Tag Archives: food superstition

Eggs, shoes, and nightmares.

A is a 59-year-old Hispanic American female originally from La Junta, a small town in Southeastern Colorado. A currently works as a background detective in Phoenix Arizona.

A informed me of this folklore over a dinner discussion. We were on the topic of family superstitions, and I asked A if she had any superstitions that she remembered her family believing in.

A: I was told by my parents that you’re not allowed to have eggs at night because you will have nightmares after eating them. They are only meant for the morning. I also remember you were not allowed to put your shoes underneath your head under your bed because that too would cause you nightmares.

Reflection: At first I had a hard time finding a correlation between these seemingly unrelated practices and nightmares. However, as A implies, the nightmares are induced by breaking the natural order of things. Like eating an egg (breakfast food) at night. Applying these same parameters, it can be assumed that keeping shoes underneath your head is harmful given that it breaks the natural order of shoes being on your feet. Based on my personal experiences being raised in a Hispanic family, there is often a strong emphasis on orderliness in the household and not breaking tradition. Perhaps these same values account for the superstitions present in A’s family.

Menstrual Taboos In Modern-Day India

Informant’s Background:

My informant, SV, is a recent graduate with a Master’s from the University of Southern California. He is 25, was born in Hyderabad, Telangana, India, and moved to the United States to attend a graduate program at USC. Post-graduation he remains in Los Angeles hunting for a job.

Context:

My informant is my roommate and a close friend of mine. I asked him if he could share some Indian traditions, customs, or folklore with me.

Performance:

SV: “So… One of the kind of, er, traditions in India… are like women are considered impure when they’re doing their periods. So they’re not allowed to a lot of places, or they’re not, for example, like temples or a lot of holy places, or they’re not allowed in the kitchen and to cook food. So this is a tradition that is probably more prevalent in more rural areas which isn’t as prevalent in other areas where people are progressive and aren’t as strict with these rules but this, uhm, used to be a thing maybe in older generations where women would have their, like I guess rights limited when they’re on their periods and they have limited things that they can do and they’re sort of oppressed in some sense. Another thing through this is also the fact that sort of like talking about it is considered taboo. Like I guess when I was younger I didn’t realize it but then later when I got older I understood that like, because my mom’s on her period, that’s why she’s missing temple. Because when I was younger I would just think that she was busy or she was tired. And it didn’t make sense to me when I did understand it, because I thought it, to me, was just a normal bodily function, so uhm… I didn’t quite understand it but trying to talk to her about it wasn’t something she was comfortable with. Same at school, it’s considered very taboo to sort of like, openly talk about it, so for example sometimes at school a girl might be on her period, and she forgot her pad, so like she’d borrow it from a friend, and it’s sort of like they’re passing drugs or something it’s like… it’s so secretive. They’d cover it up with newspaper or with a plastic bag because it’s something that for some reason is considered embarrassing.”

Informant’s Thoughts:

SV: “It’s a normal human function, right? So I guess I still find it odd they treat it this way, but I guess that’s just how it is.”

Thoughts:

Menstrual taboos are fairly universal, seen in a wide range of cultures throughout the ages and even up to this day. In this case, the informant notes that menstruating women are seen as impure, hence they are not allowed to cook food or be in the kitchen, as they are most likely considered to be contaminating the food by being in it’s presence or by handling it. Superstition often plays a role in the establishment taboos, in this case, the actual possibility of the women contaminating the food is negligible, yet the taboo lives on due to the superstition that the menstrual blood will somehow manage to contaminate the food and the kitchen, as well as the temple, in the case of this taboo.

Bread In Armenia

Informant’s Background:

My informant, AD, is an undergraduate student at USC who grew up in Glendale, California. Her family immigrated to the United States from the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Context:

The informant is my girlfriend and we share an apartment together. I asked her if she could share some Armenian folklore with me, and this is one of the pieces that she provided.

Performance:

AD: “This one time, I didn’t know this, but this one time, I like grabbed some lavash and I threw it into the trash, like really hard after dinner because it was like moldy and old. And I was like being stupid, and joking around with it, so I was like “PHEW!” and it landed in the trash and my mom gasped and my sisters gasped at me, and I felt… weird, and I felt like everyone was looking at me and that was because the bread… I was not supposed to do that with bread. Since it is very sacred in Armenian homes, especially lavash, uhm, you are supposed to treat them with respect because if you do not it is… a sign of like, disrespect, uhm, bad fortune, and like not caring about the things that are provided to you.”

M: “Is this bread specifically?”

AD: “Yes, bread specifically, like lavash bread, and like, like hats bread.”

M: “Why do you think it’s specifically bread?”

AD: “Because bread is so like common in Armenian tradition, and like most other cultural traditions, it is like the staple food that people eat when there is like no other food. It’s like, it is sacred in a way.”

M: “Ok, can you tell me about some of those kinds of breads you mentioned?”

AD: “Uhm, lavash bread is like the Armenian national bread, it is like a flat bread, that like, it is made by elder women in villages, in like a big pit that they have. Usually outside, in like a yard or a small hut or something, where they press the bread flat against the wall, and then cook it and eat it that way. And then there’s like hats, which is just regular bread. But there’s like specific kinds of hats, like matnakash, which is like bread where the dough has been, had a finger pulled through it, like a finger pulls through the dough, like a cooks finger, and it makes perforations in the bread. Yeah, that’s how you make it.”

Thoughts:

I think it is interesting and actually very important that it is bread specifically that is held to this sacred standard in Armenia. Sure, other foods may be more difficult to produce or cost more, but by holding the most basic and one of the most easily accessible food items to such esteem, it ensures that a family is thankful for even the smallest of things when it comes to putting food on the table and it seems to be to be a very good-natured and humbling tradition in this way.

Almond and Luck

Context

The interviewee is one of my housemates and we often engage in conversation about his Danish heritage. This folklore is a food ritual that he practices as part of a family tradition.

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Performance

The following is transcribed from the story told by the interviewee.

“Every Christmas eve we would eat pickled herring and rice pudding. The tradition is that we would have a bowl of rice pudding and at the bottom of one of the bowls there would be an almond. And whoever would get the almond would have good luck the next year. And in order to celebrate this good luck, the person who got the almond would get a marzipan pig. Sometimes if we got too lazy to go to the store to buy the pig, we would just make a different animal out of marzipan. Last year we made a penguin out of marzipan and I remember once we made a spider. It’s just a fun thing that we would do every Christmas eve.”

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Analysis

This is a Danish tradition that serves to celebrate a festival. The ritual happens near the end of the dinner and is meant to bookend the festival by giving a person luck for the coming year. For the interviewee, this custom is very much about having a shared experience with the family, and one that is fun and wholesome. The tradition has clearly developed over the year, the family not just using a marzipan pig but allowing the children in the family to create new and interesting animals such as the spider or penguin. But ultimately, the spirit of the custom remains the same. On a cultural level, this custom helps enforce the end of a year and celebrate new beginnings.

“Don’t Flip the Fish”: Vietnamese Folk Magic

Main Piece:

D: When I worked at the train station– that was the very first train station at– the area name is called Cà Ná– that’s the region, the name– so that area has a village, the fishing village, so everybody there goes onto the boats. So you know when you eat fish– you know how [the] Vietnamese cook fish or fry the whole thing– so when you eat one side, you don’t flip it. You’re not supposed to flip it. Just take the bones out and then eat the other part.  

Me: Why?

D: Because they all go on the boats, they don’t want the boat to flip. So even if you don’t go on the boats, everybody has to eat like that. So you don’t have to, but nobody is gonna let you flip it, even if you don’t go on the boats. If you flip it, other people are gonna stop you.

Background:

My informant is my father, who was born and raised in Vietnam. He explains that he used to work at a train station in a fishing village called Cà Ná, which is on the southwest coast of Vietnam. While he worked and lived here, he has told me about how he would eat fish every day because that was the main food source in this village. Mealtimes are often communal, in which main dishes are shared, fish being one of them. Thus, being a part of this community, my father had to follow the practice of never flipping the fish when eating.

Context:

This is a transcription of a live conversation between my father and me. He often tells me stories about his life and past and has told me many about his time working at the train station. He told me this story when I asked if he knew about any kinds of folk magic.

Thoughts:

My father has told me many stories about his time working at the train station in Vietnam, but this was the first time I heard about this practice. I had just finished our lecture that day, where we talked about folk magic, with homeopathic magic superstitions being common for fishing and boating communities. I told my father about one, where you are not allowed to whistle on a boat because it is thought of as “whistling up a storm.” That is when he was reminded of this story. Thinking back to our family mealtimes, I cannot recall an instance where our fish was flipped. I believe this must have become a habit for my father. As he explained, being a part of the fishing village, it did not matter if you got on the boats or not. Since everyone was a part of this community where fishing is the main source of food and work, everyone contributes to the prevention of bad luck, which would come from mimicking the flipping of a boat through flipping a fish. Though my father has immigrated to the US now and is no longer a member of the fishing village, he still continues the practice. On the sea where weather and safety are unpredictable, magical folk practices are common to resolve and alleviate the tension of uncertainty. Such is the case for Cà Ná and the prevention of boat flipping. In this case, this belief is both homeopathic (mimicking the flipping of a boat) and contagious magic (the fish was in contact with the boat).