Rice and Spice

LESSON 2: Food cultures and the cuisines of Southeast Asia: What is the significance of spices and fermented fish products in Southeast Asian cuisines?

This lesson plan utilizes food as a theme to understand both the particularities of and commonalities among diverse Southeast Asian communities. It is a lens for understanding the histories of human migration, interaction, and exchange. Students will learn how food cultures inform community identity formations and how they travel with individuals as they migrate, thus contributing to the rich cultural diffusion and infusion within and beyond the region. They will also examine how colonialism and globalization impact food cultures in Southeast Asia.

Subject History / Social Studies
Topic The significance of spices and fermented fish products in South-East Asian cuisines
Key idea Spices and fermented fish products are part of the shared culinary traditions of Southeast Asia. Spices and
fermentation are also important for the preservation of food products.
Key concepts Colonialism and colonisation
Cultural influence
Food culture
Relationship between cuisine and class/geography/gender
Level Lower secondary
No. of periods / lessons  1 period (1 period is approximately 50 minutes)
Facilities needed Sources and handouts for distribution
Prerequisite knowledge No prerequisite knowledge required.

Learning objectives
By the end of the lesson, the students will be able to:

  1. State the major spices used in Southeast
    Asian cuisine.
  2. State some of the fermented fish products
    produced in Southeast Asia.
  3. Describe how they are produced and how
    they are used
  1. Engage in the analysis of various sources
    about the fermented fish products produced
    and used in various countries in Southeast
    Asia to infer how significant they are to the region’s cuisines

  1. Appreciate the shared history and identity
    that led variations of fermented fish to be
    common throughout the region and realize
    that the popularity of this product stemmed
    from a rice-eating culture.

  2. Recognize the shared ingenuity in using
    fermentation as a preservation technique
    that added protein to our diets and utilized
    small fish that would otherwise have had
    little value for consumption.


Download the lesson plan for details on the talks and activities suggested below.

1. Hook activity

Students discuss the importance of spices in their meals. The exercise illustrate how widely-used some products such as fermented fish or shell products are and how different the food would taste without them.

2. Teacher talk

The lecture presents the history of fermented products and their spread through Southeast Asia and their diversity.

This presentation can be used as a guiding thread through the lesson: it includes the core content and also introduces discussion topics and activities.

3. Group work: Gallery walk

Students analyze a set of sources to find out information about the production and use of fermented fish and shell products in the various countries of Southeast Asia.

4. Conclusion

The teacher illustrates how fermented fish products are a shared element in culinary history and culture among all countries in Southeast Asia and encourages the students to communicate with their family and learn about the culinary traditions and heritage of their communities.

5. Suggestions for follow-up activities

  • Field trip to a traditional market to learn about the key
    ingredients in Southeast Asian cuisine.
  • Cooking lesson to create a recipe featuring at least two
    ingredients they have learned about from this