Tag Archives: Foodways

Chinese American Dragon Boat Festival Meal

Text: A tradition, during the dragon boat festival the informants’ family will always make “zhong zi, it is bamboo leaves soaked in water then inside then you have sticky rice with soy sauce, there is also pork belly or red dates. And it is made by steaming them. In Asia they race dragon boats. His family does it every year. Even if his family is not home. He likes pork the most because it’s more savory. It can also be salted egg yolk in the middle. 

Context: The informant doesn’t know much more about the dragon boat festival, His family doesn’t watch it, he loosely knows what they look like but his family cares about the festival that much. To him it’s more about eating a specific food during a specific time of year. Both his parents were born in China but he was born here. 
Analysis: The informant’s family tradition of making “zhong zi” during the Dragon Boat Festival shows how folklore adapts to fit contemporary lifestyles, especially within diasporic communities. Despite limited engagement with the festival’s traditional activities like dragon boat racing, the annual preparation of zhong zi serves as a powerful cultural symbol, preserving their Chinese heritage. This practice highlights the role of food in maintaining ethnic identity and familial bonds, even when historical narratives are not fully embraced. It shows how traditions can persist through adaptable, personally meaningful elements, such as shared meals during cultural festivals.

Italian American Christmas tradition

Text:Every christmas eve the informant goes to this italian restaurant called Maggianos and then goes to look at christmas lights. Every christmas morning before they would open presents they would eat breakfast, caramel pull apart rolls, biscuits and gravy, fruit salad, and orange juice. Then they all go to Olympia (He lives in Seattle) and sees his step dad’s family.

Context: The informant is religiously Jewish but his mom is Christian so they celebrate Christmas as a family with his moms side of the family, since his parents are divorced. It holds no religious significance to him though he said he loosely knows the story of Jesus. He enjoys gift giving and it’s very important to his mom who is religious. His mom is 100% Italian American but she briefly converted to Judaism while his parents were married and has since returned to Catholicism. This tradition started a couple years after the divorce happened when he was around 10. 

Analysis: These practices highlight the adaptability of holiday customs to accommodate personal beliefs and family histories. Although Christmas holds no religious significance for the informant, the holiday is embraced as a valuable time for family bonding and gift-giving, which are significant to his mother’s Christian beliefs. This blend of traditions: Italian American, Jewish, and Christian illustrates the complex ways in which individuals and families negotiate their identities and cultural legacies through shared celebrations. The food made by the mother, which isn’t Italian cuisine, shows the cultural assimilation that has happened in the family, adopting things they like form the environment around them. He still feels very strongly about celebrating it even though there is no religious meaning to him. It shows how holidays do a lot more for cultures than honoring a religion, they help meet vital psychological effects for those that participate in these cultural practices by providing a sense of belonging and community.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian American Christmas Eve celebration. J’s family has been celebrating with this feast just for the past few years, and he says it allows them to connect with their culture and ethnic community. In accordance with online descriptions of the grand meal, the “essentially have a dinner party with 7 different fish cooked into the dishes.”

According to Eataly, the tradition was started by Italian immigrants in the U.S. in the early 1900s and while the exact origins/meanings are difficult to trace, “the ancient tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic custom of abstinence from meat and dairy products on the eve of certain holidays, including Christmas. The number seven is rooted back in ancient times and it can be connected to multiple Catholic symbols…” Therefore, like for J’s family, one can presume that both the meals and symbolism present were reminiscent of “home” for early participants in the Feast.

He believes it to be a celebration of abundance and the “being better off” that comes with immigrating to the U.S. as well as a ritualistic acknowledgement by Italian Americans of their cultural history and the sacrifices and hard work of their ancestors.

Swedish-American Christmas Foods


On Christmas Eve the foods are based on the Viking traditional foods in Sweden : 

  • Cold First course: 
    • Beet salad with beets, pickles, herring 
    • Herring 
    • Rye or hard bread with butter and cheese 
  • Warm second course 
    • Ham with mustard 
    • Julienne potatoes with cream and anchovies 
    • Meatballs 
    • Sausages 
    • Cabbage 
  • Dessert
    • Cookies with cream and berries 

Then on Christmas day aside from the leftovers, the foods are based on Christianised Swedish foods:

  • We have leftovers from Christmas Eve for the first course
  • Second course
    • Lutefisk or another more mild white fish 
    • Boiled potatoes 
    • Peas 
    • Bechamel sauce 
  • Dessert
    • Rice porridge with milk, sugar, and cinnamon 
    • Put a peeled almond in the porridge (so it is the same color) and everyone takes it without looking
    • Then we say poems around the table while eating and the person who gets to almond has to pretend like they don’t have it and everyone guesses who got the almond
    • Whoever gets the almond gets a little almond gift 


The informant is the granddaughter of a Swedish immigrant and these are the traditional foods eaten on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for dinner.


The informant’s family is Swedish-American and therefore mixes some American traditions in with the Swedish but relies heavily on the Swedish ones for the majority of what they do. Eating these foods although difficult to get and not always the favorite of the American guests allows for the family to retain part of their identity that they find important. They make an annual summer trip to Sweden and would like to eventually spend Christmas there as well as there are more Christmas traditions that they cannot do as they are not in the right location. Because of this, they do the ones they can which include the food they eat. Retaining the pre-Christian Viking food as well indicates a sense of pride in their heritage and brings them together. Keeping the traditions also helps add a sense of family and fosters an atmosphere of community. The family is very close as a result and all of them meet for all major holidays. The traditions bring them together and give clear boundaries of who is considered family and who is not, as it is a big deal to be invited to partake in the traditions.

Boodle Fight


I: Sometimes, when we had a lot of family over for a gathering, we would prepare a boodle fight. My aunt would lay down some banana leaves on the table and the food would just pile on. Rice, seafood, pancit, beef and pork. And there were no dishes, no utensils. You eat with your hands. Just family sharing a meal. Oh, and a lot of napkins.


The informant is 48, and was born and raised in the United States, and whose parents were born and raised in the Philippines. This wasn’t a feast that happened often, but also wasn’t necessarily exclusive to special occasions. Whenever there were many family members in the house, a lot of food was prepared so that everyone would eat. Rather than being a meal that celebrated a certain occasion, it was a time for family members to share a meal while also catching up on each other’s lives.


The “boodle fight”, also known as the kamayan by some Filipinos, refers both to the communal feast and the act of eating with your hands. The term “boodle fight” specifically, comes from American military slang that was used to describe contraband food. According to sources, the kamayan was an indigenous Filipino practice that existed before pre-colonization. Though it was continually practiced through Spanish occupation, it was during American military occupation that the practice was suppressed due to forced conversion of American standards and etiquette. The resurgence of the kamayan in Filipino households, especially those in Filipino-American households, marks a conscience return to Filipino cultural roots, with the tradition being passed down from family member to family member, without the threat of American confirmation or suppression. The commercialized version of the boodle fight, now available as an option in some modern Filipino-American restaurants, continues this tradition and also extends it to people outside the cultural group as a meal shared amongst friends.