Tag Archives: food

Songpyeon

Background:

Informant is a half-white, half-Korean student studying at USC who has lived in America their whole life.

“I feel like it’s not a tradition, just a holiday, on 추석 (Chuseok), which is like the Korean Thanksgiving, you eat like, rice cake also. You eat this like little, there’s like little colorful ones, I think they’re called 송편 (songpyeon, lit. “pine cake”), and they have little things in it, they go bad really fast.”

Context:

This conversation was recorded in-person. We were discussing holidays that we celebrated that had traditional foods usually eaten on said holiday.

Analysis:

Food is a major component of ethnic identity. As Elliot Oring notes in his book, Folk Groups and Folklore Genres, “it is unlikely that anyone who feels some stirrings of identification with an ethnic group cannot think of some dish recipe, or kind of meal that they particularly associate with their group” (35). Songpyeon is seen as quintessential to Chuseok, as it also carries symbolic belief, to show gratitude to the year’s harvest. Songpyeon is a type of dish made from rice, which is a staple crop in Korean food (there are also many other dishes that involve rice—tteok is a whole classification of various rice cakes). Making songpyeon invariably leads to a large quantity made, it is reasonable for it to be served on a holiday like Chuseok, traditionally celebrated with the entire family. As folklore, food serves as a symbol of in-group identification, creating a sense of community. Especially with members of a diaspora, food is also a way to stay connected with their culture that they otherwise would not be exposed to.

“Three all the way and a coffee milk”: Rhode Island Hot Wieners

Text:

AG: “I’m from a little state called Rhode Island and there’s this dish, this cuisine called the Rhode Island Hot Weiner. It is not strictly related to Rhode Island to my knowledge, it’s kind of like an East Coast thing, like, New York, New Jersey as well. But Rhode Island has these very specific ones. There’s a bunch of different kinds you can get, there’s a bunch of different categories. There’s East side and West side wiener. I’m an East side wiener guy. There are some that are just disgusting. They don’t even call them wieners. If you go into Providence to get a hot wiener, they’re called gaggers because of how disgusting they are. I couldn’t even finish it; my dad took me to get gaggers one time and I was like, yeah, I can’t do this. 

The East side wieners. Basically, you’ve got a standard hot dog in a bun with celery salt, mustard, onions and meat sauce and it’s delicious. And there’s a very specific way you need to order them. You can’t just order one, you have to order three, and to order three with all the stuff on it, you say ‘let me get three all the way.’ But it doesn’t stop there. You have to also order what’s called a coffee milk, which is also something that’s very, strictly limited to Rhode Island. It’s milk with coffee syrup. I don’t like coffee; I do like coffee milk. So. the classic order, you go into any wiener joint in the state of Rhode Island, you say ‘let me get three all the way and a coffee milk.’ They know exactly what you want. ‘Coming right up,’ and they give it to you.”

Context:

The informant is a 20-year-old college student from Barrington, Rhode Island. He described Rhode Island Hot Wieners as a staple of his home state’s food culture, a source of rivalries, familial traditions, and regional pride. AG, his father, and his grandfather have a tradition of going to get hot wieners when he is home from school. AG’s grandfather prefers West side wieners—which are more like sausages in comparison to East side wieners, which are more like classic hot dogs– and frequents an iconic restaurant called Wienerama, famous for the way the server prepares the hot dogs in front of the guests by stacking around ten on his forearm and adding the accoutrements with his other hand. AG prefers East side wieners and favors the hot dogs served at a tiny diner called Rod’s in Warren, Rhode Island. Just as the man who prepares hot dogs at Wienerama has been working at the restaurant and using his same assembly method for decades, the owner of Rod’s has a similarly iconic status among the diner’s regulars. AG describes her as an old lady between the age of 90 and 100 who plays the same role at the restaurant that she did when AG’s grandfather went there in the 1970s. AG describes how the people who have worked there recognize his father and grandfather as patrons who have been going to the restaurant for decades.

         AG thinks of this food tradition as communicating state identity. He has a shirt that says, “Three all the way and a coffee milk.” Though non-Rhode Island natives tend to think hot wieners sound gross when he describes it to them, he says that when he’s taken friends to try them, they appreciate the tradition. “You’ve just gotta do it. It’s one of those things you can’t describe, you just have to experience it for yourself,” he said.

Analysis:

I think that the Rhode Island Hot Wiener and the tradition of ordering “three all the way and a coffee milk” is an emblem of state pride. This food tradition provides Rhode Islanders with a common experience to bond over. AG’s story shows how the food builds community—between his family, with other people from the state, and with the people who work at the restaurants where this food is served—and serves as an intimate familial ritual which brings together members of different generations. Moreover, allegiances to one type of hot dog or the other creates subcommunities, creating another social dimension to this tradition. 

The fact that people who are not from Rhode Island think that Hot Wieners are gross further strengthens this sense of community, where there are people who understand it and people who don’t, insiders and outsiders. However, the novelty of the food also provides Rhode Island natives with the opportunity to be arbiters of their culture, choosing to introduce people to the tradition, sharing a part of their identity.

Makers Onion Tradition

L is a senior studying computer science at USC, and he also serves as the 2022 co-president of USC Makers, a project-based engineering club. Here he recounts the origins of the Makers Onion Tradition and its significance during the 2022 Makers Spring Retreat.

L:  There was a man named Y, who was one of the founders of USC Makers in 2016. One of the most anticipated events of the semester was the Makers retreat, which was usually held at a venue off-campus. Later into this retreat while everyone was having a great time, some more intoxicated than others, Y decided that it would be a great idea to pass around a whole, raw onion and see how much of the onion the club could collectively consume.

Me: That’s disgusting! Did they actually eat it?

L: Yup! To his surprise and mine, most of the onion was gone. We even saw people who are usually very against onions take a bite. After the onion made its rounds, he handed the remainder of the onion to me and chose me to continue this spontaneous happening, which quickly became a Makers tradition.

Me: Wow, that’s fascinating. Are there certain criteria to become the next onion carrier or can it just be any old person? 

L: Every retreat, the role of the onion bearer is passed on to someone that the previous bearer believes embodies the spirit of Makers – curiosity, determination, and an eagerness to get their hands dirty. This person is preferably younger, but there are no solid requirements. 

As of April 2022, I am the fourth onion bearer, and I have the responsibility of carrying on this tradition for the next year and ensuring that the history of this tradition is not lost. The story of the Makers Onion Tradition has explicitly been orally recounted, and this is the first time that the tradition has been documented. Though this is not to say that it is guaranteed that the tradition will stay the same for the years to come; as oral histories go, change is often expected, and this documentation is purely meant to act as a snapshot of the Makers Onion Tradition in Spring of 2022 and not impede its natural progression.

Korean Red Bean Stew

This is a retelling of the tradition of eating red bean porridge on the winter solstice, told to me by my mother.

“한국에서는 동지날(12월 22일) 팥죽을 먹었다. 왜냐하면 빨간색의 팥죽을 먹으면 귀신이 무서워서 도망간다”

Romanization:

han-gook-eh-suh-neun dong-jee-nar (sheeb-ee-wur ee-sheeb-ee-ear) pat-jook-eur mug-ut-dah. whey-nya-ha-myun bbar-gan-sek-eh pat-jook-eur mug-eu-myun gwee-shin-ee moo-suh-wuh-suh do-mang-gan-da

Transliteration:

In Korea, the winter solstice red bean stew we ate. Because the red, red bean porridge if you eat ghosts become scared and run away.

Translation:

In Korea, we ate red bean stew on the Winter Solstice. We ate it because ghosts became scared of the redness of the red bean porridge and fled.

For as long as I could remember, eating red bean porridge on the Winter Solstice has been a family tradition. Our ancestors ate red bean porridge on the Winter Solstice because they believed the red beans had the power to chase away evil spirits. The color of the red bean was believed to symbolize positive energy or ‘yang’ and thus was effective in thwarting dark energy or ‘yin.’ This was especially important during the Winter Solstice since the long night and scarce daylight was thought to contribute to lots of dark energy. Eating the porridge by itself is tasty, but knowing the folklore and traditions behind the meal make it even more delicious.

Pavlova

Text:

Informant: I’ll be talking about, uh, the pavlova. which is a dessert that, and it’s a dessert that’s unique to New Zealand.

And, it’s a, sort of a meringue cake almost? um and you generally top it with a bunch of whipped cream and uh kiwi fruits, because that’s sort of like a New Zealand thing.

[Later in the transcript]

Informant: What else is interesting about it… OH it’s very easy to mess up. It’s sort of like, it takes a lot of skill to make a good pavlova. Like you have to practice a lot, um, and all the ones I’ve made- all the ones I’ve ever made have come out very bad, umm but my mother and especially like my grandmother, were very good at it. So it’s sort of like cultural heritage in that way.

Context:

Context of Performance: In-person conversation

Me: How did you find out about Pavlova?

Informant: I cooked it with my mom. So yeah, often times, it’s sort of a, like, a celebratory dish. Like for birthdays sometimes, or for Christmas, we would often times make pavlova.

Me: Do you consider [pavlova] to be something kind of exclusive? Would it be something that you typically only see New Zealand people make?

Informant: Yeah, generally. It would feel weird, to like, to see someone making Pavlova.

Personal Thoughts:

The informant made it clear that they learned this dish from their mother, who is from New Zealand. It is also interesting to note that the informant also noted that this dish is often topped with kiwis “because that’s sort of like a New Zealand thing”. This particular dish shows the relationship between food and its folk through the unique ingredients required. Prior to mass globalization, this food would only be able to be made by those with access to kiwis – such as people in New Zealand. It was also interesting to note that the informant considered this dish to be an exclusive heritage of sorts, despite finding an online recipe to give me. I guess that a specific family recipe would be more exclusive than just the general concept.

Additional Notes/References:

The following is a recipe given to me by the informant. He said that it was not exactly what his family does, but it’s roughly similar:

Member, A. (n.d.). Easy pavlova. Allrecipes. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/12126/easy-pavlova/