I always feel that a cooking class with a local is a great travel experience. Not only do you learn a skill from your travels that you bring home with you, but you directly help locals who want to share part of their way of life with you.
I found Nazlina’s spice station online and it is one of the top things to do online. The class started with a local breakfast of two types of noodles with tea and coffee. The flat noodles were quick nice and the coffee was the best I’ve had so far!
Just like most cooking classes I’ve heard about or done, it starts with a visit to the markets to buy the ingredients. Nazlina pointed out all the more obscure things as we visited a few markets and shops over the course of an energy sapping 2 hours. It’s very humid in Penang right now and even Nazlina said she isn’t used to the humidity. We did get to try some street food pancakes which were very nice and some soy milk with palm sugar.
Back in the well equipped kitchen we started the preparation for a fish laksa. Now this was going to be a Penang fish Laksa and it had no coconut milk in it at all. We chopped a lot of ingredients up in advance and many were well known anywhere, like garlic, onion and lemon grass. The laksa was a sapping 2 hrs of prep, including making two stocks, one based on the whole fish and the other based on the crushed up fish heads and bones. It’s a bit gross when you smash a pestle into a fish head!
The second dish was salt and pepper battered prawns in a garlic butter sauce. I don’t eat prawns so I managed to avoid touching the bloody things. I guess that’s why I was the fish head smasher! The batter was literally rice flour, flour, salt and pepper. Roll the prawns in egg whites then the flour and into the wok to fry for about a minute. Nazlina has a tone to her voice that put extra pressure on the prawn batterers. I’m going to try the recipe at home with chicken fillets.
The last dish was my favourite, a simple Chicken Curry with very few ingredients but lots of flavour. I appointed myself head chicken curry chef of my group of 4 and everyone lived to tell the tale of how awesome the chicken curry was. The recipe for this was also fairly simple, however a few tricks like making a paste from the curry powder before adding to the fried spices and when to add the coconut milk, were all useful things I learnt.
We didn’t start to eat til 1pm and we devoured the three dishes quickly. They were all really tasty, but of course, the locals of Penang, have a sweet tooth, something I can appreciate also. We made two simple quick deserts that I will make again for sure. Both sweets used pandan leaf blended and strained to create a sweet green hipster loving juice. The dumplings dough was made with the pandan leaf juice and flour, and then each dumpling was rolled in the palm of your hand with some sugar cane inside, then boiled and rolled in coconut. The crepes were very similar but the insides were a similar brown sugar cane mixture.
One thing that I will never be is a professional chef. Boy thats hard work cooking for about 3 hrs straight. Definately a great thing to do in Penang, or anywhere to be honest. I kind of wish now i’d done a few more cooking classes over the years!