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As you probably already know my now I simply love cooking classes and try to take them as often as possible. So when we arrived in Penang, hailed as one of the best places in Asia for food, it should be no surprise one of the first things I did was look up a cooking school.
It was not hard to find Pearly’s at home cooking lessons as this is ranked as the number 1 activity on TripAdvisor for Georgetown. No further convincing necessary.
On the appointed day Pearly’s husband Chandra picked us up from our condo and drove us to the market. He is an incredibly friendly and personable man, keeping us entertained through the car ride, with stories of how Pearly and him got involved with the cooking classes. They are currently both retired and Pearly started the cooking classes as a way of keeping herself busy, never expecting to have classes booked almost every day!
We met early at the market with the other class participants, in total we were a group of six. Pearly led us around the market, chatting casually with the stall owners who seemed to all recognize her, while introducing us to the various exotic Asian fruits and vegetables. Pearly continued to go into further detail, explaining the various health benefits of all the fruits and vegetables and how they are used for natural healing.
She really is a wealth of knowledge on the subject!
Unlike some of the markets in Asia, this daily market in Penang did not feel incredibly overwhelming or crowded. We made our way through the aisles with relative ease and I felt like this was a more relaxed market to than some of the others I’ve been on. From the veggies we continued on to the meat, poultry and fish sections of the market and Pearly introduced us to the man who is loved by all the older ladies – for his stuffed fish snacks.
By this time we were all getting a little bit hungry and Pearly had already factored this in and led us to some of the street food stalls in the market itself. The first one was a Nonya stall and we sampled a couple different dishes, giving us a taste of what our cooking class would be like.
Nonya cooking originated back in the 15th century when there was a major influx of Chinese immigrants into the South East Asian countries of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. It is a mixture of both Chinese and Malaysian cooking styles, as it is the blending of Chinese ingredients with Malaysian cooking techniques and spices.
The dishes themselves are always packed full of fragrant herbs and spices and just bursting with sharp strong flavors. It was a pleasure to have Pearly explain the essence of Nonya cooking and she herself has grown up with Nonya cooking, learning it from her grandmother when she was just a girl.
Aside from the Nonya stall we also stopped by a pancake and crepe stall where we sampled these light and delicious snacks.
From the market we went straight to Pearly’s house where the cooking class would be held. Pearly gave us a tour of her mini herb garden where she led us sample all the various herbs and described how they are used in Nonya cooking.
The cooking stations are all set up on a terrace outside with each station having two burners and all the necessary cooking equipment. The set up is very comfortable and with fans blowing even in the Malaysian heat it didn’t feel too hot.
We were going to learn how to make three dishes, a dark sauce pork, a chicken curry, and a shrimp stir fry. Pearly set us right to work, prepping the ingredients and getting everything ready.
She particularly emphasized how important it is to properly wash the ingredients and showed us one of her tricks – crushing a bit of galangal in a mortar and placing it in a bowl of water to act as a disinfectant for everything that is then rinsed in the bowl. Galangal, as she explained has an incredible amount of healing properties and should be used frequently in cooking.
I loved hearing Pearly share her natural healing methods, as I too believe in the healing power of food and really value such advice.
She also took the time to demonstrate the proper way to chop veggies. I’ve been practicing ever since, and real feel that my chopping skills (both in speed and thinness of my slices are improving – all thanks to Pearly’s quick lesson).
During cooking classes I love learning not only about how to prepare the dishes themselves but also about various cooking techniques and local eating habits and Pearly was incredibly open and chatty all throughout the class.
The first dish we made was the Nyonya Tau Ewe Bak, also known as Dark Sauce Pork which required the most time as the pork needs to slowly simmer for around half an hour. When I finally got a chance to sample this dish I instantly floated up into foodie heaven. The thick sauce is both salty and sweet at the same time, but in perfect equilibirum. The way it coats the tender melt in your mouth pork is just irresistible. The fried tofu and egg soak up the sauce nicely allowing you to really take in all the flavors.
I thought this dish was incredible. I literally licked my plate clean and was swirling my last bits of tofu around to make sure I soaked up every last spoonful of the sauce.
Four thumbs up (two wouldn’t be enough) for this one.
The Nyonya chicken curry kapitan is made with a fresh curry paste that we made from scratch as well as coconut milk to add the creaminess and a bit of lime to give it take care of the sour element. The key here is to use bone in chicken with the skin still on, so that it stays nice and tender through the cooking process and doesn’t dry out. The curry paste when cooking is so incredibly fragrant, you just can’t help but breathe it in.
The finished product yields soft and tender chicken with a creamy curry sauce.
The third dish, Sambal Udang or stir fried shrimp was the easiest of all, and the most delicious. The star of this dish is the freshly blended paste made with chilis, shallots, candlenut and shrimp paste. Shrimp paste on it’s own has an incredibly strong and pungent smell, not all that pleasant, but when added to the paste it simply shines.
For this recipe you simply cook the spice paste and then throw in the shrimp which cook in minutes. So simple yet the depth of flavors in the paste itself is so rich you don’t need anything more.
I absolutely licked up every ounce of the sauce on this one too. The sambal udang is definitely a dish I’ll be trying to recreate at home.
Overall I loved the cooking class with Pearly. She’s friendly, personable, and incredible knowledgable in not only Nonya cooking but in natural healing through foods. Her class was light, fun and informative. There’s so much I learned and will continue to apply to my own cooking and eating habits.
If you’re in Penang I highly recommend taking a cooking class with Pearly. The food was delicious and the company as well!
Contact Pearly for a cooking class through her website.
For reviews look on TripAdvisor.
Classes start with a market tour and last around 5 hours, costing 250 RMB per class.
*Disclaimer : I received a complimentary cooking class in exchange for my review, but as always all opinions expressed here are my own*