Students study the link between food and culture at the Winter Hill Community School
Haley Senn gives a presentation about Germany during the Hostelling International USA's Cultural Kitchen class.
Anjila Shrestha and Alyvia Baker stir the Kheer, a rice pudding recipe from Nepal. ~Photos by Julia Fairclough
By Julia Fairclough
Shrestha explained how children in Nepal start school at age three;
they are taught three languages-British, English, and Nepali-and while
they do celebrate Halloween they don't recognize Christmas.
Kheer recipe that Shrestha introduced to the class bubbled on the
stove, while a simple version of a German dish, Bratwurst with ketchup
and grape jelly, was baking in the oven.
Welcome to "Cultural
Kitchen," an after-school program that Hostelling International USA,
Eastern New England Council offers to cultivate global awareness
through examining the connection between food and culture. Shrestha was
joined by a dozen other classmates at the Winter Hill Community School
last Wednesday afternoon.
Hostelling International also offers the class at schools in Boston, South Boston, Dorchester, and Roxbury.
"I like cooking food," Shrestha said. "It's great to come here and make food, while hearing about other cultures and countries."
walked over to the bubbling pot and stirred the porridge. Kheer is an
essential dish in many Hindu and Muslim feasts and celebrations. While
the dish is typically made of rice, it can also be made with other
ingredients, such as vermicelli. The recipe that Shrestha brought in
featured rice, milk, cardamom seeds, saffron threads, pistachio nuts,
sugar, and slivered almonds.
Paula Levitt, the Cultural
Kitchen coordinator for Hostelling International, explained to the
class how saffron threads are a delicacy, and very expensive-about $25
per pound. (Saffron is actually considered the world's most valuable
spice because a pound of this exotic flavoring requires the use of 60
to 100 thousand flowers).
The children in the class-fourth and
fifth graders from the Winter Hill school-were instructed to research
the foods native to their country. In Levitt's class alone the students
represented Germany, El Salvador, Nepal, Senegal, Uganda, Jamaica, and
Haiti, among other countries. Then each student came to class with a
recipe that they would share. They created a collage for their
presentation to highlight interesting facts and phrases about their
Some other recipes include pupusas from El Salvador,
fried plantains from Haiti, meat patties from Jamaica, mango lassi from
India, and peanut butter candy from Uganda. The rule is that students
must try everything, unless they have food restrictions.
time for them to deepen their cultural understanding while they have
fun with cooking," Levitt said. "They learn about what is cultural,
what are cultural norms. It starts a cultural sensitivity at an early
"The presentations help me to learn more about my friends," Alyvia Baker added. "I also like eating the food."
Perez's favorite dish thus far was the Senegal-influenced salad of
avocados, shrimp, lettuce, onions, vinegar, and mayonnaise.
Senn favored the mango lassi, a drink made of yogurt, milk, fresh
mango, sugar, and ground cardamom. She learned how Indian weddings are
an elaborate affair and that the women paint themselves with henna. She
admired their traditional wear, the flowing saris. Equally important,
Senn learned how to respect others.
The class lasts for 10
weeks. Hostelling International has introduced the class to 200
students. This is their second year teaching in the Somerville schools.
"In today's world, it is important for young people to interact
with those of other cultures," said Deborah Ruhe, the executive
director of Hostelling International. "The schools are already diverse,
but classes like this offer a deeper appreciation of similarities and
differences among people, which is really important."
Learning informally through cooking is also effective for younger age groups, she said.