To the soundtrack of thunderous monsoon rain, I learned these easy Malaysian recipes at the Mango Garden Restaurant in Borneo. Light, healthy and bursting with the zest lemongrass and coconut, they translate pretty well to kitchens back home in the UK. Here’s what the cooking class was like and how you can follow the recipes yourself. Updated 2019.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) currently has some travel warnings in place regarding Malaysia, so please consider this when planning a trip.
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 thought I’d never manage to learn. Back home, soups come thick and chunky, with taste indicated by hue, the brighter the better.
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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?
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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.
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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 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.
The tradition behind this recipe involves stealth cooking on a boat – either from pirates evading capture or hardworking fishermen struggling to get by. 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.
Hinava sada 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?!
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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