Tag Archives: Food Traditions

Preparing Food for Ancestral Rites

Context :

My informant is an adult female who was born in Seoul, South Korea. She received Korean education throughout her life and mainly speaks Korean. She believes in Buddhism and has been attending temple events for a long time. Her family also are Buddhist and follows the Buddhist way when it comes to events such as funerals and ancestral rites. Here, she is describing how to prepare the table for ancestral rite, which is different from regular meal table rites. She is identified as K, and I will be identified as E in the dialogue. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English.

K : As far as I know, the ancestral rite table is related to the belief in geomancy. To start off, the table must be facing the North side. 

E : Is there a reason why it must be facing the North side?

K : Yes. Ancestral rite day is considered as a ‘mini-day of the dead event’ and it is believed that all spirits come from the North side. So if you don’t have the table that way, it means that you’re not welcoming them. 

E : I see.

K : Other rules that need to be kept are related to this. Since the spirits will be coming from that side, all food and utensils must be prepared on the opposite side of us, so that the spirits can eat while we face them. 

E : So you’re putting utensils as if someone is sitting across from you?

K : Yes. You also need to put the rice on your, the person who is holding the ancestral rite, right and the soup on your left so that the spirits will have rice on their left and the soup on their right. Koreans have a ‘tacit agreement’ that warmer foods are supposed to be placed on the right side. 

She ended her description by noting how all families tend to have different styles of how they perform ancestral rites and that her description is just the basics; some families might not care what side their table is facing and some families might not even perform the rite at all. 

Analysis :

I live in a family who doesn’t perform ancestral rites as often and I found this piece very interesting. I’ve only attended ancestral rites twice or thrice when I was very young and didn’t know the details to it. The belief that the dead spirits of our ancestors return to have a quick meal that their descendents have prepared reflects the strong Confucianist belief of Korean societies; Korean descendents and the younger generations are expected to respect and take care of the older generations and even after they have passed away too. However, a lot of Korean families quitting to do annual ancestral rites also show that the new generations are walking away from Confucianist traditions that have been taking a spot in the Korean society for centuries.

Russian New Year’s Eve Food

Context:

The informant is a Russian-American-Bulgarian woman who spent the first half of her life in Russia. She currently resides in Boston, MA and the interview took place over zoom in which I interviewed her about the Russian folklore that she grew up with and that she feels represents the Russian people and culture.

Transcribed and translated from an interview held in Russian

The celebration of the New Year is a big deal in Russia. During the Soviet Union where religion was outlawed and Christmas was no longer celebrated, New Year’s became a big event that everyone would look forward to. It was where Ded Moroz (Grandpa Frost) would come and bring presents. People stay up until midnight, counting in the new year and making a wish as the clock strikes 12.

We would invite friends over to celebrate with us and make food for everyone to eat. In Russia, there are some staple New Years Eve foods. Eggs with ikra (salmon roe), meat or cabbage filled pastries and a bunch of different salads. Olivier being the main one. But salads in Russia are not like in other places. They are very hearty with potatoes and meat, and vegetables – probably because that’s all they really had to hold themselves over back in the day, so it just became a part of the culture…

Analysis:

A ban on religion did not stop the Russian people from finding a way to celebrate and to give gifts. This shows humanity’s desire to come together and find a reason to celebrate a certain event, the end of a year, or the overcoming of a hardship. It gives them something to look forward to and to plan for.

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.

French Food Traditions for The Epiphany

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

My name is Keveen. I grew in the South Western part of France, a little town called Brive located between Toulouse and the coastal city of Bordeaux.

Piece:

The last one I remember was the epiphany, early January. It celebrates the Three Wise men visiting Jesus. In France we eat the “galette des rois”, a pastry cake, made with almond paste, with a “fève” placed inside. With all the family around the table, you split the cake in as many shares as there are people plus one representing the “share of the poor” that will be offered to someone later on (a friend or a homeless person). Whoever has the share with the “fève” becomes the king of the day (or queen) and can pick his mate (queen or king) ; you also get to wear a paper crown that is sold with the cake.

Piece Background Information: 

Growing up atheist but with a catholic Grand mother from Paris who ended up raising me while my parents were working, I took part of a few religious traditions specific to the French culture, each region having their own interpretation of them.

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Context of Piece Performance: 

In person, during the day at informant’s house in Highland Park, Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

The concept behind the galette des rois, that is – a cake with a prize (typically a baby trinket) inside that allows the recipient of the slice with the prize to have special privileges shows up in many different cultures. Other variations include King’s cake eaten in New Orleans during Carnival season and rosca de reyes in Spanish speaking countries and lends this tradition to Dundes’ definition of folklore that it must exhibit multiplicity and variation. As a result, I have also participated in this similar tradition and actually have a plastic baby on my desk. It is definitely interesting and cool that a tradition like this can bridge such different cultures together.

The Significance of Yams in Nigeria

new_yam_festival2

My friend grew up in Nigeria before coming to the US for college. He says yams are life in Nigeria.

Friend:“The yam is the staple food and therefore a measure of masculinity and wealth. If a family has a lot of yams, you’re rich because you can feed your family. This makes you a strong man. Yams are equated to life in Igbo culture. Nigeria is the leading producer of yams in the world, so of course they are a big deal to us.”

Me: Do you still have family who farm yams?

Friend: “My father does not farm yams, but my grandfather did, and his father before him. When my grandfather got married, he had to present his yams to my grandmother’s family to prove he could provide for her, which is a fairly typical custom in Nigeria.”

Me: Is there anything specific about how yams are farmed that makes them special?

Friend: “On some farms in Nigeria, the women aren’t allowed to go to the farm until harvest time. Then the women do all of the harvest work. It’s superstition I guess. There are many people today who still grow yams. Yams are featured at any big gathering or at any holiday meal.”

 

Analysis: Many cultures have some form of staple food. For the Irish, potatoes are an important part of sustenance, and therefore are a large part of how people live. Because of this, a simple food like a potato, or yam, can come to have symbolic meaning.  What a family produces in terms of yams, and how it relates to masculinity is extremely interesting, given that yams are an unpredictable measure of success. One year, the harvest could be plentiful and the weather perfect. The next year, however, bad luck could lead to very few yams. Another aspect of this folklore worth noting is that while the men do the initial farming, the women do the harvesting. Perhaps this relates to the hunter/gatherer trope, but a man’s worth relies on work which is half done by women.