Tag Archives: Pasta

Christmas Raviolis


“At Christmas, we make homemade raviolis. When I was growing up, my grandmother [made homemade raviolis] most of the time, and then when you kids were younger, Nonni (the informant’s mother) did it a number of years, and now we do it.”

Minor Genre: 

Holiday Ritual; Food Traditions


“My dad has a funny story about the first time he had dinner with my mom’s Italian family. In the Italian meals, they would serve raviolis almost as an appetizer. My dad filled up on the raviolis and then there were still like four more courses of dinner to come.

“I never made [the raviolis], I just ate them. My grandmother made them and I didn’t really pitch in as a kid. It wasn’t until Nonni started making them with you kids that I helped. We would have raviolis throughout the year but really the ritual of making them was saved for Christmas.”


I have memories of making raviolis with my grandmother, Nonni, every Christmas growing up. It was a process that involved the whole family: we first made the pasta dough using an old recipe from the informant’s grandmother (my great-grandmother); then we rolled out the pasta into thin strips using a pasta-roller attachment to the kitchen table; then we used ravioli dishes to place the dough, add in the filling, and press the food into ravioli shapes.

Ravioli originated in Italy and is a type of pasta dish containing filling typically composed of meat or cheese. Nonni’s side of the family immigrated from Italy from the regions of Tuscany and Campania. Although the filling of our family’s ravioli is likely an Americanized version of the Italian original, we reference an old hand-written recipe for the pasta that could reasonably be believed to have been brought over by Nonni’s Italian ancestors.

The ritual of making raviolis each Christmas is a way to honor our family’s Italian heritage while simultaneously engaging in a community-building activity that will ultimately be enjoyed by every member of the family at dinner.



Informant: For Christmas, ever since I was a kid, my mom would make, uh… Rigatoni… It was two dishes. One was Rigatoni alla Norma which is like, uh, an eggplant dish. It’s Sicilian and her dad like passed down the recipe. Um… And then she would also cook sausage and peppers? Which is kind of like a stew, almost… I don’t know if it originated anywhere or if it was like Sicilian or Italian at all. It was just something that like, at Christmas we knew we were gonna have that.


Informant: I think it’s nostalgic. Um… I think especially those dishes, I remember my mom talking about the Rigatoni alla Norma, her mom and dad would make that for holidays when she was a kid. She never, like, ate it on her own. It was only when she had kids and a family that she wanted a tradition. My mom’s really big on traditions, like having certain things that we as a family do for the holiday. And food is a big part of that… I think it’s definitely nostalgic. I don’t think it’s just because of the holiday ‘cause my family’s not religious… It’s just like we know that on this day we will all have this meal together. It’s really about togetherness. 

Interviewer: Do you think when you have kids you’ll do the same thing?

Informant: I don’t know if I’ll stick to those dishes. Because, like, even though I’m Italian… I don’t like pasta… Um… But even if I didn’t like the pasta, those meals still have a special place in my heart. Just because my mom would slave in the kitchen all day just so we could all sit down and have time together, and it was always really like… Sweet. And I want that for my family. The appreciation. The coming together gratefully with food on the table. 


In Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an Introduction, Elliott Oring writes, “Eating is one of the earliest interactive behaviors of a newborn, persisting as a situation for intimate human interaction throughout life… [W]e are likely to bring a great fund of emotion to the behavior of eating” (34). There is an emotional quality surrounding food, and eating is a highly social activity. The informant does not enjoy the taste of Rigatoni alla Norma, yet she has an emotional attachment to the dish because it is part of her family tradition. However, she does not plan to make this dish a staple of Christmas dinner with her future family. Instead, her focus will be continuing the tradition of coming together to share a meal. The informant does not seem to feel that the tradition is diminished if the dish changes. To her family, the Christmas dinner tradition is primarily about “coming together gratefully with food on the table.” If her children do not like the dish the informant prepares, perhaps they will change the dish too. And so the tradition would continue to vary, and yet, the heart of it––the togetherness––would remain intact. This demonstrates how traditions can change overtime (adhering to Alan Dundes’ definition of folklore as demonstrating multiplicity and variation), and also that foodways are concerned, not only with specific ingredients, dishes, and food preparation, but with why and how people eat.


Source cited above:

Oring, Elliott. Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an Introduction. Utah State University Press, 1986. 

Italian Family tradition

I asked Mae her earliest memories of traveling to Chicago to visit her extended family, she responded:

“My great- great grandma moved to the U.S. directly from Italy so obviously they had a really Italian family and they ended up living in south side Chicago. She owned chickens, and every Sunday she would go into her coop, ring a chickens neck, clean it kill it, and make pasta Bolognese using the meat.”

I then asked, “When did you first learn the recipe or heard about the story?”:

“I must have first made the Bolognese sauce in 4th grade. I know I didn’t hear the story until later because I remember in 9th grade for an art class I did an art painting about my family and I painted a chicken head on the front”


Background: Mae is a 19 year old girl raised in Westwood, CA and currently living in Los Angeles, CA. Her parents are originally from Chicago and Little Rock, and she lived in Princeton, NJ briefly as a young girl.

Context:Mae shared this story with me while we were cleaning the dishes in our apartment.

Analysis: It is incredibly easy to overlook elements of someone’s culture that affect their folkloric practices simply by never asking questions. Mae is one of my closest friends, and I had no idea that her grandma immigrated from Italy or lived in south side Chicago. Understanding where someone comes from culturally and geographically creates the opportunity to really understand more about their identity. Hearing this story about Mae’s grandmother I felt like I was seeing a new side of her and gaining a clearer understanding of the origins to her stories she tells every day. I was reminded of recipes I have learned from my family members that have truly become a part of my own identity and my family’s identity like my mom’s banana bread and my grandmother’s scalloped potatoes.

Stress Free Life

Original Script: “Ma cosa vuoi che sia”

Literal Translation: “But what you want it would be”

Meaning: “Don’t worry about a thing that is not important”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: “How do you say, I noticed, Americans can get very…stressed out…crazy…easily. Like the rush hour traffic I was telling you about! Pessimo! [very bad] And little things they cannot control. I mean your life is more important than wherever you are trying to go! If you are stressed in California, go to the beach! It’s very relaxful! But the food, come si dice [how do you say], I understand when they get mad about the food, when the order is wrong, or when it is gross tasting, because food is important in the Italian culture.”

Silvia recently came to America about three weeks ago as an intern for an Event planning company. She grew up in Parma, Italy—which is a small town in Italy. She has adjusted greatly to the American culture but there are still some things that she is questionable about. Like the amount of stress Americans carry to that in Italy.

Context of the Performance: Stressing in the Italian Culture

Thoughts about the piece: In accordance with another interview I conducted with Silvia, (please see the article titled Italian…Proverb?), this Italian saying furthers the implication of the stress free environment of the Italian people. Do not worry about things that are not important, or the little things, implies that to worry about such, is a waste of energy, and not only that, but time as well.

It is also important to look at the literal translation, “but you want, it would be” suggesting that one does have control over their life, and to make the best out of it, if you look at the meaning to Italians, it would be to not stress over the small things; the things that are not important in the big picture.

Please take note of the background information Silvia had provided that was in accordance to the Italian quote. She uses stress and anger interchangeably, which makes me wonder, if in Italian they mean the same thing. So, I asked Silvia in a follow up interview and she said, “yes, they do, even though we have different words for them, they do mean about the same thing.” Which is interesting since the Italians have many different words for calm and happy (positive attitudes such as allegro, calmo, simpatico), thus this furthers the notion that Italians try their best to keep “stress” out of their lives, even by doing something simple, as Silvia had noted, like going to the beach. Additionally, she states something specifically that both Americans and Italians have in common, and which they both “stress” about—food. Food is a very prominent cultural item in both the Italian and American culture in which it not only creates a social environment but also holds roots in the past. (For example American’s Turkey on Thanksgiving and Wine or Pasta—which different regions are known for different Pastas—for the Italians).