Let’s get one or two things clear right from the start. I love cooking but I’m hardly a chef. I love food but I’m hardly a connoisseur (I still can’t tell my kaffir from my Persian when it comes to types of limes and I’ve long since abandoned knowing my Jersey Royal from my Ruby Lou when the subject of potatoes is on the table.)
But, one thing is for sure and that is that I love cooking classes.
Not only do they get you out of doing the washing up (mind, so does street food, dining at Michelin-starred restaurants and eat-with-your-hands takeaways) but they also get you in to sitting down and talking with someone from another culture. They’re entertaining, educational and even if you mess up the recipes yourself then you’ll never end up hungry; you can share with someone else.
Best of all, I leave with tried and tested recipes that I can bring here and share with you. So it’s an extended dinner table, really, one that reaches all across the globe.
I felt a little nervous, though, as I bundled my camera and notebook beneath the monsoon skies and scurried into the class, distracted by splatters of roadside mud and the thunder of rain on tarpaulin. Food so far in Malaysia had tasted so fresh and so delicately spiced. The clear soups and sauces disguised the strength of the flavours and carried a secret I felt sure I’d never manage to learn (back home, soups come thick and chunky, with levels of colour equalling the level of taste.)
The name of the game was the “Basic Sabah Ethnic Cooking Class” run at the Mango Garden Restaurant (right next to the rather bizarre Upside Down House. A story for another day perhaps…)
But how basic was basic? In other words, was it going to be basic enough for the likes of me?
Oh, cover me in eggs and flour and bake me in a banana leaf for 40 minutes, it was. Happy days! Tasty days! Not only did the whole plan come together but (bar an ingredient or two) this menu did actually look like something I’d be able to do back home.
Step aside Jamie Oliver. I’m coming home ready to impress.
Unlike the other recipes, this one is generally reserved for high days and holidays. The rich canary yellow sauce brings a splash of colour to the plate and locals usually use it to dazzle at weddings or to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Manuk means chicken and Tinapah means BBQ in the local Bajau dialogues but, well, you know, Manuk Tinapah sounds cooler than plain old barbecued chicken.
Now, this dish can apparently be cooked on a boat according to its legend of creation that involves either pirates or hardworking fishermen depending upon your point of view. Either way, this Ubian delicacy from northern Sabah is super fast, ultra fresh and with the low fat combo of lean protein and mixed veg, it’s ridiculously good for you. It even looks good when artfully arranged.
This dish has quite a ceviche vibe (the fish is “cooked” by the citrus juices rather than by heat from over a fire.) I love, love, love this kind of combination but if you’re at all uneasy at the sight or taste of “raw” fish then perhaps this isn’t for you. I’d urge you to give it a try, though, and you can rustle it up as either a starter or side dish or even (served with enough salad) as a summer main course. If you’re short on time, this can also be prepared the day before and left in the fridge ready to go.
So, there you go. Three really easy Malaysian Recipes, recipes so simple that even I could make them look and taste good.
Have a go yourselves and let me know how you got on!
Cheers for now,
Disclosure: I visited the Mango Garden Restaurant as part of a project with iAmbassador, Sabah Tourism and Royal Brunei Airlines. As ever, as always, all words and thoughts and tastes and cooking experiences my own. Otherwise, there’s just no point. The pics are my own too and what’s more I made all the food myself! How about that?!
Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!
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