Dishes from a melting pot

Ever since last year, the students in Colleen Majors’ class at Stephen Girard Elementary have been cooking meals from around the world.

The now-second-graders didn’t have to go far: Many of the youngsters have ethnic backgrounds with strong culinary traditions.

And now, thanks to the generosity of a national civil-rights organization, the students are getting the opportunity to share their recipes with the rest of South Philadelphia.

On Friday, members of Majors’ class at Girard, 18th Street and Snyder Avenue, held a celebration feast in the school cafeteria to honor their two years of multiethnic cooking.

The students prepared foods that were representative of their different ethnicities: Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Greek, Moroccan, Indian, West African, Indonesian and African American.

As a culmination of the project, the children have compiled their own cookbook with the help of a $1,000 grant from Teaching Tolerance, the education division of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Connie Sekaros, who teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages at Girard and who also has participated in the cooking project, explained why the school tapped the civil-rights organization.

"They grant opportunities for classrooms doing projects that promote tolerance and understanding among different cultures," she said.

With the help from the Birmingham, Ala.-based nonprofit organization, the students created cookbooks and used the remainder of the money to go on several field trips aimed at learning about diversity. Recently, the children visited the Asian Market and the Italian Market. They also went to see several murals throughout the city.

The kids applied their newfound knowledge about other cultures to the classroom, Majors said.

"Not only did we do the cooking, but we did flags of different countries and learned about the countries," she said. "There was geography, social studies and math [with the cooking] involved."

For Friday’s celebration, the second-graders, along with Sekaros and Majors, donated food from their households. When asked what their favorite foods were, the students’ responses were as diverse as the class itself.

Aaron Walker enjoyed the sweet potato pie. Linda Bui and Jonathan Ward snacked on the couscous (small pasta) and monkey muffins (raisin-filled treats). Flower Lam and Derrick Kennedy both liked the macaroni and cheese. Sheena Chourn chose the Cambodian noodles as her favorite dish, while Raymond Fitzgerald picked the curry chicken.

"I like this macaroni and cheese, and this yellow rice with the fried potato and the Greek spinach pie," said Fadillah Djaelani. Manssour Fraiji, meanwhile, relished the meatballs and muffins.

Rasheen Simpson chose the Chinese stir-fried rice "because in Vietnam, we eat it a lot." Bilal Khan liked the Vietnamese chips and the rice "because it has my favorite things in it." Kyure Walker enjoyed the cake, while Shikeed Kennedy preferred the M&M;’s cookies (an all-American treat) "because they’re good."

But Noah Auston seemed to have an appetite for everything. "I like the sweet potato pie, chicken, macaroni and the cornbread, the Vietnamese chips and the spinach pie and the meatballs," he said.

Other dishes served at the celebration included onion paratha from India, gado-gado from Indonesia, futari from Africa, hush puppies and goulash.

When asked how food would enhance the tolerance of different cultures, Sekaros replied, "People talk to each other over food, and there is a discovery that many of the same ingredients are used by different cultures."

The cookbooks are available for free at the following locations: JG’s Wholesale Outlet, 19th Street and Passyunk Avenue; Cilione’s, 17th and Jackson streets; Lanci’s Bakery, also at 17th and Jackson; Lang’s Produce, 16th Street and Passyunk Avenue; and Molly’s Day Care, on Bancroft Street between McKean Street and Snyder Avenue.