Tag Archives: Foodways

Coin cake.

N is a 55-year-old female Canadian immigrant originally from Vancouver, Canada. N is a retired social worker currently living in Phoenix, Arizona.

While visiting my home state of Phoenix, Arizona, I visited N’s home, as she is my neighbor. During the visit, I asked N if she had any folklore she would be willing to share with me, and she offered me the following piece of folklore.

N: I’m talking about a tradition we had in Canada growing up, so we’re talking about the mid-sixties, uh, through the mid-seventies through approximately the age of ten, so. Um.. what we experienced growing up is that um.. When celebrating birthdays it was very common for various denominations of coins to be baked into birthday cake. And the idea was I guess for the.. child is it was a little bit of an extra gift, and surprise. But of course all of the other kids would be getting a piece of the cake as well, and so there was this fun little challenge as to who would be getting, uh, the higher coin, uh, it seems silly now seems how were just talking about coins. But at the time, um, we just thought it was a fun thing, and, I don’t think anyone thought about the potential of choking, but that is something that was very common and I have since learned that that was a tradition from Europe and possibly actually originating from Greece. Just a sign of good luck and, um, good blessings for the coming year. Uh, if I recall correctly I don’t believe I remember any adults having birthdays with these special cakes, but it was super common and it was really a fun thing that kinda went away unfortunately when we got older. I would love to actually… why don’t we uh, in my next birthday cake that I bake, uh, I should impose this uh, tradition to be new.

Reflection: I can relate to N’s story to a certain degree, as my elementary school used to hold annual Marti Gras celebrations in which they would bake cakes with items hidden in them. Except for coins, however, the cakes would each have a small plastic baby inside. Just as in M’s account, whoever found the special item inside the cake would receive good luck. With this in mind, it is interesting to consider how the American and Canadian traditions differ, in that the American Marti Gras cakes I am familiar with contain objects of perceived value while M’s Canadian birthday cakes contain items of actual value. As a result, the American cake tradition appears to be centered on an intangible sense of accomplishment (luck) while the Canadian cake tradition appears to be centered around monetary gain. This makes sense in relation to N’s assertion that coin cakes were exclusive to children’s birthday cakes, as children are probably more willing to discover a prize in their cake that they can actually use rather than an abstract concept like luck.

Zongzi

Text:

“So there’s this interesting food we eat during this one special holiday, the Dragon Boat Festival. It’s a special kind of rice wrapped around some other food. Like we can put meat or sticky rice inside and then we wrap it in like a tree leaf. Then we steam it. It’s a lotus tea leaf. The food is called:

Chinese: 粽子
Phonetic: Zòngzi
Transliteration: Rice dumplings son
Translation: Zongzi, a type of rice dumpling

We don’t usually eat that food during other times of the year. It’s mostly a variation of it during other times of the year or the traditional form during the Dragon Boat Festival.”

Context:

Informant (XY) is a student aged 19 from Changsha, China. He spent a few years going to elementary school in Canada but has spent almost his entire life in China. He currently goes to USC. This piece was collected during an interview over dinner in the dining hall. He learned about this from his family. He doesn’t really see any larger meaning behind the food.

Interpretation:

This particular food demonstrates how one food specific to a particular festival can undergo variation with the growth in wealth of the lower classes. This dish was originally eaten very sparingly, but due to economic developments, it is now eaten outside of the original festival. In order to preserve its traditional meaning, versions eaten outside of the original festival must vary.

MIYEOK GUK

MAIN PIECE:

Informant: So in Korea there’s this soup called Miyeok Guk. It is…  Essentially like a seaweed soup. And um… Seaweed has like iron in it, I believe. And in your blood… Your like hemoglobin has iron in it as well? So Korean reasoning is that, whenever a woman gives birth, she loses a lot of blood with that. So to make up for it, you should have food that can supply your body with iron, such as Miyeok Guk and seaweed. So on birthdays, in addition to like cake and just like normal birthday routines, the traditional side of it is eating Miyeok Guk and seaweed… For the iron that your mom lost. 

INFORMANT’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE: 

Informant: I do practice this. Cause I like Miyeok Guk.

Interviewer: So you’re really consuming it for the taste? 

Informant: Yeah… I mean… I also think that we all have a desire to keep our culture going. I think when we’re younger it was easy to forget about and not care. Like, “Who cares what they’ve done for a thousand years, Imma do me…” My dad was born in Korea but moved to Guam and later Hawaii and later Anaheim. So he’s very Americanized. My mom didn’t leave Korea until college, so she was always the more traditional Korean side of the family… But my dad and I are more Americanized. Um… But yeah, as time has gone on, I feel like it’s good to keep some things, even if it has zero significance or importance… Even if it’s just soup that reminds me of my mom, it’s nice to continue on with those little traditions. 

REFLECTION:

Korean birthday tradition honors the mother by including food that recognizes the hardship of childbirth. The informant, while also consuming Miyeok Guk for taste, has grown to appreciate this food as a symbol of his mother. This is multifaceted, as Miyeok Guk is both a Korean symbol of the mother in general, but also a reminder of the informant’s mother specifically, who passed this tradition onto him. This demonstrates how food can have a “broad” cultural significance, but also a more intimate, immediate, familial significance. Thus, there are several reasons that food traditions might be upheld. This tradition also seems to hint at an appreciation for the mother within Korean culture. 

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.

Ukrainian – Reuse Of Food Storage Containers

Informant’s Background:

My informant, AK, is a undergraduate student at the University of Southern California. He is a first-generation immigrant, and the child of Ukrainian and Russian parents.

Context:

I am a close friend of AK. I asked him if he had any folklore he could share and this was what he gave me.

Performance:

AK: “I guess like you can make a story out of this, but essentially, like, my whole life, when I try and get food from my parents or my grandma or my grandpa and like I come over as a guest or something and they want to cook me food or something they like put it-like every Russian… uhm, and Ukrainian like puts this, like does this, so say like I want some food that you made or I’m offering you some food that I made, like (*laughs*) I don’t give it to you in Tupperware. I give it to you, like I give you some Russian soup in some like old yoghurt container that like I bought, that literally had my yoghurt in it and like now I’m using it as a container to put other food in it and store other food in it. Obviously like its washed, uhm, before like any other different new food is put in it, but it’ll be like a yoghurt container but what will actually be inside will actually be some like, uhm, leek soup or something. And that’s like pretty typical like classic Russian stuff that you’ll get. More so with older generations, I don’t think like anyone who’s Russian or Ukrainian now would do that.”

Informant’s Thoughts:

AK: “I think the reason why is that there was just a time, in Russia, where you had to be really resourceful, uhm, and that’s because of World War 2, and like, I don’t know, just when there was winter and stuff and you kind of have to bunker down and just use what you have, and like no one was really rich in Russia uhm back then, there was a lot less rich people, and a lot more poor people that were like struggling and stuff. So a lot of people were resourceful, and I think that just like became embedded into like their-their DNA and their way of life. And so it just bleeds through in this small little funny way.”

Thoughts:

I think AK explained this quite well. This example demonstrates how people adapt their way of lives to the times that they grew up in, and to the situations that surround them. In this case, this resourcefulness is likely no longer necessary in the case of AK’s relatives, due to better living conditions, and the lack of a harsh winter to diminish resources, yet the traditional way of life the person grew up with is still performed, even if it will not carry on to AK’s way of life.