Tag Archives: Food Traditions

Black American Food Tradition: Eating Black Eyed Peas on New Year’s


KJ: “So, basically, on New Year’s Eve every year, my mom does it in my house, but it’s a very common Black tradition, you make black eyed peas. It’s food, so you can put whatever you want in it, but the traditional thing is to put a ham hock in it, which is classic, Black food for holidays in general. At least my mom starts making them either the day before New Year’s Eve, or on New Year’s Eve, so it can marinate all day. You eat them on New Year’s Day, and it’s supposed to be good luck.”


The informant is a 19-year-old Black American college student from Montclair, New Jersey. She said that this tradition is common among Black Americans. KJ said that this food holds cultural significance not only because it’s traditional, but also because enslaved Black people ate it. Since black eyed peas and ham hocks were seen as undesirable foods, enslaved people were able to cook with and build a food culture around them. She said that Black people now consider these eating this dish good luck because it nourished enslaved people enduring oppression and violence.


 In his essay about the globalization of and continued imperialist legacy within Indian cookbooks, Arjun Appadurai wrote that “Eating together, whether as a family, a caste, or a village, is a carefully conducted exercise in the reproduction of intimacy… Feasting is the great mark of social solidarity,” (Appadurai 10-11). As is the case for many ethnic and folk groups, food can be an important means by which Black people connect to each other and to their histories. Familiarity with certain foods or food traditions like eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day can spark recognition and community between individuals of similar backgrounds. Moreover, the food acts as a kind of tangible link to this group’s heritage.

Black American food traditions are specifically important because they symbolize the ethnic group’s history both of brutalization and of resilience. Enslaved people’s ability to transform the most undervalued ingredients, like ham hocks, into delicious food and common culture, which enslavers sought to strip Black people of, is a source of pride and an emblem of ancestral strength for Black people today. Many groups partake in good luck rituals on New Year’s Day. I think that this food is considered good luck because it nourished enslaved people through the horrors of oppression, so people hope it can sustain them through any hardships of the upcoming year.

Appadurai, Arjun. “How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 30, no. 1, 1988, pp. 3–24., https://doi.org/10.1017/s0010417500015024. 

Chicken Soup has Healing Properties

Main Piece:

What is so special about chicken soup?

“All Jewish grandmas think that chicken soup will cure most of the things that are wrong with you. It’s called Jewish penicillin. And then I’ve heard that there’s some scientific support for this, in a paper I cannot find… supposedly if the chicken soup contains at least these four ingredients, it has anti-inflammatory properties, so your Bubby [Jewish grandma] might actually be right. The four ingredients are chicken, onions, carrots, and celery.”

Do you have a parent/grandparent that held this belief?

“I have a parent and a grandparent who would make me chicken soup, and now I make chicken soup, and I fed my daughter who got her covid vaccine chicken soup last night because she wasn’t feeling so great. She felt better after the soup (laughs).” 


My informant is my father. He was raised culturally Jewish, and his career is within the science field. This information was collected during a family Zoom call after my sister got the first dose of her coronavirus vaccine. Chicken soup is considered an iconic Jewish food. Variations include chicken noodle soup and matzoh ball soup.


I have been eating chicken soup as a cure for illness my entire life, and I had known that it was called “Jewish Penicillin,” but I had never heard that there might be actual scientific proof that it worked! My father’s statements about the ingredients line up with claims in an article by Alan Hopkins titled “Chicken Soup Cure may Not be a Myth.” Instances of folk medicine being investigates scientifically and then incorporated into Western medicine are common, and these instances highlight that just because a group doesn’t have access to “science” and “technology,” it doesn’t mean that their cures and treatments are necessarily less valid. 

Hopkins, Alan B. “Chicken Soup Cure may Not be a Myth.” Nurse Practitioner, vol. 28, no. 6, 2003, pp. 16. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/chicken-soup-cure-may-not-be-myth/docview/222356779/se-2?accountid=14749.

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.


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.


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.”


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.

Iranian New Year Tradition (Haft-sin)

Name: Haft-sin (هفت‌سین)

Main Piece

Me: So, I know people in Iran celebrate their New Year next month.

Informant: Yeah, Nowruz. It’s in March, but I’m not sure what day it’s on because it’s always different I think.

Me: Is there anything you guys do on that day? Or any particular dish that is traditional for New Years?

Informant: Well, yeah there are foods that are usually on the table but that’s not… I guess it’s not as important as Haft-sin (written: هفت‌سین). I don’t… have you heard of that?

Me: No, never.

Informant: Ok ok. So, there’s a small table, maybe off to the corner, and we put seven foods that start with the letter “s” on it. It doesn’t need to be cooked food or prepared in anyway because we don’t have to eat it. This is supposed to keep evil spirits away and bring good luck for the rest of the year.

Me: Oh, so you don’t have to eat these things, you just have to have them there.

Informant: Yeah, yeah. It’s stuff like vinegar and spices that you can’t really just eat like that, so…

Me: Can you tell me what your family puts on the table?

Informant: Yeah, we put garlic (سیر –  pronounced “seer”). We put sabzeh (سبزی), which is some type of green herb. I’m not sure how you say it in English, sorry!

Me: Oh that’s ok!

Informant: Yeah, then we put vinegar, like I said. It’s called serkeh (سرکه). We also put this pudding called samanu (سمنو). I can’t translate that either, and I’m not even sure what went in it, but it was kind of sweet. And then my mom sprinkled sumac on the table, too. You know sumac.

Me: Yeah.

Informant: Yeah, we pronounce it somakh (سماق). And then we put apples, which is seeb (سیب). And olives, which is senjed (سنجد). And then… that’s it I think. And my mom liked to decorate the table with flowers and candles. 

Me: That’s interesting. So, was this the standard? You had to have all seven of these things on that table and decorate it with flowers to have good luck?

Informant: Well, my mom always did it this way because she… she said it was the right way to do it. But pretty much, everyone just decorated it how they wanted to. I don’t think flowers were the standard.

Me: So you just put these on a table in the corner and it brings good luck?

Informant: Yeah, that was the point. I mean, it doesn’t have to be in a corner, I was just saying that. But yeah, it was supposed to keep evil spirits and evil people out of your house that year. I don’t know if it ever worked, but we always did it anyways, so…

Me: Did you personally like this tradition? Do you feel like you would do it in the future if it were left up to you?

Informant: Yeah. Yeah I think I would. Mainly because I want my kids to know the tradition. But I wouldn’t expect it to actually work. I would do it, but not to keep the evil spirits away.

Me: Right, right. So just to keep the tradition alive.

Informant: Mhmm.


My informant was born and raised in Iran, and she remembers this tradition being performed every year. She explains that her mother is the one that kept the tradition alive in the household.


Haft-sin is performed every Iranian New Year on March 22. According to my informant, this tradition is more widely performed in Iran than it is in the United States, where my informant currently resides.

My Thoughts 

I had never heard of this before. We don’t have anything like this in my culture, and I have never been exposed to this in America. This is an interesting tradition, and I wondered what the significance was of putting each of these foods on the table. For more information on this, visit the first citation at the bottom of the page. In summation of the information on the website, “Sabzeh is a symbol of rebirth and renewal of nature. Samanu represents fertility and the sweetness of life. Senjed is for love and affection. Serkeh… symbolizes patience and age. Seeb…is a symbol of health and beauty. Seer…is for good health and Somaq…symbolizes the sunrise and the spice of life.”

I found it interesting that seven is the lucky number in Iran, much like it is here in America. Upon further research, I found that the number seven held enormous significance in Iranian culture. For more information on the lucky number seven, visit the second citation at the bottom of the page, which is an article from the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies.


Bakhtiari, Parisa. “All About Haft-Sin: The 7 ‘S’ of Iranian New Year.” SURFIRAN, 28 Mar. 2021, surfiran.com/all-about-haft-sin-the-7-s-of-iranian-new-year/. Accessed 18 Feb. 2021.

Shahbazi, A. Shapur. “HAFT (seven), the “heptad” & Its Cultural Significance in Iranian History – (The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies – CAIS)©.” The of the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS)©, www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Culture/haft.htm. Accessed 18 Feb. 2021.

Armenian Foodway – Kyomba

(Some parts of this conversation took place in Armenian and have been translated to English)

Main Piece

Informant: Have you ever heard of Kyomba?

Me: I have yeah my family does it. But I noticed that not many Armenians make it here [in America].

Informant: Yes, I have noticed that too. That’s not good.  

Me: How did you do it in Armenia? Maybe it’s different than how my family does it here.

Lili: Well, every year on January fourth… or was it the fifth… no, sorry, it was the fourth. January fourth. My mom and I bake the Kyomba. It is a pastry filled with ground walnuts and sugar. And in the dough, we hide a 1-dram coin [dram is Armenian currency]. We bake the Kyomba, then we slice it into equal pieces. One for each family member. Whoever gets the coin had good luck for the rest of the year.

Me: Yeah, we do it that way too. But we would also cut a slice for the house. So the house we lived in would also get a piece. Also my grandma and I hid a quarter in the dough because we didn’t have any dram.

Lili: I guess it does the same thing. I’m glad at least somebody makes Kyomba here [in America] too! I didn’t think you would. The best part about this, I think, is just making it. To be honest, it tastes good, but making it is so fun that I don’t really care about the taste.


Kyomba is made every year on January fourth. It is a casual event to bring the family together. The rules governing the Kyomba-making process are not strictly enforced. My informant learned of this tradition from her mother. Kyomba is usually not performed when there was a recent loss of a relative or family member.


During the conversation, my informant revealed that she learned this tradition from her mother. She is fond of this tradition as it results in her spending time with her mother.

My Thoughts

Hearing my informant talk about this tradition and witnessing her excitement when she was explaining it made me realize that many people perform this tradition because it brings the family together. This recipe is many, many centuries old and uses ingredients that would have been relatively cheap and easy to come by. Therefore, my informant and I can conclude that this was a tradition practiced by the lower class. The purpose of the Kyomba tradition is not to bestow a year of luck upon the one who finds the coin, but to bring the family together for the entire year to observe the good (or bad) luck of the winner.