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

La Guelaguetza

Context

The informant is an acquaintance of my father, and in a previous vacation invited us to watch “La Guelaguetza,” a performance of the many different tribes in Oaxaca and their folk dances. I made some time during my Spring Break to ask him about the festival once more.

 

Interviewer: Back in 2014, you invited my family and I to the festival of “La Guelaguetza” in Oaxaca. Would you be able to tell me about it, and why it’s such a significant festival.

 

Informant: Yes, gladly! For starters, I myself am originally from Oaxaca, and came to Mexico City to pursue my career as a lawyer. However, much of my family is actually native mexican, like many in Oaxaca. I make an effort to go back every July to watch the festival. “La Guelaguetza” is a festival where many different cultures come together to perform their folk dances, because Oaxaca has many different native cultures, not just Zapoteca. The festival spans almost a week full of plays and performances, but the most important part of it all is at the end of the event… In an open theatre, the different groups all perform folk dances, to music unique to each culture, donning their traditional clothes. Most if not all dances are for couples, a man and a woman. Probably the most famous dance is the “hat dance,” but there are many others.

 

(Note: The hat dance involves the man placing his sombrero between him and the woman, with both of them dancing around it in until they meet.)

 

Interviewer: Yeah, I remember the dances being very unique, but what I remember the most is almost getting knocked out by a mezcal pot during the festival. Could you also talk about the food at “La Guelaguetza?”

 

Informant: (laughs) Of course, of course. “Guelaguetza” is actually a Zapoteca word, which roughly translates to “sharing of gifts.” Other than sharing their music and dances, “La Guelaguetza” is also the place where everyone shares their native foods… but not in a buffet or a restaurant. They actually give samples of the foods in the middle of the dance performances.

 

Interviewer: They pass out the food in a very… uhm… unique manner, do they not?

 

Informant: Indeed, it would be extremely complicated and would most definitely interrupt the dance if they tried giving samples to such a huge crowd, so the performers often opt to throw their items into the crowd! Most of the time they’ll bring a type of sweet bread, but you can also expect mole negro, tamales, and yes, even pots of natively brewed mezcal to be thrown your way. “La Guelaguetza” is so significant for Oaxaca because it celebrates all the cultural diversity in the state by bringing us all together through music, dance, and food.

 

A video of “Jarabe Mixteco” (lit. Mixteco Syrup) one of the more well known dances performed at “La Guelaguetza”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttlol6TZebE

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Eve Fondue

Piece:

Interviewer: “Can you explain the fondue Christmas Eve tradition?”

Informant: “Yep! So, fondue goes way back when to me being a kid… and we did this at Christmas Eve with the Hardy family, and we called it ‘hunkso’ – I’m sure you’ve heard that – ‘hunkso meat’ or a ‘hunkso party’ and… I don’t know, we started the fondue tradition in the 70s and it is something that has carried with us ever since, and now we do cheese and it’s a lot more elaborate.”

Background:

The informant has grown up with this tradition as a part of her family since childhood. The piece is important because it is representative of Christmas Eve and family camaraderie during the holiday season.

Context:

The informant (my mother) and I discussed the tradition at our home kitchen table, but the tradition itself that she is describing is performed only on Christmas Eve with extended family.

Thoughts:

Given that I am an active participant in this tradition, hearing about its origins was very interesting to me because I was able to witness how it has evolved over time. The family no longer calls it ‘hunkso’ for whatever reason (this was actually the first time I had ever heard it referred to by this name, despite what my mother said during the interview) and we have expanded the tradition to include cheese fondue, shrimp, and chicken in addition to the original beef. This is the perfect tradition for a holiday meal because the fondue format forces the meal to progress very slowly since each person can only cook one or two bites of food at a time, meaning the time in between bites is spent enjoying the company of extended family.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie

Piece:

Interviewer: “What about the Thanksgiving tradition with pumpkin pie?”

Informant: “So the ingredients in pumpkin pie are largely consistent. Um, most pumpkin pies contain eggs and cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger and salt and pie crust. What you generally do is whisk it all together and bake it. Our family does not bake it at all, we instead use egg whites and all the same ingredients as well as the most important ingredient which is gelatin, which is used to make jello in many recipes. Also, we do not heat it up and it is served cold.”

Background:

The recipe for this pumpkin pie has been handed down for generations for use during Thanksgiving. It is important because it is the family’s signature Thanksgiving dish and pays homage to the ancestors who originated the tradition.

Context:

The informant (my mother) and I discussed this tradition at our home kitchen table, but the recipe itself is only used during Thanksgiving.

Thoughts:

Although normal pumpkin pie is a very common Thanksgiving tradition, this cold gelatinous variant introduces the family’s personal twist on the traditional recipe. Because of this unique identifier, participation in the tradition brings one closer to the heritage of the family and also provides a family bonding activity in the form of cooking the pies the day before Thanksgiving.

Adulthood
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
general
Homeopathic
Life cycle
Magic
Material
Old age

Long Noodles, Long Life

Context/Background: The informant is a first-gen Filipino-American whose family has engaged in a wide range of customs throughout her life. One specifically pertains to food and one’s lifespan which she learned from her family.

“Yeah, so a Filipino… maybe Asian… tradition is to eat long noodles on your birthday for long life. So Even if you go out to dinner for your birthday, you HAVE to eat long noodles in order to have a long and fulfilling life.” (Informant)

 Analysis/Interpretation: When I first heard of this tradition I thought it seemed like a nice practice where one could find a clear state of mind when consuming their bowl representing a long life on a birthday. I looked into this more after speaking directly to the informant and found a large presence of this tradition in Chinese culture where participants eat yi mein, known as “longevity noodles.” I found it interesting that these noodles were being compared to cakes in some aspects because these noodles are such an integral aspect of birthdays in Chinese culture. Seeing how these specific aspects of birthdays in varying cultures are so integrated, caused me to wonder how other cultures perceive American birthday traditions such as cake and blowing out candles.

 

For further information on other forms of food for with significance, refer to

China Highlights. (1998-2019). The Symbolism of Chinese Foods. Retrieved from https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-food/chinese-food-symbolism.htm

 

Foodways
general
Material

A Poor Chinese Communist’s Guide to Cooking

Context: I collected this from a high school friend when we were on a camping trip together over Spring Break.

Background: My friend is Chinese on his mother’s side, and she grew up in a poorer part of Communist China.

The Cooking Method: Because of the lack of proper food that poor Chinese people had to eat, they adopted a method of cooking that involved simply throwing whatever was edible and available together “in ways that made it taste good.” Over time the method became just the natural way of cooking to the people, even once regular food and ingredients became available.

Analysis: I like that the originator of this method of cooking is merely the will to survive, rather than simply a single person who decided to start cooking things a certain way. It’s also interesting to point out that these are folk recipes that emerged from a certain socioeconomic climate, a product of a generally difficult time period for the proletariat Chinese. More ties to folklore and the history of a culture.

Foodways
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bagna Càuda

Informant AB is a 23-year-old male who is from the East Bay in Northern California. He is a student at the University of Southern California in his third year as a civil engineer major. AB and his family have made a special Italian dish called Bagna Càuda for Easter for many generations. Bagna Càuda is a traditional Italian dish originated in Piedmont, Italy, which is typically made during the winter months of December and January:

AB: “Ever since I could remember, my Noni would make Bagna Càuda for Easter every year. It’s always been something she has enjoyed making.”

Where did your Noni learn this particular traditional meal?

AB: “She actually learned it from her parents who also learned it form their parents. Once my Noni’s parents immigrated to the United States from Italy, they brought the recipe with them and continued to pass it down throughout the years.”

Can you please explain what kind of Italian dish Bagna Càuda is for those who are not familiar?

AB: “Yes it’s kind of like a fondue, but it’s not like a cheese. It’s more of an oil, garlic, anchovy mixture that is really thin. It’s not a thick mixture. You take whatever it is whether it’s cabbage, mushrooms, red peppers, meat, or chicken and you put it in the garlic, the oil, and the anchovies and mix it all around and let it sit for a while. Once it is ready, it taste delicious.”

As a fellow Italian, I am familiar with this dish being made on Christmas and New Years in particular. Why did your family choose to carry on this dish only on Easter?

AB: “Well my Noni told me once that her parents often would make too much food on Christmas and New Years and there wasn’t enough time to get everything ready so they decided that they would only make this dish on Easter.”

Who do you invite over for Easter dinner?

AB: “Well since it’s Easter, we try to get all of our family members together to celebrate. We also invite a few friends to join in on the celebration. My Noni always ends up making too much food, especially the Bagna Càuda, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Will you continue to pass this traditional meal on as you get older?

AB: “I definitely do plan on carrying on this dish as I get older. Luckily I paid enough attention when my Noni made it over the years so now I can make it myself.”

What does this traditional meal mean to you?

AB: “Bagna Càuda is a dish that will forever remind me of the times as a young boy and the times that my Noni shared with her parents and the times that are spent over this meal.”

Analysis:

AB has fond memories of celebrating Easter with his grandmother and his family. AB’s example of the Italian dish, “Bagna Càuda,” is a representation of a family tradition that has been kept alive over many generations in an effort to preserve his family’s Italian nationality. As a fellow Italian, I am familiar with Bagna Càuda, as my family has made it before during the winter holidays, however, I found it very interesting how AB’s family only makes the dish on Easter. The ritual of making Bagna Càuda every Easter is a way that AB’s family connects to their Italian heritage and it keeps the memory of his grandmother’s parents alive. His desire to uphold his Italian roots is evident and he will continue to carry his family’s ritual along with him.

Customs
Festival
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Croatian Bakalar Recipe

Informant MV is my mother who is both Croatian and Italian. She was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles, CA. Her parents immigrated from Croatia to the United States in 1958. MV speaks Croatian fluently and has two daughters who she raised within the Croatian and Italian traditions and culture. Bakalar is a traditional Croatian dish from the coastal region of Dalmatia that is served on Christmas Eve.

“Bakalar”

“Dried cod”

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds salted cod
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 slices lemon, rind removed
  • 1 pound potatoes
  • 4 finely chopped cloves garlic
  • 1 large finely chopped onion (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley

 What kind of dish is Bakalar?

MV: “Bakalar is a salted cod stew with potatoes that is always cooked and eaten on Christmas Eve. Bakalar, meaning ‘cod’ is the main ingredient. The cod must ferment for at least 2 days for all the favors to come out. Once the fish is cooked, other ingredients like onions, garlic, and olive oil are added to a large cooking pot where you have the potatoes. Then you add the cod to the cooking pot with the potatoes. You can adjust how much garlic or olive oil, depending on your preferences in taste. It’s important that you remove the bones from the fish before you add it to cook in the pot. Then you let everything simmer until you have a consistency that suits you. You also add salt, pepper, parsley, and more olive oil. You can never have too much olive oil.”

How did this dish become so popular on the Dalmatian Coast?

MV: “Well, your Dida (grandfather) told me that cod is not known in the Adriatic Sea so it has to be imported from areas that have cold waters. It has been said that the reason why we have Bakalar in Croatia is because the fisherman from Dalmatia were working on ships that were in the North Atlantic, who learned about this dish while they were away. When they came back to Croatia, they shared their experience with this dish and it became a staple in our cultural cuisine.”

Why do you like making and sharing this recipe?

MV: “It’s a delicious recipe that is pretty easy to make but it takes time to make. If you have the patience and the urge to try something new then it’s a great option. I have shared this recipe with my American friends and they found it to be very tasty.”

Who did you learn this recipe from?

MV: “I learned how to cook from both my parents growing up. I found cooking to be fascinating and relaxing, so as a young adult I picked up a lot of the recipes that my parents made, Bakalar being one of them. My mother taught me this specific recipe while I was probably 15 years old. She showed me step by step how to successfully make this into a stew.”

In what context is Bakalar usually cooked and eaten?

MV: “Bakalar is mostly eaten on Christmas Eve, but we also eat it on Easter and during Lent. Since we are Catholic and don’t eat meat on certain days of the year, Bakalar is the typical go-to dish on those holidays.”

What does this dish mean to you?      

MV: “Bakalar is a classic dish that is from our region and it brings back a lot of great memories while growing up. It is a dish that I love to cook and eat. I have enjoyed making and eating it over the years so much that now my kids have learned to make it. You really can’t go wrong with a great dish like this.”

Analysis:

Bakalar, a Croatian cod stew, is a staple of our Croatian culture. It is a main dish that we eat during Christmas Eve and other religious holidays as part of our fasting traditions. You will find Bakalar at almost, if not all Croatian social events or gatherings. This is a dish that brings our families and friends together because it is a dish that is universally loved and cherished by many.

 

Photo Credit: Croatia Week Magazine

Photo Credit: Croatia Week Magazine

Festival
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hawaiian Luau Celebration

Informant CT is in her third year as a neuroscience major at the University of Southern California. CT is Hawaiian and is from the island of Oahu. Here, she describes a traditional Hawaiian celebration that is a large part of her Hawaiian culture.

CT: “Hawaiian Luaus are so much fun. Basically, they are big parties with a ton of different food and of course music. It’s like the ultimate celebration for any important event in life like birthdays, graduations, and weddings. When I graduated from high school, my family threw a luau at our home. It was great. All of my friends and family members came over to celebrate. It was just one giant party.”

In what context or location are luaus held?

CT: “Well luau parties vary in range, depending on how dedicated you and your family are to the Hawaiian culture. Like for my family, we often have these parties because it’s a fun way to celebrate major events that happen in all of our lives, but our traditions have become somewhat Americanized. For example, it is traditional to serve poi, but we don’t really do that anymore. Instead we replace it with like chips and dip. But we tend to have luaus in our backyard of our home.”

What kind of dish is poi?

CT: “Poi is made from the taro plant and it is made by mashing and whipping until it forms in to a liquid like consistency. Honestly, I am not a fan of poi. I think it has a strange, unique taste and the texture is kind of weird, but my grandparents love it. It’s a kind of dish that you either love or hate, there’s no in between and it’s traditionally eaten with your hands only. Like all of the food that is at a luau, you are supposed to eat with your hands.”

What kind of other dishes are commonly found at a luau?

CT: “We serve different types of meat like pulled pork, that is usually roasted over a fire pit, which is called the ‘Imu”, chicken, salmon, poki, which is a mixture of seafood like tuna and a ton of different fruits. The list goes on.”

Do luaus have any significant meaning to you?

CT: “Ya definitely! Being Hawaiian, family is a huge part of our culture and having luaus or going to a luau is a great way to celebrate with your family and friends for a special event or holiday. It brings everyone together to have fun with some great food and music. It’s just a great big celebration and feast that I love to be a part of and it is a fun way to continue to uphold my Hawaiian culture.”

Analysis:

Throughout the world, feasting is a universal way to celebrate happy and important life events such as birthdays, holidays, weddings, commencements from high school or college, etc. However, the Hawaiian culture has sure changed the way people celebrate with their friends and family. After the Polynesians settled on the central pacific islands, their culture and traditions started to form and spread among the island locals. Polynesians had much influence on Hawaii’s luau traditions, which has now integrated into the foods and festivities of Hawaii. It was interesting to learn how the informant’s luau traditions have partially become Americanized in that they use utensils with their meals and replace certain dishes like poi with chips and dip. Luaus are still a large part of the Hawaiian culture as a way to mark a milestone in a person’s life and it is a festivity that is meant to be celebrated with family and friends.

Foodways
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Kellogg’s Cereal

MH is a third-generation Irish-American, originally from Battle Creek, MI. He splits his time today between San Francisco, CA and Pasadena CA, where his wife and 18-year-old son live.

MH talked about a ritual his family performed:

“My father was the head of New Product Development at the Kellogg’s corporation, which is why we were living in Battle Creek. He oversaw the development of cereals like…Sugar Smacks, Frosted Flakes, Apple Jacks and Rice Krispies…those were all his projects. We used to get to test new cereals, and they would come home in these white boxes so we wouldn’t be influenced by any packaging. He eventually became president of their International Division, so he had to travel a lot. At home of course we could only eat Kellogg’s cereal, but when he’d prepare to go out of town it was a ritual for us to decide what non-Kellogg’s cereal we were going to buy for while he was away. My mom usually tried to limit us to Cheerios, but my favorites were like, Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I think my dad knew but he never talked to us about it…”

My analysis:

Family rituals that involve secrecy from a parent are common, and they usually seem to be invented to help the other parent bond with their kids. In this case, MH (who has 9 other siblings) thinks it brought his brothers and sisters together. With so many of them, meals weren’t necessarily a family event, but when they all got together to pick their contraband breakfast cereals, they spent some rare time as a whole group. MH says he and his siblings all buy Kellogg’s cereal for their families, but would look the other way if their spouses decided to give their kids something from General Mills.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays

Japanese New Year’s Ozoni

KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.

KM described to me some of the basic traditions her family has for New Years Day, especially the cooking of “ozoni”:

“Ozoni is just a soup made with chicken broth, green onion, shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, chicken and mochi. My Auntie Kazuko would make it for us every year when we were growing up, and it’s always the first course of a New Year’s Day meal. All of [my mom's] siblings and my cousins would get together at [Auntie Kazuko's] house and while most of the day would be, you know, just a family gathering, we would all sit down together to eat the ozoni. It’s only cooked on New Year’s and you have to go to special Japanese markets to find the ingredients.

“Now with my siblings and kids and nieces and nephews, we get together at my sister’s place – she’s married to a Japanese man, and his mother makes the ozoni. The holiday is pretty similar to how it was for me, where everyone just gathers at someone’s house to watch football and eat food, but the making of the soup and eating it together is like one concrete tradition we do every year. I’m not sure who will keep making it after [my sister's mother-in-law] passes away though…”

My analysis:

The most interesting part of this food tradition for me is the shared background of the family members who actively carry it out – KH told me her Auntie Kazuko was most connected to their Japanese heritage, which is why she insisted on making the soup every year. Similarly, her sister’s mother-in-law is from Japan, and she is the one who facilitates the tradition. It really reveals how certain customs make it overseas when families would move to America, but also how fragile they are. KH isn’t sure anyone else in her family is motivated enough by their Japanese traditions to continue the laborious process of making this particular food. Traditional holidays tend to become more Americanized (in this case) over the years they’re observed away from their roots, and unless enough people are committed to certain customs, they can easily die out.

For more information about ozoni, see:

“Ozoni (Zoni) Recipe.” Japanese Cooking 101. 2016. Retrieved from http://www.japanesecooking101.com/ozoni-zoni-recipe/.
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