Glutinous Rice Balls


L is a sophomore at USC, and a good friend of mine. He immigrated to the United States from China when he was 15 years old.


L: I’m gonna talk about like glutinous rice balls, something that my family will make during the Chinese New Years that usually my grandma off on my mom’s side makes. So it’s something that we just do like once a year, it’s essentially a sticky rice ball. It’s like barbecue pork and then mushrooms and all kinds of different things. I haven’t had it for a while because I haven’t been back to China since 2019. But I just remember that growing up that’s something that she makes only once a year and it’s only on Chinese New Year so it’s like quite, you know, memorable. She made it because they didn’t grow up in like a very wealthy family so like like pork or like meat in general is not like accessable for them. So they would save money for an entire year just so that they can have a big nice meal on Chinese New Year, just for that one day. And although my grandparents have become wealthier and they live in circumstances that if they want, they can literally make it every single day, but for some reason my grandma just wanted to keep that tradition going. So when I was growing up that’s like the only dishes that you make during New Year’s but the other year, my mom and my auntie started picking up that tradition. So now during my birthday or other big holidays if they can’t really think of anything to do they will make that meal. Now it’s really become like a celebration because it’s something that I so rarely eat and I really like it so yeah.

Me: What kind of memories do you associate with this?

L: I mean, whenever I think about this, I think about unity. Like that’s the time where my family is like all together. Whenever my grandma brings it out like we are always like in the big chairs all around a table. And everybody’s talking to each other during that time. And it’s not something that I see a lot these days. So like whenever I have that food I just think about it and the memory is awesome. The thing that my mom remembered when I was a kid we would get all around the table like this.


Traditional meals, especially ethnic traditional meals, often spring out from necessity and budget. This particular dish seems to be considered particularly delicious by the informant, and he mentioned that even though the dish can be made essentially whenever anyone wants it, the association and the rarity of the meal based on past tradition is something that his grandma and family wants to preserve. This meal is something special – something people save for and a tradition that represents the family. To the informant, this particular dish reminds him of his family being one, especially after COVID-19 began and they split apart for longer periods of time. In preserving the special nature of this dish, one also preserves the past traditions – almost vestigial, in a sense, because they no longer need to save money just to be able to afford it, but instead wait for special occasions to have it.