The journey begins with a tour through the beautiful Tropical Spice Garden
Each participant is set up at their own cooking station
Nasi Ulam and Chien Chuan Hu
Nyonya Assam Pedas Prawns
Students with Pearly
Penang is known to some as the food capital of Malaysia. A visit to the island usually involves much culinary indulgence, but what are you left with when you return home (besides a few extra kilos)? A desire for more, but no means of getting it? How does the saying go? Give a man some nyonya food and he eats for a day, but teach a man how to cook nyonya food and he pleases his wife for life? Close right? ... Well, determined to bring something back from Penang other than just memories of delectable dishes, hubby and I signed up for a cooking class at Tropical Spice Garden.
A guided stroll through four and half acres of lush aromatic herb and spice terraces began the morning. Our extremely knowledgeable guide, Joseph (you might recognize him from Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations episode on Penang!), took us on a one and a half hour comprehensive tour of the landscaped gardens. While a morning (go early morning as it can get steamy) stroll through the greenery would have been lovely, it is worthwhile doing the guided tour to appreciate the splendour that you're in. Touching, tasting and smelling were all encouraged as we undertook this sensory voyage.
This tour set us up with a foundation for better understanding the cooking class of which we were about to partake. A key component to nyonya cuisine is the use of spices. Today used for flavouring and bouquet, however, spices in the past had very specific medicinal purposes. I won't pretend to remember even a tenth of the uses, but was fascinated to learn that some plants such as nutmeg can be helpful in small portions but are actually toxic in larger doses. Finishing our tour with herbal tea, we took a breather, before heading over to meet our cooking instructor, Pearly Kee.
Pearly has been cooking Nyonya cuisine since she was big enough to hold a spoon. One of a few Penang Nyonyas willing to share her family culinary secrets, she delights in teaching students how to cook up age-old traditions. Once our class of five were donned with aprons and positioned at our individual purpose-built workstations, Pearly explained, demonstrated and guided us through the preparation of three local dises. Nyonya Assam Pedas Prawns, with ginger flower and pineapple is an addictive brew. The Nasi Ulam, rice with a pile of finely sliced herbs was my favourite. I could imagine making this dish with brown rice for the perfect health propagating meal. While, hubby, a fan of all things deep fried, loved the Chien Chuan Hu, fish cutlets with a ginger, bean, chili and soy gravy. Pearly was patient, humourous and informative - a perfect guide for newbies to this style of cooking.
The class ended with us gathering around tree shaded tables and devouring the meal we had just prepared. For those wanting the day to last a little longer, the next natural step would be a cool cocktail next door at Tree Monkey. A cooking class at Tropical Spice Garden is an informative and delicious way to spend the morning.
Reason to visit: stroll through lush aromatic gardens, learn how to prepare some local cuisine enabling you to take a taste of your holiday home with you
Tropical Spice Garden
Lone Crag Villa
Lot 595 Mukim 2
Jalan Teluk Bahang
+6 04 881 1797