Tag Archives: food

Russian recipes – Piroshkis, Borscht


KT: “There are a couple recipes that I have memorized and these three I learned from my grandmother, so your great-grandmother, who I am almost sure learned them from her mother. Your great-great grandmother came from to America from Russia, so that would make sense.”

Me: “Where did you first learn them?”

KT: “I have memories of learning them from her when I was probably around your age, maybe a little younger, when she lived out in Lancaster. I learned how to make piroshki, and both hot and cold borscht from her. My mother knows how to make them too, so I’m sure I also made them with her, but I distinctly remember make them in my grandmother’s little kitchen with her.”

Me: “What are the traditional dishes called and how do you make them?”

KT: “Well piroshkis are kind of like little loaves of bread that are fried and filled with meat and rice. Your dad likes when I make those the most. My favorite is borscht. I know how to make both hot and cold borscht, which are kind of similar. They are both made with beats and cabbage, just one of them is a cold soup and one is a hot soup.”

Me: “How do have the recipe, is it hand-written or is it in a cookbook?”

KT: “I might have them written down somewhere, but I just have them memorized, so I never need to look up how.”


KT is a 59 year old woman from California. Her, her mother, and her grandmother have all lived here for most of their lives. Her great-grandmother immigrated from Russia and brought these recipes with her, which have been passed down the generations. She has the recipes memorized, so does her mother and grandmother. Usually, she or the other women in the family make all the meals, traditional or otherwise, for family gatherings. She still makes these recipes regularly. I have eaten all three of these dishes that she has prepared, but I do not know how to make them. She told me this in an in-person interview that I recorded and later transcribed.


These three dishes are traditional recipes from Eastern Europe that have been collected and stored matrilineally. Cooking holds a special significance because it is a way to stay connected to older family members, a person’s culture, or enjoy foods that remind a person of their family/childhood. It is something that is often taught to a younger family member by an older or more experienced family member. Usually, these recipes are shared (especially in the 21st century) when a person is first entering young adulthood. Cooking is often viewed, especially historically, as a part of the domestic sphere which regulated it to a women’s role in the household. This means that much of traditional cooking is preserved through the women in a family line or culture. We can see the structure of domestic ideologies of Eastern Europe through the preservation of cooking as a female role, even into the 21st century. Many of these recipes also have spread and gained popularity. Often, different Eastern European countries will have the same dishes by different names. However, these dishes have also gained popularity in several non-eastern European countries due to Russian diaspora. The countries have collected the dishes as their own, often under a significantly different name, when at various times in history huge swaths of the Russian or Eastern European populations left and settled in new areas, such as is the case with my informant’s great-grandmother in the United States.

Christmas Eve Ritual

text: “Every Christmas eve, on my Italian side, we eat seven kinds of fish. My mom is Italian and her parents came to the U.S. from Italy. They taught her that eating the seven kinds of fish combines their old Italian traditions and unites them with their new ones in America. The fish we eat are, clams, mussels, halibut, shrimp, calamari, etc.” – Informant

context: This is a yearly tradition on Christmas eve done by his entire Italian family. Even when they’re traveling, if they have no access to all of these fish or any of them, they will jokingly buy Swedish fish candy in order kind of fulfill the tradition. The informant learned this from their mother, who is Italian, and she learned it from her parents, who moved to America from Italy.

analysis: This is a holiday ritual but also a cultural food tradition done yearly by Italian people and immigrants. Done by a lot of Italian/Americans, this tradition combines their old culture with a new culture.

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.

Don’t break the Dumplings at New Year’s Eve

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, the informant’s family would start to make dumplings in the evening so they could eat the dumping at midnight. It is important to make sure that the dumplings are securely sealed so they won’t break down when boiling the pot. When the dumplings are cooked, the informant’s family will gather and eat the dumplings.

The informant’s family makes eats dumplings every Chinese New Year’s Eve. The informant believes it is an important part of the New Year festival for her family. One important thing that she noted about the dumplings is that they must be made very carefully so the dumplings don’t fall apart in the boiling pot. She laughed at herself a bit and explained that it’s the reason why she doesn’t participate in the dumpling-making, as she sometimes makes dumplings that fall apart. Usually, the family members that are skilled at dumpling making are responsible for folding the dumplings. Also, although dumplings taste better with more fillings, the new year version has fewer fillings to ensure they don’t leak outside when being cooked.

Many Chinese families have the tradition of eating dumplings (Jiaozi) in the new year, but the tradition slightly varies among each family. Some people eat dumplings for New Year’s Eve dinner; some eat them for New Year’s Day breakfast. The informant’s family chooses to eat dumplings at midnight, during the liminal time between the old and the new year. There is because midnight (11 pm to 1 am) is called the time of Zi in ancient China, and the character Jiao means intersecting and meeting. Thus, Jiao plus Zi became Jiaozi, meaning at time Zi the old and the new year intersects. It is also the synonym of Jiaozi or dumpling. Eating dumplings at midnight thus became a tradition. Dumpling means a lot to the Chinese. It is the shape of the Yuanbao, an ancient form of Chinese currency usually made of gold or silver. When making the dumplings, the extended meaning becomes creating wealth and luck. Thus, it is important that the dumplings don’t break, as they contain people’s wishes for the new year.

The Longevity Noodle

Text: The longevity noodle is a traditional part of Chinese birthday celebrations. When celebrating at home, the family would cook noodles that are just like the kind of noodles they normally cook, but it’s called the longevity noodle on birthdays. When celebrating at restaurants, the restaurants would provide the noodle as a gift to the persons celebrating their birthday. It is a simple dish that contains the wishes.

Context: The informant almost had the longevity noodle every year for her birthday. It is also a tradition that is commonly shared among the Chinese. When she went to other Chinese birthdays at Chinese restaurants or in their homes, they usually had noodles. It is especially important if people are celebrating the birthday of an elder. When eating noodles, it is best to swallow the whole strand without breaking it with chopsticks or teeth.

Analysis: The noodle is a symbol of longevity as it is long and thin. It reflects people’s good wishes for the person celebrating the birthday. As a birthday is related to the celebration of life, it is a good time to wish them a long life, especially for elders, who are highly regarded in Chinese culture. Both cooking longevity noodles at home and providing them as a gift at restaurants highlight the cultural importance of sharing food and hospitality in Chinese culture. It also shows how the tradition is passed down from generation to generation, as the informant almost had longevity noodles yearly for her birthday and others’ birthdays. This tradition of eating longevity noodles on birthdays reveals the cultural values and beliefs in Chinese cultures, such as respect for the elderly, hospitality, and longevity.