04.10.17

Bringing Chinatown to Nursery Through Cooking

Dorine Yang
Associate Teacher in a Mandarin Chinese Section of the Nursery, Early Learning Center, Avenues: The World School

In mid-January, children in the Yellow/Huang Se nursery classes began their exploration of Lunar New Year. They learned about the different traditions observed during the New Year festivities and enjoyed traditional performances by their peers and outside performers. Children and families became increasingly excited as the holiday approached, and many pursued opportunities to learn more about Lunar New Year outside of school. Teachers always encourage parents to take advantage of the rich resources around the city to help children learn about and engage with Chinese culture. Chinatown is a frequent suggestion, as it provides numerous restaurants, activities and festivities for children and families all year long, and especially around the New Year. As a result, many parents brought their children to Chinatown to experience the Lunar New Year celebrations this year. They visited Chinese restaurants, watched lion dance performances and parades and had play dates at the playgrounds. These experiences help children to understand that Chinese is not just a school language but a language spoken by real people in the real world. It also inspired an exciting new class activity: cooking traditional Chinese dishes!

Celebrating Lunar New Year!

Celebrating Lunar New Year!

After students’ experiences visiting Chinatown and engaging in Lunar New Year celebrations, they returned to the classroom saying that they had eaten Chinese food and they loved it. Working at the playdough table, they began to frequently make dumplings or noodles. In the dramatic play area, they pretended to be drinking tea and eating Chinese food at a restaurant. This growing interest in Chinese food led teachers to implement Chinese cooking into the weekly schedule, and children were excited to cook and try these cultural dishes. Students used their senses of sight, smell and taste to explore classic Asian ingredients such as sesame oil, soy sauce and tofu. When they first smelled the sesame oil, students commented that it smelled like chocolate and coconut. When they first tasted the soy sauce, they reported that it tasted like chocolate and bread and smelled like dumplings.

Enjoying a meal at a Chinese "restaurant" in the dramatic play area.

Enjoying a meal at a Chinese “restaurant” in the dramatic play area.

Making Chinese food together.

Making Chinese food together.

Creating dumplings!

Creating dumplings!

After cooking the food, children were given the chance to try what they cooked. Those who were typically very particular eaters were excited to take brave tastes and try what they had prepared, proving that when children are able to see and help prepare food, they are more likely to be willing to try it. After tasting the dish, students used their Chinese language skills to say whether they liked it. Many made comparisons to familiar foods, saying the scallion pancakes were like pancakes or bread and tasted chewy and crispy, and the sesame noodles felt like spaghetti and tasted like peanut butter. Some children enjoyed the food so much that they asked for seconds or for the dish’s English name so they could tell their grown up to buy it. The cooking activity used various sensory experiences to help students enhance their Chinese vocabulary and cultural understanding, and we look forward to trying even more Chinese foods together! Below is one of the popular recipes.

Trying out scallion pancakes.

Trying out scallion pancakes.

Making cold sesame noodles. (Recipe below!)

Making cold sesame noodles. (Recipe below!)

Cold Sesame Noodles 麻酱面 (má jiàng miàn)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sesame paste or tahini
  • 1 tablespoons peanut butter or sunflower seed butter
  • Cooked and cooled noodles
  • Julienned cucumbers and carrots (optional)
  • Minced garlic (optional)

Directions:

  1. Whisk together all sauce materials (sesame oil through peanut butter).
  2. Add the sesame sauce mixture to the cooked and cooled noodles and mix it all together.
  3. Add julienned cucumbers and carrots, and minced garlic if adding.

Tip: After cooling the cooked noodles in cold water, add some oil to the noodles so that they do not stick together.