Tag Archives: Foodways

Croatian Bakalar Recipe

Informant MV is my mother who is both Croatian and Italian. She was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles, CA. Her parents immigrated from Croatia to the United States in 1958. MV speaks Croatian fluently and has two daughters who she raised within the Croatian and Italian traditions and culture. Bakalar is a traditional Croatian dish from the coastal region of Dalmatia that is served on Christmas Eve.

“Bakalar”

“Dried cod”

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds salted cod
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 slices lemon, rind removed
  • 1 pound potatoes
  • 4 finely chopped cloves garlic
  • 1 large finely chopped onion (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley

 What kind of dish is Bakalar?

MV: “Bakalar is a salted cod stew with potatoes that is always cooked and eaten on Christmas Eve. Bakalar, meaning ‘cod’ is the main ingredient. The cod must ferment for at least 2 days for all the favors to come out. Once the fish is cooked, other ingredients like onions, garlic, and olive oil are added to a large cooking pot where you have the potatoes. Then you add the cod to the cooking pot with the potatoes. You can adjust how much garlic or olive oil, depending on your preferences in taste. It’s important that you remove the bones from the fish before you add it to cook in the pot. Then you let everything simmer until you have a consistency that suits you. You also add salt, pepper, parsley, and more olive oil. You can never have too much olive oil.”

How did this dish become so popular on the Dalmatian Coast?

MV: “Well, your Dida (grandfather) told me that cod is not known in the Adriatic Sea so it has to be imported from areas that have cold waters. It has been said that the reason why we have Bakalar in Croatia is because the fisherman from Dalmatia were working on ships that were in the North Atlantic, who learned about this dish while they were away. When they came back to Croatia, they shared their experience with this dish and it became a staple in our cultural cuisine.”

Why do you like making and sharing this recipe?

MV: “It’s a delicious recipe that is pretty easy to make but it takes time to make. If you have the patience and the urge to try something new then it’s a great option. I have shared this recipe with my American friends and they found it to be very tasty.”

Who did you learn this recipe from?

MV: “I learned how to cook from both my parents growing up. I found cooking to be fascinating and relaxing, so as a young adult I picked up a lot of the recipes that my parents made, Bakalar being one of them. My mother taught me this specific recipe while I was probably 15 years old. She showed me step by step how to successfully make this into a stew.”

In what context is Bakalar usually cooked and eaten?

MV: “Bakalar is mostly eaten on Christmas Eve, but we also eat it on Easter and during Lent. Since we are Catholic and don’t eat meat on certain days of the year, Bakalar is the typical go-to dish on those holidays.”

What does this dish mean to you?      

MV: “Bakalar is a classic dish that is from our region and it brings back a lot of great memories while growing up. It is a dish that I love to cook and eat. I have enjoyed making and eating it over the years so much that now my kids have learned to make it. You really can’t go wrong with a great dish like this.”

Analysis:

Bakalar, a Croatian cod stew, is a staple of our Croatian culture. It is a main dish that we eat during Christmas Eve and other religious holidays as part of our fasting traditions. You will find Bakalar at almost, if not all Croatian social events or gatherings. This is a dish that brings our families and friends together because it is a dish that is universally loved and cherished by many.

 

Photo Credit: Croatia Week Magazine

Photo Credit: Croatia Week Magazine

Hawaiian Luau Celebration

Informant CT is in her third year as a neuroscience major at the University of Southern California. CT is Hawaiian and is from the island of Oahu. Here, she describes a traditional Hawaiian celebration that is a large part of her Hawaiian culture.

CT: “Hawaiian Luaus are so much fun. Basically, they are big parties with a ton of different food and of course music. It’s like the ultimate celebration for any important event in life like birthdays, graduations, and weddings. When I graduated from high school, my family threw a luau at our home. It was great. All of my friends and family members came over to celebrate. It was just one giant party.”

In what context or location are luaus held?

CT: “Well luau parties vary in range, depending on how dedicated you and your family are to the Hawaiian culture. Like for my family, we often have these parties because it’s a fun way to celebrate major events that happen in all of our lives, but our traditions have become somewhat Americanized. For example, it is traditional to serve poi, but we don’t really do that anymore. Instead we replace it with like chips and dip. But we tend to have luaus in our backyard of our home.”

What kind of dish is poi?

CT: “Poi is made from the taro plant and it is made by mashing and whipping until it forms in to a liquid like consistency. Honestly, I am not a fan of poi. I think it has a strange, unique taste and the texture is kind of weird, but my grandparents love it. It’s a kind of dish that you either love or hate, there’s no in between and it’s traditionally eaten with your hands only. Like all of the food that is at a luau, you are supposed to eat with your hands.”

What kind of other dishes are commonly found at a luau?

CT: “We serve different types of meat like pulled pork, that is usually roasted over a fire pit, which is called the ‘Imu”, chicken, salmon, poki, which is a mixture of seafood like tuna and a ton of different fruits. The list goes on.”

Do luaus have any significant meaning to you?

CT: “Ya definitely! Being Hawaiian, family is a huge part of our culture and having luaus or going to a luau is a great way to celebrate with your family and friends for a special event or holiday. It brings everyone together to have fun with some great food and music. It’s just a great big celebration and feast that I love to be a part of and it is a fun way to continue to uphold my Hawaiian culture.”

Analysis:

Throughout the world, feasting is a universal way to celebrate happy and important life events such as birthdays, holidays, weddings, commencements from high school or college, etc. However, the Hawaiian culture has sure changed the way people celebrate with their friends and family. After the Polynesians settled on the central pacific islands, their culture and traditions started to form and spread among the island locals. Polynesians had much influence on Hawaii’s luau traditions, which has now integrated into the foods and festivities of Hawaii. It was interesting to learn how the informant’s luau traditions have partially become Americanized in that they use utensils with their meals and replace certain dishes like poi with chips and dip. Luaus are still a large part of the Hawaiian culture as a way to mark a milestone in a person’s life and it is a festivity that is meant to be celebrated with family and friends.

Japanese New Year’s Ozoni

KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.

KM described to me some of the basic traditions her family has for New Years Day, especially the cooking of “ozoni”:

“Ozoni is just a soup made with chicken broth, green onion, shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, chicken and mochi. My Auntie Kazuko would make it for us every year when we were growing up, and it’s always the first course of a New Year’s Day meal. All of [my mom’s] siblings and my cousins would get together at [Auntie Kazuko’s] house and while most of the day would be, you know, just a family gathering, we would all sit down together to eat the ozoni. It’s only cooked on New Year’s and you have to go to special Japanese markets to find the ingredients.

“Now with my siblings and kids and nieces and nephews, we get together at my sister’s place – she’s married to a Japanese man, and his mother makes the ozoni. The holiday is pretty similar to how it was for me, where everyone just gathers at someone’s house to watch football and eat food, but the making of the soup and eating it together is like one concrete tradition we do every year. I’m not sure who will keep making it after [my sister’s mother-in-law] passes away though…”

My analysis:

The most interesting part of this food tradition for me is the shared background of the family members who actively carry it out – KH told me her Auntie Kazuko was most connected to their Japanese heritage, which is why she insisted on making the soup every year. Similarly, her sister’s mother-in-law is from Japan, and she is the one who facilitates the tradition. It really reveals how certain customs make it overseas when families would move to America, but also how fragile they are. KH isn’t sure anyone else in her family is motivated enough by their Japanese traditions to continue the laborious process of making this particular food. Traditional holidays tend to become more Americanized (in this case) over the years they’re observed away from their roots, and unless enough people are committed to certain customs, they can easily die out.

For more information about ozoni, see:

“Ozoni (Zoni) Recipe.” Japanese Cooking 101. 2016. Retrieved from http://www.japanesecooking101.com/ozoni-zoni-recipe/.

Kellogg’s Cereal

MH is a third-generation Irish-American, originally from Battle Creek, MI. He splits his time today between San Francisco, CA and Pasadena CA, where his wife and 18-year-old son live.

MH talked about a ritual his family performed:

“My father was the head of New Product Development at the Kellogg’s corporation, which is why we were living in Battle Creek. He oversaw the development of cereals like…Sugar Smacks, Frosted Flakes, Apple Jacks and Rice Krispies…those were all his projects. We used to get to test new cereals, and they would come home in these white boxes so we wouldn’t be influenced by any packaging. He eventually became president of their International Division, so he had to travel a lot. At home of course we could only eat Kellogg’s cereal, but when he’d prepare to go out of town it was a ritual for us to decide what non-Kellogg’s cereal we were going to buy for while he was away. My mom usually tried to limit us to Cheerios, but my favorites were like, Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I think my dad knew but he never talked to us about it…”

My analysis:

Family rituals that involve secrecy from a parent are common, and they usually seem to be invented to help the other parent bond with their kids. In this case, MH (who has 9 other siblings) thinks it brought his brothers and sisters together. With so many of them, meals weren’t necessarily a family event, but when they all got together to pick their contraband breakfast cereals, they spent some rare time as a whole group. MH says he and his siblings all buy Kellogg’s cereal for their families, but would look the other way if their spouses decided to give their kids something from General Mills.

“Clean your plate” and Central Texas Supper

“The other thing I remember is my grandmother on my dad’s side, when we would go eat dinner with them, well first of all it was called ‘supper.’ ‘Dinner’ is lunch and ‘supper’ is supper and there would always be at least three meat dishes on the table. So you’d always have, like, venison, there was always fried fish, and there was usually like ham or a roast as the third meat. And then for dessert there were always at least three choices for dessert. And the saying was, ‘You have to clean your plate.’ So . . . yeah, I never felt that great after eating there. So full. But ‘you have to clean your plate.’ If you put it on your plate, you have to eat it. So then you just learn to put less on your plate, unless you’re just gonna make yourself eat it. You can’t throw anything away.”

 

The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up. She learned it from both of her grandmothers who “both grew up in the Great Depression and during the war when there wasn’t a lot of, when they used coupons to get their food.” She thinks this proverb is “about not wasting any food. And they didn’t have iceboxes, or well they had iceboxes which didn’t keep the food as well.”

 

I included the details about central Texas supper because it struck me as interesting and unusual that there always had to be three different kinds of meat on the table. I have no idea why this might have been, but it seems like it was a pretty hard and fast rule. I also thought it was interesting that different people refer to different meals differently, even if they reside in the same country. I agree with the informant that “Clean your plate” is probably related to the time period in which the two women grew up. In addition to there being the Great Depression and WWII, food was generally less abundant in all times before this one. I have often heard this saying in American households and I think it reflects the negative attitude most people have towards wasting food.