Southeast Asia 2016

Day 20 Penang cooking class

Day 20: Thursday, November 8

Today we spent our morning learning nyonya style cooking with Pearly Kee, who is one of the well-known instructors in Penang. We booked this cooking class earlier this week, thinking that we would be more likely to make curries and that sort of thing at home if we knew how to do it properly. Because we booked after another couple, they got to choose the dishes that we made, but I think they chose quite well. We made Curry Kapitan, Sambal Goreng, and Kerabu Chicken.

We got picked up from our hotel by Chandra, Pearly's husband, then met Pearly at the market where she showed us around and introduced us to different herbs and spices in their plant form, fish, chickens, really this market seemed to have just about everything, except possibly we didn't see beef. One unusual thing was black chicken - chickens that were entirely black not just the skin but the flesh and bones too.

We watched coconut cream being made. An interesting process. You wash then grate the coconut, then put it in a sack and press it so that the cream comes out. We were told to always buy coconut cream for cooking, never milk, because milk will be diluted.

Pearly showed us tamarind, and said you can keep it for years and it doesn't go bad. Apparently the worst thing that happens is that you get weevils in it, which just shows that it doesn't have preservatives in it. That was a different way of looking at things for Alex. Pearly also talked about how different foods are good for different aspects of your health, and how Asians use food instead of medicine whenever they can to deal with illnesses. We also got to try "string hoppers" (putu mayam), which is a cooked green rice noodle that is steamed and you eat it as a roll filled with sugar and shaved coconut. Very good!

Then we headed to Pearly's home to start cooking! We learned a few tricks about how to keep the handle of the knife not over the counter for cleaner cuts, and how to not cut your nails or fingers (curl you fingers back, and the edge of the knife rests against you finger joint instead). This also lets you cut things very finely.

This was a good class because you actually felt like you were cooking the food and it wasn't hard to do. Plus, we found out that if you prepare the curry sauce in advance and cook it, you can freeze it. So this is definitely something we can do at home. We may just want to get ourselves a magic bullet, for grinding everything together.

We cooked all 3 dishes in about 2 hours, and then sat down to a feast capped off with Pearly's homemade nutmeg cordial! It was a huge lunch, and really good. Plus you were eating what you prepared, which made it even better. Chad's favourite was the curry kapitan. Alex's was the Sambal goreng. We bought Pearly's two cookbooks, with plans to try these recipes out at home, maybe over Christmas with Chad's family. We think that most of the ingredients we can find at home, although some of them we may have to get in powdered form.

We were dropped off at our hotel, then Alex took a nap. She had some tea on our breakfast tour yesterday, and it was either that or the chrysanthemum juice had caffeine because she couldn't sleep last night so it was time to play catch up.

Then we headed out again with a mission of shopping for a new suitcase, checking out gold street, and finding the street art that we really like (a boy holding a dinosaur on a leash). Two out of three accomplished. We found a neat bag which we're hoping will be big enough for everything we bought. At 45 ringgit ($11), it didn't even seem worth trying to bargain. Alex also found a few more pairs of the loose pants. They're just so comfy! But she keeps buying the 15 ringgit ($5) pants. For some reason, she can't bring herself to buy the 30 ringgit pants, which are thicker and likely of better quality. Which just seems silly, but there it is.

Then we headed to gold street.

Alex found a necklace she really liked, but decided to keep looking and see what else there was first. In another shop, she then found a pair of earrings to go with the necklace Pam gave her when she and Chad got married. We had a great time in this shop, laughing with the salesperson, because Alex was busy trying on these beautiful delicate earnings, with yellow nails and fingers thanks to the turmeric in the cooking class this morning. It turns out the alcohol wipes that are used to clean the earnings before and after trying them on also get rid of the yellow. Good to know! So the saleswoman gave Alex a few extra to clean off her nails. :) We were chatting away and Alex completely forgot that she was still wearing one of the store's necklaces (as a comparison with the earrings), the saleswoman had to ask for it back!

We were then very conveniently right beside another food restaurant that served wonton mee, which had been recommended by Danny because they make their own noodles (Hong Kee wantan mee). So of course we stopped for first dinner (or late snack? It was 4:20pm). Quite good. A milder flavour than a lot of the other dishes.

Alex couldn't get that other necklace out of her head, so we went back to the first shop to look at it again. Beautiful! And without asking they discounted the price (which felt much less awkward then Alex asking in the other shop about a discount - it was probably how she asked though). It was also right at the end of the day so they wanted to make the sale so they gave us their best price. Chad was busy chatting away about Penang and Canada with the man behind the counter, who has a brother living in Toronto. The man guessed Chad couldn't be older than 30. Underestimated again! ;) So in the end Alex had a very successful shopping day!!! =D

Now, after another rest at the hotel, we're heading out for second dinner. Chulia street, here we come!

First, an interruption to do more clothing shopping. Of course we were only carrying just enough money for dinner, but each of us mistakenly thought the other was holding some extra money - otherwise why would we be browsing in a store right now? So in the end we had to put back half of our items to leave some money for dinner. Everything worked out in the end, and we were able to afford dinner to boot. For our last dinner in Malaysia we went back to our favourites: char koai teow, poh pia, satay, with nyonya kuih for dessert.

Next: Day 21: Penang street art, Singapore

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