GASD71 Winter 2015

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Gender and Technology in Family Food Culture

The Technologized Kitchen for the Transformative and Empowered Body 

Food is a source of power. The consumption and production of food are actions that can reinforce, resist, and re-contextualize identities. These actions influence the construction of self in regards to gender, nationality, ethnicity, and status. The changing food behaviours of diasporic communities are prime examples of the social implications of food. As such, this project focalizes on the intergenerational, culinary experiences of Asian migrants and Asian-Canadians. 

Cuisine and Society in Global Asia: Fall 2015

This semester, the students enrolled in the GASD71 Cuisine and Society in Global Asia course were busy learning about structured data, mapping and data analysis. While everyone focused on an individual project based on an oral history they carried out with a community member, we also decided to combine everyone's data into a single map to demonstrate how people, places and concepts related to Asia are actually spread across the entire world. Below you will find a preview of this combined map. You can explore it by clicking on the image below and browsing various points on the map, which will provide some context relating to the subject of the digital projects students undertook, key terms related to that project and more details about the specific location related to Global Asian cuisine. The students explored the following concepts and keywords in the course:

Chinese Cuisine

According to the historian Alan Davidson, China has four great cooking styles that correspond to the four cardinal coordinates: the northern style is centred on Beijing and the Yellow River valley stretching to the east up to Shandong; the central and western style that is concentrated around Sichuan but also includes Ghuizhou, Yunnan, Hunan,and Hubei; the southeastern style which includes Shanghai, Zhejiang,and Anhui; and finally the southern style, from Canton, Guangdong, and Fujian to the east.
He tells us that a Chinese meal is usually made up of a starchy food( the essential dish called zhushi,‘principal food’), and one or more accompanying dishes based on animal or vegetable products(called fushior ‘secondary food’).

Sichuan is considered to be a land of aromatics and spices, particularly hot pungent ones, such as chilli peppers and sichuan pepper (hua jiao). All the dishes are flavoured with fermented bean paste (dou ban jiang), or sesame oil and sesame puree, which produce harmonious flavours that are given interesting names such as ‘strange taste’ (guai wei), ‘familiar taste’ ( jia chang wei ), ‘peppery-scented’ ( xiangla we), etc.

In Hunan, chef and culinary scholar Fuchsia Dunlop jokingly tells us that people are terrified of food that isn’t hot, they cannot eat a single meal without spice and heat. Chairman Mao famously said you cannot be a revolutionary if you don’t eat chiles. His words were in tune with the ancient Chinese belief that you are what you eat, and that the environment, diet, and human character are all intimately related.  As her cookbooks show, Hunan cuisine lays stress on the use of oil, dense color, and techniques that produce crispness, softness and tenderness as well as the savory flavors and spices. Stewed fins, fried fresh cabbage with chestnuts, Dong Anzi chicken, immortal chicken with five elements, are of the highest reputation.

South Asian Cuisine

  • Curry: A dish of meat, vegetables, etc., cooked in an Indian-style sauce of strong spices. Name given by the British (it means ‘sauce’ in Tamil) to an Indian dish of stewed meat or vegetables. It is served with a pungent sauce whose components and pungency vary. Curry is a part of the main meals in Sri Lankan Tamil foods and several curies are eaten with one grain at these meals.

  • Idiappam: Fine noodles of a mash of boiled rice grits extruded in a press though brass dies constitute idiappam, which is mentioned in the Perumpanuru (fifth century AD) as a snack being sold by vendors on the seashore, along with appam, adai and moodagam. A common breakfast item, it was accompanied, then as now, with sweetened coconut milk. The Syrians of Kerala and the Kodavas of Karnataka (where it is called nu-puttu) eat it with a meat stew or chicken curry. In Sri Lanka it is termed string hoppers, the latter word being an Anglicization of the term appam. 

  • Idli: A common breakfast food of South India, the idli is a white, spongy, swollen circle about 10 cm across. Rice grits and urad dhal are ground together to a thick bater and left to ferment naturally overnight. Portions are placed on pieces of muslin held in depressions on a metal tray, and steamed in a closed vessel till cooked. Idlis are eaten with a coconut chutney, or with a sambhar, or with a spiced pulse-based gritty powder called molaga-podi, doused with ghee or oil. The first mention of the idli in literature seems to be as iddalie in the Vaddaradhane of Sivakotyacharya, a work in Kannada in the year AD 920, where it figures as one of the eighteen items served to a brahmachari who visits the home of a lady...The Andhra area still has cakes of steamed urad flour called vasina-polu. The Indonesians ferment a variety of products (soy-bean, groundnuts, fish) and have a product very similar to the idli, callled kedli. 

  • Papad: Pulse flour doughs rolled out very thin into circles and deep-fried or roasted to crispness, used as an accompaniment to meals. The parpata is first mentioned in about 500 BC in Buddhist-Jain canonical literature, and the medical authorities note that they are made from pulses like urad, masoor, chana and the like...The Tamil term is appalam or pappadam. The Kannada wod happala occurs in the Siddaramacharite written by Raghavanka in about AD 1200, and again in the Sanatkumaracharite written by Terekanambi Bommarasa (AD 1485), in which happalas are described as 'being broken into pieces' at a feast for kings. 

  • Prasad(am): Food that is first offered in a temple to the presiding deity, and then given to devotees, is termed prasad. In the Hindu belief, such prasad is pure essence or rasa, which when consumed is converted totally into mind or manas, the finest form, and leaves no dense residues (to be eliminated as faeces) or residues of medium density (that are transmitted into flesh). Each temple has its own form of prasad, which will usually reflect the food of the region. In the Padmanabha temple in Thiruvananthapuram, this is an aviyal, in the Thirupathi temple of Venkateshwara the prasad is a laddu, and in the Vishnu temple at Kanchipuram, a spiced idli. In smaller temples it may simply be a sweet boiled rice. 

  • Sambhar: A fairly thick spicy extract of thuvar dhal soured with tamarind, frequently containing soft vegetables like the brinjal, drumstick, gourd and lady's finger. It is served in south India with rice as a middle course, after a course of rice with rasam, and before a course of rice with curds. Sambhar is also eaten as an accompaniment to the idli and vada. The Tamil country has a pre-mixed sambhar-sadam, convenient for travel. 

  • Dhal: Most pulses are dicotyledons, and splitting them with simultaneous debusking in a stone chakki yields two clean halves, called dhal…Dhals are used in a myriad ways. They can be cooked into thick, medium and thin preparations, exemplified by the meta masoor dhal of the north, the spicy thvar sambhar of the south and the soup like rasam based again on thuvar. These are regular accompaniments to roti and rice. In Tamil it is called Paruppu. 

  • Drumstick: Moringa oleifera (Sanskrit sigru and shaubhanjan, first mentioned in the Sutra period, Hindu sajuna and saonjana; Tamil murungakkai) is native to the sub-Himalayan region. It is grown commonly in villages and kitchen gardens in Bengal, Assam and south India, The long, whip-like pods with soft inner seeds are cooked when tender, for example as a bhaja in Bengal, in sambhar in the south and in aviyal in Kerala. The root was used by colonials as a substitute for the pungent horseradish. Achaya

  • Sambol: Sambols in the Subcontinent come primarily from Sri Lanka and are not to be confused with the sambals in Indonesian/Malaysian cooking, though they are, presumbly, related. A Sri Lankan sambol resembles a Mexican salsa from Laos, for it is most often made with uncooked ingredients, such as fresh in dried chilies, shallots, and garlic, that are traditionally ground with a stone motar and a pestle, then mixed with an acid such as lime juice. The grinding brings out the full flavor of the ingredients and makes for a moist, coarse paste, like a dryish salsa. It's traditionally made with grated fresh coconut, which is abundant everywhere on the island.  

Click here to explore the map of Global Asian Cuisine and Foodways. Be sure to zoom in on Toronto to see more points related to eating, shopping and cooking!

Chinese Culture and Importance of Rice

 Rice is an important part of almost every Chinese meal. Here we explore rice as the staple food of China from very ancient times until today, and its centrality to economics and culture.


The Chinese people have over 4 thousand years of change and development of agriculture, using labour-intensive methods of agriculture. Scholars see this agrarian system as based on the idea of “recycling”, ie, this farming system did not waste anything since almost everything was recycled back into farming. For example, farming techniques included the collection of human/animal manure as fertilizer for the fields, and non-edible parts of the crop such as rice-husk used to feed farm animals. The basic Chinese diet consisted of a nutritional balance of vegetable, meats and grains, including rice.