An experience like never before and a worthy ‘gift’ to bring home with you. Do you love eating? And what about eating authentic Penang cuisines? Just out of curiosity, we spent a morning at the Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School and here, we’d like to share our experience. By Janice Kua.
Set in a soothing environment surrounded by trees, herbs and some friends from the ‘insect’ family, the school is equipped with custom-made individual purpose-built workstations, boasting a memorable hands-on cooking experience. Specialising in a variety of cuisines, each class at the Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School is headed by a chef who specialises in a particular cuisine. Ranging from Nyonya, Jawi Peranakan, Malay, Thai and Indian, the school is strictly pork and alcohol free as a respect for Muslim friends.
Here, participants are given individual workstations, giving you the experience of cooking all by yourselves without having to share your cooking space. Recipes will be placed at each station and at each class, there are kitchen helpers and assistants who’ll help you throughout, especially in proportioning your ingredients. Though with individual workstations, the whole class is run concurrently as a group, giving you an opportunity to cook in the company of your family or friends.
Before each cooking class, you’ll be taken on a guided tour at the gardens, where you’ll be introduced to the different types of herbs, especially those needed in the dishes you’ll be cooking. At the end of this, you’ll be able to relate your encounters during the tour with the taste of herbs in each mouthful. Before getting started with your dish, the chef in charge will explain about the cuisine you’ll be cooking and the ingredients you’ll be using. It is of utmost importance to the school that each chef ensures the participants are not neglected or left behind in completing their dishes. After the class, participants will enjoy an al-fresco dining experience at the gardens, indulging in the food they have cooked together with their chefs.
According to Michelle, the Manager, TSG Cooking School is the first of its kind in Penang, reiterating the unique ambience of the school’s setting. The recipes introduced here are very much authentic and traditional. Having said that, participants are taught in such a way where they are able to recreate these delicious dishes at home. Participants will each be given the complete recipe and a TSG apron to bring home as a souvenir. Other than the usual classes, the school also undertakes cooking demonstrations for food labels, as well as company or group team buildings. Majority of its patrons are international visitors, comprising as high as 90% of the daily traffic.
One of the main cuisines being taught at TSG Cooking School is Nyonya cuisine. You may have experienced eating the same Nyonya dish from different sources but having a vast difference in taste because they may be originating from either the north or south. Northern Nyonya dishes have Thai influence other than the Chinese and Malay culinary elements. Northern Nyonya dishes are often colourful, spicy, slightly on the saltier front as well as sweet and sour like the Kerabu
(nyonya salad). Whereas southern Nyonya dishes are milder and mainly cooked with dark soya sauce and palm sugar (gula Melaka
). A prominent southern Nyonya dish would be Ayam Pongteh
. Nyonya cuisine is influenced by a string of different ethnic groups, namely, Malay, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, Indian, Burmese and Thai. In Nyonya culture and traditions, curry chicken is the principal dish, where it is a must-have during Chinese New Year, weddings, full moon celebrations and during prayers as offerings to deities and ancestors. In essence, the demand in every Nyonya family for the proficiency in cooking this principal dish, and serving it perfectly each time is pretty high.