggs go into it. It’s all we served on Easter Sunday. And um…it’s a sweet bread and again, the egg symbolizes resurrection.

Me: Yum!

Informant: Sometime’s It’s braided and sometimes it’s braided in a round loaf with a cross on the top,

Support: which is our family tradition

Informant: Lots of Greeks do it though. The cross is a byzantine cross so it’s this shape

*She shows me her necklace*

Support: The curled edge is how I make it. Our family recipe came from my great-aunt that’s Aunt G. That’s where we get the recipe from.

Context: 

The Informant is a Greek woman who was born in the United States. She currently lives in Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA. Though she was not born in Greece, her parents immigrated to the US and she was born into a very Greek community in Phoenix, AZ. The performance was held during an Easter party, in front of her younger sister.While the informant does not usually make the bread, her younger sister always does and she provided supporting information.

Analysis:
It’s very interesting how humans can adapt easily but also stick to tradition as we see with the bread. The recipe has been passed down through generations and while there are so many different recipes this one stuck and has meaning. The way the bread is formed has also stuck as the sister describe, as she always makes it in a curled manner. Finally, the younger sister is always the one who makes the bread for the family, which shows her role in maintaining the family tradition. It is very interesting that people are so adaptable, but also find ways to maintain systems that work.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor

Knock a Dog Off a Gut Wagon

Piece:

Informant: “Smelled so bad it would knock a dog off a gut wagon.”

Background:

The informant learned this saying from her mother, and explained that it came from old butcher shops that would deliver meat on vehicles called “gut wagons,” where the meat and inedible guts of an animal were separated.

Context:

This was recorded during a conversation at the informant’s home in San Diego, CA.

Thoughts:

I think this is a good example of a saying that has probably declined in use due to its decreased relevance in the modern day. I have never heard of this saying or even a “gut wagon” before, which is largely unsurprising given the rise of the food industries, which has led to the separation of consumers and the processes that bring food from farm to table. Instead of directly interacting with a butcher, most consumers nowadays simply visit a grocery store and purchase prepackaged meat that is already trimmed and cleaned.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Apples & Honey on Rosh Hashanah

Main Piece:

Informant: You have supposed to dip a slice of apple in some honey and eat it. It’s supposed to guarantee that you have a sweet year.

Interviewer: Do you remember when you learned about this?

Informant: It’s always been in my life. It’s not specific to our family, It’s a Jewish thing. Remember we’re Jewish? You know, it’s your grandmother’s thing though. She always made me and D— (The informant’s sister) eat the apple.

Interviewer: When is this performed?

Informant: Every Rosh Hashanah, before the meal starts.

Context:

The informant is my father, and he is describing a traditional Jewish ritual associated with Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is a holiday symbolizing the start of the Jewish New Year. The informant learned this tradition through their mother. At our family Rosh Hashanah dinners, dipping the apple in the honey is a formality. However, it wasn’t until I went to my first traditional Rosh Hashanah dinner that I realized this was a common Jewish practice. This conversation was transcribed from a recording of a phone call. He learned this tradition as a kid growing up in Los Angeles.

Analysis:

I think it’s interesting that this religious custom was passed down through familial relationships. Even more so, I didn’t associate this tradition with being distinctly Jewish until I was told so. For me, this was a tradition exclusive to my own family. For my Dad, this tradition tied him to Judaism. My father is not overly religious, so claiming a piece of religious folklore from someone like him. Even though he doesn’t place much value in religious symbols, he has never failed to perform this tradition on Rosh Hashanah. Possibly, it is the value he places in his mother that had shifted this Jewish tradition into a familial superstition.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Colombian Proverb: “That Which Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Fat”

Proverb:

original language: “lo que no mata, en gorda.”

direct translation: That which no kills you, fattens

smooth translation: “That which doesn’t kill you, will make you fatter.”

Context:

“So kids can be messy. This is the equivalent of the five second rule when you’d drop food on the floor. Grandma would say, ‘lo que no mata, en gorda.’ She would say that to us anytime we dropped food on the floor.”

Informant Background:

My informant is 58, from Medellin, Colombia. He now resides in San Diego. His first language is Spanish.

My Analysis:

In Colombian culture, there is a strange paradox for women in particular regarding family and eating habits. My grandmas and aunts and mother will cook food and pressure my sisters and I to eat it all, but we can’t eat too much because they don’t want us to get fat. In Spanish, it is also common to nickname children based off their physical appearance. For example, I have always been called “flaca”, but have cousins who are still called “gordita” despite them dropping childhood weight. This funny proverb nods to the relationship between Colombian people (mainly women) and food.

general

Origin of the Cheers Clink

Piece:

“So my friend was telling me that the reason why you clink cups together is because back in like the olden times, when if you match really full cups of beer, people used to clink cups together so that a little bit of each person’s drink would slosh into the other persons drink and it was kind of like about a sharing of a drink and also like to make sure that people weren’t getting poisoned because the cups… the liquids would like mix together.”

Analysis:

While there is truth to the amicable aspect of sharing a drink, the mixing of liquids to prove that no poison is present is just a very well-known and well-shared lie. Firstly, sloshing that much liquid would surely produce more waste than desired in olden times when food was much more scarce, but more importantly, proving a lack of poison was at best unnecessary and at worst rude. Often people drank from shared vessels, where drinks were already in a sense mixed, so mixing them again would be redundant. At the other end of the spectrum, requiring proof of safety may be regarded as the same as using a food taster, which displays a lack of trust and hostility. For these reasons, it doesn’t really make sense that clinking would show trust in lack of poison, although the story is interesting and possible enough that it makes sense the story is still told.
Clinking and toasting, in general, are, at their core, a carryover from those more communal days. By clinking cups and drinking together, drinkers can maintain that sense of camaraderie that comes with drinking of the same container. The sound made by clinking is also rumored to complete the fulfillment of the five senses that comes when drinking something like wine. The remaining four are already satisfied, so by adding in the resonating sound of clinking glasses, the drinkers are pleased in all five senses, which is a rather rare sensation, culinarily or otherwise.

Context:


The interviewee is a 23-year-old male who attends the University of Southern California, pursuing a masters degree in computer science. When he was very young, he lived in India, until he moved to South Africa. He lived in South Africa from then until he moved to New York City to pursue his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. He is very into alcohol and the history and science behind it, which explains why he would know and tell this tidbit, accurate or not.
This interview was conducted in person at the interviewed party’s house. The audio was recorded in order to aid in accurate transcription of the dialogue that took place.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Foodways
general
Material

“Every grain of rice has a destiny”

Context/Background: The informant’s mother used to have a saying that she would express to them growing up. Pertaining much to emphasizing not wasting food, there is an element of attributing energy and value to it.

Informant:

“So growing up… my mom used to say every grain of rice had a destiny whenever you threw any sort of food away- it wasn’t just about rice, but just food in general. And it was basically just like something that her and everyone in her family- and I’d assume, our ancestors before that- would always say to like… encourage you not to waste food ’cause they were very like… economical and practical about that… and… yeah. I think it’s just like… every piece of food… or the value that was behind it was that every piece of food like has a certain amount of energy to it and that energy is like… if you… if you get the food, you’re supposed to ingest that energy and use it to fuel your body and if you throw it away, then you’re like… throwing away the like, potential energy of that food that it was supposed to give you.”

A) Some earlier datings referencing the “destiny” and a “grain of rice” can be found in studies referencing an Indian Subcontinent which indicates that “every grain has a name (of who will eat it).”

Introduction: She was first introduced to the saying by her mother who would recite it to her family in an effort to get them to appreciate food and not waste it.

Analysis/Interpretation: I think this proverb is very valuable cross-culturally because of the emphasis placed on the value of not wasting and appreciating any food you’re given access to. I think there are definitely similar elements across different cultures. Growing up, in my aunts home specifically, there was a large emphasis on not wasting anything on the place which was very known and heavily present.

Folk Beliefs
general
Homeopathic
Magic

Don’t Stab Your Food with Chopsticks – A Chinese Folk Belief

Item:

Q: You said how you can’t stab chopsticks into food?

H: 落去飯(lok6 heoi3 faan6), right?

[Translation: Into rice right?]

Q: Yeah, 飯 (faan6) or 嘢食 (je5 sik6) in general?

[Translation: Yeah, rice or food in general?]

H: 嘢食 (je5 sik6) or 飯 (faan6) or whatever.  Why?

[Translation: Food or rice or whatever.  Why?]

H: 你拜神你係唔係插咗兩枝香落去 (lei5 baai3 sen4 lei5 hai6 m5 hai6 caap3 zo2 loeng2 zi2 hoeng1 lok6 heoi3).  It look like 你拜神插嗰啲嘢(lei5 baai3 sen4 caap3 go2 di1 je5).

[Translation: When you pray, don’t you stick the two incense into the holder?  It looks like when you’re praying and you have the two incense in the incense holder.]

 

Context:

I collected this piece in a Cantonese-English conversation about Chinese and Vietnamese folk beliefs.  The informant can speak Cantonese fluently but chose to speak to me in both Cantonese and English for my understanding.  The informant is Chinese and was born and raised in a Chinese community in Vietnam before immigrating to the United States in her late teens.  She didn’t mention specifically where she learned not to stab chopsticks into your food from, but only said, similar to a number of other folk beliefs and customs she knew of, that you would just know or pick up this sort of thing growing up from the community around you.

 

Analysis:

The basis of many folk beliefs is the belief in magic, either sympathetic or contagious.  In the case of not stabbing your chopsticks into food, the idea that like produces like comes into play because as the informant says, the two chopsticks standing up looking like sticks of incense used when praying.  Praying occurs for a number of reasons, death in the family and respecting one’s ancestors included, and it can be highly ritualized in Chinese culture, particularly when praying to the ancestors due to the long-standing tradition of ancestor worship and respect for those who came before you in your lineage.  There are rules about where the incense and incense holder are placed, what kind of offerings should be made, and when to pray.  For example, praying for ancestors has set time frames but praying after an individual’s death is done as appropriate.  As such, standing chopsticks in food not only emulates incense in the physical image, it may be seen as a poor recreation of the ritual and consequently a disrespect to one’s ancestors.  With such emphasis placed on respecting one’s lineage, this is very majorly looked down upon.  Furthermore, considering how like produces like – especially if it is not the correct time to pay one’s respects to their ancestors – someone may bring death or other bad omens to themselves or those around them through emulation of praying at an otherwise inappropriate time.

Adulthood
Childhood
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mince and Tatties

Context:

I conducted this interview over the phone, the subject was born and raised in Scotland before moving to England, Canada, the United States, then to Northern Ireland, and, finally, back to the United States. I knew she continued to practice certain traditions which were heavily present in her childhood and wanted to ask her more about them.

 

Piece:

Subject: Every birthday in our house we always make mince and potatoes, or mince and tatties like we called them when I was a kid.

Interviewer: What does that consist of?

Subject: Well the way we do it is we ground beef, you know, mince beef, and then mashed potatoes and there you go! [Laughs] Sometimes we add vegetables like carrots or peas to go with it which really adds to the flavor.

Interviewer: And why has it become a birthday celebration?

Subject: I’m not sure, I mean we had it all the time growing up, but when we came to America we had it less and it became more of a birthday thing, so that’s just what we do every year now.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that there is no set recipe or form of cooking this dish, it consists in many variations. There are concerns that British people are no longer eating traditional dishes, but mince and tatties remains the exception as it is extremely popular in Scotland. A survey done in 2009 found that it was the most popular Scottish dish, with a third of respondents saying that they eat it once a week.

In 2006 the European Union introduced new regulations on how meat could be processed, threatening the existence of mince and tatties, resulting in the Scottish National Party leader announcing, “They can take our lives but they will never take our freedom to make mince and tatties!”

It seems that it became a popular dish due to its ability to be canned and fed to a large number of school children.

Source:

Lewis, Susan. “Recipes for Reconnection: Older People’s Perspectives on the Mediating Role of Food in Contemporary Urban Society.” ANTHROPOLOGICAL NOTEBOOKS 12, 2006.

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.”

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.”

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