Category Archives: Foodways

Swedish-American Christmas Foods

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On Christmas Eve the foods are based on the Viking traditional foods in Sweden : 

  • Cold First course: 
    • Beet salad with beets, pickles, herring 
    • Herring 
    • Rye or hard bread with butter and cheese 
  • Warm second course 
    • Ham with mustard 
    • Julienne potatoes with cream and anchovies 
    • Meatballs 
    • Sausages 
    • Cabbage 
  • Dessert
    • Cookies with cream and berries 

Then on Christmas day aside from the leftovers, the foods are based on Christianised Swedish foods:

  • We have leftovers from Christmas Eve for the first course
  • Second course
    • Lutefisk or another more mild white fish 
    • Boiled potatoes 
    • Peas 
    • Bechamel sauce 
  • Dessert
    • Rice porridge with milk, sugar, and cinnamon 
    • Put a peeled almond in the porridge (so it is the same color) and everyone takes it without looking
    • Then we say poems around the table while eating and the person who gets to almond has to pretend like they don’t have it and everyone guesses who got the almond
    • Whoever gets the almond gets a little almond gift 

Context:

The informant is the granddaughter of a Swedish immigrant and these are the traditional foods eaten on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for dinner.

Analysis:

The informant’s family is Swedish-American and therefore mixes some American traditions in with the Swedish but relies heavily on the Swedish ones for the majority of what they do. Eating these foods although difficult to get and not always the favorite of the American guests allows for the family to retain part of their identity that they find important. They make an annual summer trip to Sweden and would like to eventually spend Christmas there as well as there are more Christmas traditions that they cannot do as they are not in the right location. Because of this, they do the ones they can which include the food they eat. Retaining the pre-Christian Viking food as well indicates a sense of pride in their heritage and brings them together. Keeping the traditions also helps add a sense of family and fosters an atmosphere of community. The family is very close as a result and all of them meet for all major holidays. The traditions bring them together and give clear boundaries of who is considered family and who is not, as it is a big deal to be invited to partake in the traditions.

Mithai

My informant is a Pakistani male that has lived in many different countries across the world, yet his attachment to Pakistan and its culture plays a significant role in his life and how he lives.

Traditional Food:

Mithai is a “type of box or category of sweets” that exist within Pakistani culture. It is comprised of “different sweet treats and toffees that you give out to houses at the weddings.” He describes these sweets as a form of an invite for party favours that occur at the wedding. The sweets are often seen as a ‘thank you’ or token of appreciation and reminder of the wedding, they are the “staple sweets at Pakistani weddings”

Context:

The Mithai is usually made by certain stores in Pakistan that specialize in providing the sweets “on a large scale when they also are able to maintain the best quality” for the guests. Even though my informant is Pakistani and has seen these sweets at weddings and different family events that he has attended, it is “a general desi traditional sweet that also exists in India”. This sweet is provided before the dinner or reception as a sort of snack or small bite in order to keep the guests satiated and entertained for the long day of traditions ahead.

Analysis:

The incorporation of food into big events in Pakistan such as weddings allows the guests to feel like they are being cared for in a certain environment. It ties it back to their culture as the unified feeling of togetherness that is provided in the event is seen through Pakistani food as a whole which is usually made for sharing and family-oriented events. The ability that their culture possesses by bringing their families together with food allows them to maintain their connections with the children and set in place the values that they hold when prioritising family. Furthermore, this is seen in the wedding sweets as the guests are seen as part of the family and are given the opportunity to celebrate the day with the community whilst being fed and incorporated into a family tradition.

Christmas Spaghetti and Meatballs

CONTEXT: MM is a third year student at USC, originally from Pennsylvania. He describes a tradition he learned from his grandmother of eating spaghetti and meatballs on Christmas. This tradition is very important to him and he reflects positively on it.

TEXT:

MM: We had to eat spaghetti and meatballs on Christmas. We’ve done it as long as I’ve been alive. I don’t know if we did it until we moved to Pennsylvania. I don’t know. It’s associated with family. It used to be my grandma always did it, but she’s not quite able to anymore; she’s pretty old. So my aunt took over, usually. But someone has to do it, but it’s fine whoever does it. I’ll probably continue to do it, it’s the celebration meal. It’s a special thing.

ANALYSIS: This is a foodway and a way of marking a religious holiday, Christmas. It is a traditional food for MM’s family and is associated with family all being together. MM indicates that there is no hierarchy of who is allowed or who should make the meal, but one person is in charge of it. It is possible that that person is a responsible party, and seems to be typically an older member of the family. MM associates the meal with celebration and his grandmother. It has to be homemade, indicating that the time and effort put into the dish is important, potentially due to the fact that it means more time spent together as a family. Christmas is a major holiday for MM’s family, so this dish is for special occasions. MM plans to continue this tradition.

New Year’s Day Pork, Sauerkraut, and Donuts

CONTEXT: JM is a third year USC student from Pennsylvania. He describes a tradition he learned from his mom to mark the new year (Jan 1). He reflects fondly on the tradition, though he expresses that he didn’t really understand why they did it.

TEXT:

JM: On New Year’s Day, my mom would make us eat donuts in the morning for good luck and for dinner we would always have pork and sauerkraut. I think it’s a German thing but I’m not entirely sure why. So breakfast was donuts and dinner was pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. I think you’re technically supposed to eat the donut at New Year’s Eve, but my mom always gave it to us in the morning. She’s Italian, but I think her dad’s side is German and that’s where it came from.

ANALYSIS: This is a foodway, and a celebration and marker of the start of a new calendar year. JM believes this tradition follows German tradition that his mother inherited from her family. I have heard of donuts and pork and sauerkraut being eaten in Germany for good luck. This also makes it a tradition that brings family together, both when it is eaten, and across generations. Eating pork and sauerkraut for New Year’s Day is also practiced by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities, commonly in the region where JM is from. Both foods are eaten for good luck, which is a superstition associated with the calendar year- starting new.

Fish for Lunar New Year

CONTEXT: TL is a fourth year student at USC. He is originally from Connecticut and first participated in this tradition with his family. He continued in this tradition marking the Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year until he moved to USC for college. TL’s parents are both from Thailand, and he does not feel very connected to this tradition, but participated for many years for his dad.

TEXT:

TL: So every year, before college, on Chinese New Year, even though my family isn’t Chinese, my dad always made us have fish because I think that there’s something about fish being good luck in Chinese culture. So we always had fish…. He’s always really impressed by the China in the 21st century and he tried to convince my family to move to China when I was younger. Well, my dad’s grandparents immigrated from China, but he grew up in Thailand. I honestly don’t think it’s because of his family lineage, I think it’s just because he just really likes China and wants us to embrace Chinese culture, even though I don’t consider my family to be Chinese. So we ate fish for dinner and that was the main dish. I don’t think there was a specific kind of fish, it differed every year. It was the whole fish. In Chinese culture and in Asian culture you eat the entire fish as a family. But there’s no chance I will continue to do this.

ANALYSIS:

I think this family tradition, started by TL’s dad, is one way of mirroring a culture he has a lot of respect for. Based on TL’s description and interpretation, it is possible that TL’s dad tries to incorporate other aspects of his understanding or interpretation of Chinese culture, whether from his grandparents or from his own time spent in China, into his own life, and that this tradition is one way to involve his family. It is also a tradition to mark a specific time of year, which is significant because it brings family together at least once per year, with predictability. TL’s family does not otherwise celebrate Lunar New Year in any way, or celebrate any other Chinese holidays. After some research into the Lunar New Year, I found that it is not only celebrated in China, and though it is not a public holiday in Thailand, it is still celebrated as about 15% of the population in Thailand is of Chinese descent (as of 2023). Being that TL’s dad is from Thailand, it may also be that he was around the celebration in childhood and wants his children to share in that experience. TL does not plan to continue this tradition as he does not wish to celebrate the Lunar New Year because he says he does not feel a strong connection to it.