USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Jewish cuisine’
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Matzah Pizza: Jewish Folk Cuisine

Context: I invited the informant to my dorm room at USC to work on the project collaboratively. He sat down next to me, and we began having a conversation about the passover holiday. He told me that Passover snacks were somewhat strange, but ultimately delicious. I inquired further, since I was unaware of the specific snacks that accompanied the holiday. I began recording, and asked the informant to tell me about his favorite Passover snack.

Transcription:

EG: Oh man, it would have to be matzah pizza.

WD: Matzah pizza? What’s that?

EG: So, Passover is the celebration or annual remembrance of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. In the biblical story, one aspect of it is, when they were preparing to leave and escape from the Egyptians, they started baking bread. But, they had to leave, like rush to leave, so there was no time for the bread to rise in the oven. So, it’s all this flat stuff…

WD: Yeah, like, the unleavened bread, right?

EG: Yeah exactly. Anyways, so now we eat this thing called matzah, it’s like, unleavened bread or kind of like a cracker.

WD: But what’s matzah pizza? I’ve never heard of that before.

EG: So, the diet restricts you… or, people who strictly adhere to the diet of passover don’t eat anything that has any, like, bread related products or anything, except for the matzah, since it’s so symbolic. So, it’s hard to think of any good snacks to eat, but one thing that’s easy is to take a piece of matzah, put some tomato sauce on it, put some cheese on it,  maybe a little garlic…

WD: Oh, I see where this is going…

EG: Yeah, maybe some basil even… you put that baby in the oven and it’s a great snack.

WD: So it’s almost, like, a comfort food, huh?

EG: It is a comfort food. And it’s turned into one of those things where… where I really like matzah pizza now, and I’ll look forward to it. You know, Passover’s not, like, usually the most fun holiday, so it gives me something to look forward to.

WD: Oh, so you know that whenever Passover comes around, the matzah pizza’s comin’ too?

EG: Yeah, exactly. It’s not really something I eat normally, just around the Passover season.

Informant:The informant is a 19 year old student at the University of Southern California. He is from Memphis, Tennessee, and is Jewish-American. The informant attended high school at Memphis University School in Tennessee, a unisex private catholic school. The informant’s parents and family have been making the snack since as long as he can remember, and he’s grown a strange affinity for the particular food.

Analysis: This food is highly symbolic for the Jewish peoples, but it also integrates Italian culture into the dish. Since, around the Passover season, strict practitioners of the Jewish faith are prevented from eating raised bread, they have created alternatives to their favorite foods. Matzah pizza is no exception, as it adds new flavors to the traditional matzah cracker. Contemporarily, the dish has become a staple of the religious holiday, and Jewish peoples look forward to making and eating the dish. Although it doesn’t necessarily match the flavor quality of pizza, it has a distinct flavor that Jewish children learn to love at a young age. Not only does it provide a direct tie to the religious faith of the Jewish peoples, but it has also evolved into a type of comfort food during the Passover season. 

For another recipe for matzah pizza and other Passover snacks, see Randi Sherman, April 10, 2009, “Matzah Love Year-Round” in The New York Jewish Week, pg. 3.

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese Food on Christmas

Interviewer: Does your family engage in any Jewish culinary customs such as eating kosher?

SS: We aren’t kosher but like a lot of other Jewish Americans we actually eat Chinese food on Christmas which is an interesting tradition. 

Interviewer: Can you tell me more about this?

SS: I’ve been doing it since as long as I can remember. Every Christmas for dinner me and my family has a bunch of Chinese food and has a really good dinner usually with my immediate family, my cousins that live in Los Angeles, and my grandparents. 

Interviewer: When did you start doing this?

SS: It’s something that my family does every year and that we got from my dad and his side of the family. He did it with his family growing up and they passed it down to ours.

Interviewer: Who else that you know does this?

SS: I actually know quite a bit of Jewish people who do this. I have a bunch of family friends who do it and most of my relatives.

Interviewer: Do people outside your family do this in the same manner or is there any differences?

SS: Well actually most people I know have the meal Christmas morning. My family is a little different we like to do it for dinner

Interviewer: Do you know where this custom came from?

SS: I’m not all entirely sure. However, my dad has explained it a little bit. He basically said that it started decades ago when his parents were kids and that it is used as a way to feel connected to jewish culture on a day where we feel a bit outcast from the rest of society. It’s a way for us to engage in an activity on a day where most of the world is doing something completely different. 

Interviewer: How do you personally feel about this tradition your family has?

SS: I personally love it. I feel like if my family didn’t have this especially at a young age Christmas would have been a weird day for me. But instead, I have something to look forward to. It really brings us together and we always enjoy it a lot. It’s also nice to know that I’m doing something similar to friends and family in my Jewish community. 

Context:  I received this explaining of a Jewish folk tradition from an 18-year-old male Jewish from Los Angeles. He practices Judaism and been raised in a Jewish household his entire life. This interview was done in person at the USC Leavey Library. 

Analysis: This is folk tradition of Jewish people eating Chinese food on Christmas day is an interesting one. It is an example of a community creating a tradition in order to feel connected to their own identities and their communities in a creative manner. 

 

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