Saturday, June 12, 2010

Spice Market and spice garden

June 12

When we left off, I was headed to a cooking demon-stration. On your left is a picture of that demon-stration. One of the chefs here at the Shangri-La showed us how to make roti jala. Roti is a griddled flatbread. Jala means “net,” and you can see why. The batter is poured out onto a griddle using a special cup with holes poked in it.

You have to fill in the center of when drizzling the batter onto the griddle, but the outside is meant to be light, thin and a bit lacy. Then you fold the sides in and roll it up into a little spring-roll shaped package.

Joanna and I took turns at it, and then Paco, our head tour-guide and an avid amateur cook, showed us how it’s done — the key being rotation of the wrist. I forget why.

The result looks sort of like a crêpe, but the texture’s more spongy, reminding me a bit of Ethiopian injera, actually.

The chef also showed us how to make a chicken curry, and then we went inside and had dinner at Spice Market, a giant buffet restaurant with foods from Peninsular Malaysia’s three main cultures, as well as Japanese and Western food.

We were joined by lovely and charming local journalist CK Lam, and her camera-bearing husband whose name I didn’t catch. Nice guy, though.

I learned long ago that buffets are not to be conquered. You simply can’t try everything there, so you must narrow your focus. Inspired by our cooking demonstration, I settled on Indian food and helped myself to beef and fish curry. I was glad I’d been relatively abstemious, because then we were brought out roti jala and chicken.

And then, just for the heck of it, they brought out beef rendang and passembur. The former is a rich beef curry and sort of Malaysia’s national dish (although I think the comfort food of choice is a fish-and-rice job called nasi lemak, which I haven't had on this trip yet but probably will soon).
Passembur is an assortment of fried things, hard boiled egg and shredded cucumber eaten with a peanut sauce.

We spent today at the Penang Spice Garden, which specializes in spice-related plants, like this cinnamon tree pictured on the right.

After a quick tour, focused for some reason on spices’ homeopathic qualities, we took a cooking class with Nazlina Hussin, who had me straddling a wooden box with a circular piece of serrated metal sticking out of it. That’s used to grate coconut, which I did.

She also taught me how to crack open a coconut: The fruit has a trio of black spots, two of which are indented. The other protrudes a little bit. Hold the coconut with your thumb on the protruding bit and hit the thing on top with a hammer. If you give it an adequate whack it will split, so hold it over a receptacle to catch the coconut water, which is a very trendy drink these days, because it has electrolytes and is supposed to cure every ailment and probably will help you sing better, and fly, too.

Continue hammering around the side of the coconut to open it all the way.

Then Nazlina put me in front of a batu giling, which is the Malay version of a metate — a flat stone and a big stone rolling pin — and I spent the next hour or so smashing garlic, shallot and dried, rehydrated red chiles into a paste. It was fun, actually, and quite therapeutic, and it gave us all a chance to chat. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures because I was busy making a curry paste, but Albert Foo, our accompanying photographer, was busy at work, and I’ll have many great pictures from him to share shortly.

From there we went to a section of covered hawker stalls, because we all agreed that that would be more useful for our mission than to visit the temple that was scheduled for that time.

We’d gorged ourselves on Nazlina’s beef with black sauce and a vegetable curry called dalcha, and the plan wasn’t to eat, but I thought I’d better try some curried noodles, which I ordered and then learned that the service style at these hawker stalls was fast-casual. I ordered the food and it was brought back to our table.

Joanna had taken Albert with her to explore more of the food stalls, and after I’d finished my curried noodles she returned with clay pot bee tai bok, a very rich dish of short, fat rice noodles that looked like worms, and was rich and soy-saucy and really spectacular.

And Paco brought us a light, fish-based laksa because, well, if you’re at a bunch of hawker stalls in Malaysia you should have some laksa.

My curry mee had been plain, not with pork blood, but I did want to let you know that that was an option.


Krista said...

You really should try the curry mee with pork blood cubes because I don't think you'll be able to find it like that in NYC (I haven't seen it). Looks like you were at New World Park. I was in Penang earlier this year and the best curry mee (with pork blood, of course) is at Lorong Seratus Tahun.

ck lam said...

It was my pleasure getting to know you. Great to know you had an enjoyable trip.

Nazlina said...

Hi Bret,

nice post :)

Happy you guys had fun eating out in Penang.
Come again next year for more culinary adventure!