Tag Archives: food rituals

Russian Wedding Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Russian
Age: 24
Occupation: Student
Residence: Glendale
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/3/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Russian

каравай

Transliteration: Korovai

Description: Korovai is a large bread that is baked for the wedding day. It takes a few days to prepare it. The bread is always round, decorated, and supposed to represent the God of the sun. The bread is brought out on a towel or a blanket that has symbols of love and happiness. On the day of the wedding, the couple need to take a bite out of the bread. It is supposed to provide a blessing to the couple. After the couple takes a bite, then the rest of the guests can have a bite.

Background Information: Common Russian wedding ritual. Not necessarily practiced by Russians living outside of Russia. Seen as an older ritual that does not necessarily need to be practiced in the present day.

Context: The informant told me about this tradition through a video call. She told me this after I asked her about Russian wedding rituals/traditions.

Thoughts: I think that the wedding tradition of baking and eating Korovai is done to make sure the couple’s marriage is prosperous and fruitful. I believe that the laborious preparation of the bread is to show the immense amount of work that it takes to ensure a successful marriage which includes having children, sustaining a household and finding happiness. Possibly shows that Russians value a prosperous marriage and want to make sure that it is.

The Ritual of Miyeok-guk (미역국)

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/20/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Korean

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my informant (GK). 

GK: Every year on your birthday, you eat the same thing, and it’s Seaweed Soup. The Korean name is Miyeok-guk (미역국), which literally translates to “seaweed soup.” 

LT: I’m assuming there’s something symbolic there, right?

GK: You’re supposed to eat it because apparently your mother eats it during pregnancy, and it fortifies her blood. I’m not sure what that means, or if my parents just made it up, but apparently all Koreans do it because I watched a docuseries where this Korean dude does it. But I guess it’s supposed to connect you to your mom somehow. 

Background:

Although GK was born and raised in Los Angeles, her parents are originally from South Korea, and they kept Korean culture very alive throughout her upbringing. She has been eating Seaweed Soup for as long as she can remember, whether it be for her birthday or a relative’s. During the interview, she points out that they eat this soup regularly, not just on birthdays. It’s actually one of her favorite meals that her parents make when she’s home from college. To her, this soup symbolizes love. In our conversation, GK says “My parents… they don’t show love externally often, but they do by cooking.” 

Context:

GK is one of my best friends from high school, and she’s the only one who left California to go to college (where she’s currently quarantined). This piece was collected during one of our routine catch-up FaceTime calls. 

Thoughts:

I believe this ritual reflects the nature of Korean familial relationships. While GK’s parents don’t fit the stereotypical “tiger mom” image we often see of Asian American parents, they still hold her to a high standard and expect her to be respectful. There is a sense of formality and strength in Korean home lives. The exception to this is food. Cooking is a labor of love where a parent shows they care about their child by devoting time, money, and energy into something they can enjoy. It’s what connects them. In regards to this specific meal, pregnancy is a time where a child and their mother are the most connected they’ll ever be. By a child eating the same thing their mother ate during that time, it symbolically recreates that bond, showing it’s still there. Even the tone of GK’s voice when describing this ritual was much softer and more loving than how she normally speaks about her parents. 

For further reading on the role food plays in Korean households:

Cho, Grace M. “Kimchi Blues.” Gastronomica, vol. 12, no. 2, 2012, pp. 53–58.

Nepali Winter Holiday Food

--Informant Info--
Nationality:
Age:
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language:
Other Language(s):

Background

Informant: S.S. – a current Senior in college in Indiana, originally from Nepal.

Context

S.S. entire family still resides in Nepal and he always felt very connected to his heritage through food and by cooking the traditional meals from his home country. The collector has personally enjoyed S.S. meals and has observed the performance of Nepali culture and heritage while cooking with S.S. When prompted about special holiday meals or dishes in Nepal, the informant shared this which I have transcribed below:

Main Piece

“So we eat something called Kwati which is like a soup/stew. And it’s made out of 9 different beans- black eyed peas, cow peas, black lentils, chickpeas, adzuki, fava beans, soybeans, Mung dal, green peas. They’re all soaked before and cooked for an hour and a half along with garlic and ginger paste. We usually add momos to the soup too which are Nepali dumplings. And you can eat this anytime, especially in winter because of its high protein value and health benefits but during the holiday of Gun Punhi (Goon Poon-he) we make it and it’s a delicacy too. We add a tempering oil to it after it’s done cooking, which is basically heated oil or ghee and you quickly fry ajwain (carom seeds) and pour the mix into the kwati. So in my family and Newari culture, when the soul is served, before eating we have to look at/for our reflection in the soup and then only we can begin to eat it. This is like a ritual significance to show that eating this cleanses your soul and also rids your body of negative energy but it’s also very healthy so a way to tackle the winter.

Thoughts

From my relationship with the informant, I have learned that food is incredibly important in Nepali culture and that Nepalese people feel very connected to the idea of the clarity and pureness of their soul through the food that they create and consume. Much of the food made in Nepali requires a deep understanding of the rituals of cooking, meaning that each step in the making of the dish is specific and has a purpose. For example, the washing of rice multiple times prior to boiling it, from S.S. telling, serves a dual purpose. One is obviously the practical need to wash the rise of dirt before preparing it, but also the idea that cleaning the rice is important for the body and how the body receives it. Often, there are very specific steps and timing involved in the preparation of the meal, adding things at certain times and this requires a very intricate knowledge of the culture and the meaning behind each step from a spiritual understanding.

Mince and Tatties

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Scottish
Age: 51
Occupation: Occupational Therapist
Residence: California
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/14/19
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

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.