We decided we wouldn’t do a cooking class in Penang because we were running out of time and to be honest, we’ve done lots of classes and we felt we didn’t really need to do another.
That was until we sat chatting with a Kiwi couple on a blistering hot afternoon over a few cool ales. They told us about the fabulous cooking class they did the day before with Pearly Kee, a Malaysian celebrity chef, and insisted we do it.
Well alright, maybe we are easily influenced. As soon as we got back to our Airbnb flat we jumped online and made contact with Pearly and then next thing we were booked in for the following day (a cancellation created an opening for us).
Pearly picked us up bright and early and took us straight to the nearby Pulau Tikus wet market. We had walked past that street all week and never knew the market existed. Pearly’s husband Chandra met us there with a carload of other punters and then Pearly got down to the business of leading us around the market, letting us in on the secrets to better health, beauty and virility just by eating certain fruits and vegetables.
For example, did you know that burdock root has powerful health properties? According to Pearly, if you eat just a bit of burdock each day you will never catch a cold.
We do like a market but we really love food, and when Pearly introduced us to a few long time hawkers offering up some amazing sweet treats, I could have gone into a diabetic coma. Seriously though, what these people can do with a bit of palm sugar and coconut has to be seen (eaten) to be believed. If it wasn’t for the promise of Pearly’s home cooking class coming up we may really have over indulged.
Now that we were all on a sugar high we set off in Pearly and Chandra’s cars to their really nice home in a really nice suburb of George Town. First thing we did was wander around their delightful garden with Pearly pointing out various plants and their medicinal properties and cooking values. Pearly uses these herbs for all of her cooking.
The garden was amazing, with an abundance of torch ginger, lemongrass, galangal, and pandan all taking up important space around her small garden. Plucking flowers from her blue pea flower plant, Pearly handed them around explaining that the flowers can be soaked in hot water and then you can use the natural extract to color rice and cakes blue. The blooms are high in anti-oxidants, and the roots are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat asthma, epilepsy, depression, anxiety and memory loss. Hm, I might see if we can get one of these plants in Australia.
And then finally it was time for us to start cooking. Pearly and Chandra had set up several double sided workstations under the patio cover of the house. We each had our own 2 burner stove, chopping board, tools and ingredients. I really like this style of setup as it allows each person to have hands-on experience without getting into each others way. Also, Dave and I could check out each others work and provide encouraging feedback :)
Our menu of the day included 3 dishes: Beef Rendang, Chicken Curry Kapitan and Fish Tumis and we used clay pots for all the cooking, which was interesting. I’ve used a clay pot but not in this particular way and I now view them with greater respect.
Chandra hovered discreetly around the sidelines, coming in from time to time to make sure we had the correct ingredients and to clear away excess mess. Each of us had a bowl with everything we would need for each dish. So many exotic ingredients.
Throughout the session Pearly demonstrated some specific techniques and then let us get to it.
I was particularly fascinated with her rice with the blue colouring from the powdered blue pea flower.
Pearly was never far out of sight as she would be checking our work, making suggestions and “encouraging” our progress. One minute one of us was told to turn our heat down, then the next someone else needed to speed things up. It really was hands-on in every respect and we had to pay attention to her every word or we’d be left behind!
Oh, the smells! I don’t think I’ve ever been in a kitchen amid such intense aromas. Frying belacan, pounding galangal, caramalising coconut, we followed a particular order according to Pearly’s clear instructions.
And then the time finally arrived when we could rip off our aprons, put the pots down for someone else to clean up and head in to the dining room to feast on the rewards of our labours.
We really had the best cooking class experience ever. I wish we could thank that lovely Kiwi couple we met over a few cold beers on that shockingly hot day. They gave us a valuable tip.
One of the wonderful aspects of traveling is meeting with fellow travelers, sharing experiences and trying new things.
So, a piece of advice from this pair of adventure seekers: don’t be shy to start up a conversation with strangers in cafes/pubs. Honestly, we’ve had some brilliant experiences because we’ve listened to other peoples’ stories, and taking this class with Pearly Kee was one of the best recommendations we’ve ever had.