Activity Plan: Exploring South Asian Canadian Culture through Food

Grades 10 to 12 | Applied Design, Skills and Technologies (Food Studies)

Big question

How is food an expression of culture and geography?

Activity description

Students will discover the intersection of food and culture by exploring South Asian cuisine.

Grades and curricular area(s)

  • Grades 10 to 12
  • ADST (Food Studies)

Big ideas

ADST (Food Studies)
Grade 10 Consumer needs and preferences inform food production and preparation.
Grade 11 Services and products can be designed through consultation and collaboration
Grade 12

Curricular competencies

ADST (Food Studies)
Grade 10
  • Observe and research the context of a meal preparation task or process.
  • Choose an idea to pursue, using sources of inspiration and information (ADST).
Grade 11
  • Observe and research the context of a meal and/or recipe preparation task or process.
  • Identify, critique, and use a variety of sources of inspiration and information (ADST).
Grade 12
  • Observe and research the context of a meal and/or recipe preparation task or process.
  • Take creative risks in generating ideas and add to others’ ideas in ways that enhance them.
  • Identify, critique, and use a variety of sources of inspiration and information (ADST).

Part 1: Hook

Show students images of a turmeric latte, a chai tea latte, butter chicken, ginger shots (for example, from Booster Juice), and power balls, and ask them how they are connected. Responses may include “food,” “Indian,” “South Asian,” etc.

These are all things that have been inspired by South Asia and have made their way into the mainstream.

Part 2: Discussion

Have students Think-Pair-Share for each of the discussion questions used. You may choose to have them do research on these topics to share with the class.

Possible discussion questions:

  • Do you know of any other foods/concepts that have been “rebranded” in the same way as these foods have? (This can include food and concepts from other cultures as well.) Examples:
    • Ayurveda
    • Yoga

  • Where should the line be drawn between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation?
    • How far back can or should you go to see if an item is “traditional”?
      • For example, chai is synonymous with India and there are variations of it in other South Asian countries, but teatime was introduced during the British Raj.

Part 3: Food as culture

Brainstorm individually, then discuss as a group: What is the role of food in your life?

  • Examples: nutrition, culture, religion, gatherings
  • Make a link between culture and food: Food is an expression of culture and, often, tradition.
  • Food in India is a marker of caste, class, family, kinship, tribe affiliation, lineage, religiosity, ethnicity and, increasingly, of secular group identification (see Exploring Indian Culture through Food).

Optional activity

Step 1

Watch Food and the Fundamentals of Storytelling.

Step 2


  • How can food tell a story? A history?

Part 4: South Asian food

Step 1

Have students complete the first two columns of the Know, Wonder and Learn (KWL) Chart with what they already know about South Asian food and what they wonder about it.

Step 2

Have students share what they already know/wonder. Other students may be writing points in the “Learn” column of their KWL chart.

Step 3

Have students read Exploring Indian Culture through Food, filling in the “Learn” column of their KWL chart as they read.

  • Address the fact that the article looks at Indian food and culture, and South Asia consists of more than just India.
  • Students will likely still have unanswered questions. They can use their devices or other resources to fill in those blanks.

Step 4

Have students pair up and choose a geographic area within South Asia (e.g., Pakistan, North India, Central India, South India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka). Provide each pair with the Expert Groups handout to complete as they research and explore the expressions of culture that can be found in food as well as other customs and traditions attached to it.

  • Once they have completed their research, pairs may choose to share with the whole class or just with another pair who chose a different area.
  • The purpose of this activity is for students to understand the diversity of South Asia and how each region has a distinct cuisine, with some shared features that connect them all.
  • Optional activity: Have students pair up with another expert group and create a Venn diagram identifying elements of overlap between their two geographic regions.

Part 5: Food is ever-changing

Like culture, food is always evolving. An example of this can be seen in the diaspora (the movement, migration or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland).

In Part 4, students explored the different influences of South Asian cuisines. In Part 5, they explore ways in which South Asian cuisines have been fused with other cuisines to create “fusion foods.”

Step 5

As a class, brainstorm examples of fusion foods. For example:

Step 6

Ask students:

  • What are some foods that you eat on a regular basis?
  • Are these foods inspired by other cultures?
  • Do they have ingredients or cooking methods that are perhaps not “traditional”? These may not be very apparent, and it may be a matter of simply switching out a couple of ingredients.

Have students complete a final project, such as:

  • Exploring their own cultures and see how some dishes that they eat on a regular basis have changed/been adapted over time. (Use the Favourite Foods Worksheet, below, but focus on one dish and research the components of it.)
  • Cooking South Asian dishes. Each group of students could research and make a dish for a class potluck. (Recipes are included in Materials/Resources for aloo mattar, rice and roti; chana masala, and naan—North Indian/Punjabi dishes are regularly made at home. The ingredients and techniques have been adapted slightly to work better in a Food Studies classroom.)

    Note: There are several ingredients and methods that may be unfamiliar to students. Provide time to research, learn, and identify the products (or substitutes).
    • The potluck could also be expanded to explore foods from different cultures, with each student bringing in a dish from their own culture.
  • Creating a unique and creative fusion recipe fusing their own cultural cuisine and South Asian cuisine.
    • South Asian students could create a fusion recipe with South Asian cuisine and some other type of cuisine.

  • Explore the Slow Food movement—Slow Food concepts are more commonly practised in South Asia than in Canada.
  • Visit a Gurdwara to see Langar—expanding on the idea of the importance of food in religious settings (Sikh).
  • Explore colonialism and globalization through the lens of herbs and spices.
    • For example, lots of spices that are used in South Asian cuisine are not native to India but were introduced to India through the spice roads and colonization (e.g., ginger).
    • Resource: Geographic Spice Index
  • Explore South Asian cuisine and Canada’s Food Guide.
    • Students can use the Know, Wonder and Learn charts they completed in Part 4 to examine the South Asian diet from a nutritional perspective. Is this a healthy diet? How can its nutritional value be improved? Does it fit within the guidelines of Canada’s Food Guide?
  • You may want to give students some choice in how they present this information. Students could make this into a more creative assignment by creating informative brochures or PSAs for the community – or they could present this as a podcast talking about nutrition, or even an essay!

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