Pizza and spaghetti have infiltrated this part of Malaysia in the form of Pizza Hut and Dominos. When I refer to pizza and pasta as Italian, most of my students are confused because they do not know that Italy is a country, and if they do, they think it’s the same as the “country of Paris,” and if they know that, they aren’t quite sure if it’s in Europe or another continent.
Despite this lack of focus on geography, many are excited when I tell them that I have also learned Italian as a second language, just like they’re doing with English. They often ask for me to teach them some words. Some school favorites are Ti amo “I love you” and fumatore “smoker.” Many students are more excited to learn Italian than English because Italian is something they freely choose to learn.
I recently did an Italian cooking class with a group of my advanced English students. I went grocery shopping the night before and walked into school the next morning with all the ingredients for pasta and tomato sauce with onions, garlic, and green peppers. We met at 9am in the school’s cooking classroom, and I explained that you must boil the pasta and make the sauce at the same time. You want to cook the green peppers and onions first because if you add the garlic too early, it will burn and become bitter.
“In Italian we say cipolla.”
“Miss, what is this called?”
“This is garlic. In Italian we say aglio.”
“Okay class, now you must cook the cipolla and aglio before you add it to the sauce.”
The students are very independent and responsible in the kitchen, much more so than their counterparts in America tend to be. Right away they started chopping. “Miss, I chop the cipolla and aglio to this size?” They quickly chopped all the vegetables into uniform pieces and started cooking. A few students found bright aprons, and lead chefs quickly emerged in the group. Both boys and girls cooked together, stirring, adjusting the heat, checking the pasta water. “Miss Christy, is it time to add the aglio yet?” “Is the water boiling yet?”
“Remember, the pasta package will say how many minutes to cook it. It will be different for different shapes of pasta. But what is important is that you taste the pasta every few minutes while you cook it, it will be done cooking when it is al dente.”
“Miss Christy…what is the meaning of al dente?”
“Until the noodles are soft but not too soft!”
“Miss, are they al dente yet?”
“Try them and tell me!”
“No, not soft enough yet!”
They finished cooking and we all sat down to eat. The students dug into their bowls of pasta with a fork in their left hand and a spoon in their right, the traditional way of eating noodles here. After they finished eating, the girls in the group without direction or prompting quickly and efficiently cleaned and put away all the dishes and wiped down the kitchen.
“Miss can we cook together again? Maybe next time we make mushroom soup?”