By Keo Xiong, MD Middle School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Keo Xiong, MD Middle School Program Coordinator
“What are we doing today?” asks a youth entering the room as I am writing the agenda on the classroom board. “Are we making food today?” shouts another youth from the doorway. I hear these two questions daily.
As expected, middle school youth are most excited about our in-class food and cooking lesson plans. As one youth remarked, “I like cooking activities because it shows me how easy cooking can be, and I can make most of these dishes at home for myself and my family. If we can make full dishes in a small classroom, I’m pretty sure I can make it in a real kitchen.” Youth enjoy cooking lessons because, well, there’s food!
Aside from getting to make and eat food in AALEAD’s after-school programs, youth like food and cooking lessons because it offers a different window into learning about other cultures, and allows youth to share parts of their cultures with peers. This year, youth at Argyle and Parkland Middle Schools created their own menu for their cooking lessons. Their menu included dishes they wanted to make and eat but was based on their own cultures or cultures and countries they wanted to learn more about.
Throughout the year, we made many dishes with varying levels of preparation and cooking, including: Vietnamese pho and spring rolls, Japanese sushi, ramen, and curry, Filipino halo-halo, French verines, French and American parfait, Thai mango sticky rice, pad thai, and tea, Mexican quesadilla, and Taiwanese boba tea (also known as bubble tea).
Food can tell us much about a country and cultures. For example, we paired a sushi cooking activity with a lesson on Japan’s geography (an island) and main food source (the surrounding ocean). As a island, Japan relies heavily on seafood from the surrounding waters for food, and has one of the world’s largest seafood markets. Sushi, made of rice, vegetables, and seafood rolled in seaweed, and sashimi, fresh raw fish cut in thin slices, are staples of Japanese cuisine and are the most well-known Japanese food items in the United States. By looking at the ingredients of one of Japan’s most popular food, we can learn more about the country and its people.
Dish ingredients can also tell us about the history of a country and people. When youth made halo-halo, a Filipino dessert made up of a hodge-podge of fruits, milk, ice cream, and shaved ice, we paired it with a history lesson on the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, other Asian migration to the islands, and western influences, which all shape and influence Filipino culture and cuisine.
As we reflect on the year through food, youth shared their experiences and take-aways from our food and cooking lessons. Below are a few comments from the youth:
“My favorite food was mango sticky rice. It was something new, and my first time eating rice as a dessert.”
“Cooking activities are important because I get to talk about the food I eat at home and share that with my friends. I just had pho at home yesterday and now I am making it with my friends in class.”
“I think cooking lessons are good to have in AALEAD because I don’t always get to cook at home. When I make stuff in class and learn about how it’s made, I can make it at home as well.”
“It’s cool to see how you don’t need a kitchen to cook. I thought it was cool that we made ramen and pho just by using a rice cooker to boil the broth. That was fun.”