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Testing our Culinary Skills in Penang

May 16, 2013

We decided to take a cooking class on the morning of our final day in Penang.  After scouring TripAdvisor for the best option, I settled on the Cooking School at the Tropical Spice Garden.  Having taken a cooking class when traveling solo in Chiang Mai several years earlier, I was excited to share the experience with WWW.

In keeping with the previous day in Penang, we were welcomed with a deluge upon exiting our hotel for the bus stop.  Sadly, the large amounts of rain didn’t allow us a good view of the island or the beaches we passed on the bus ride, and the tour scheduled before our class of the garden’s several trails lined with various spices was cancelled.  Luckily, things started looking up as we entered the kitchen to meet our instructor Azizah Othman and began preparing the day’s dishes.

Photos of Tropical Spice Garden, Pulau Penang
This photo of Tropical Spice Garden is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The theme of the class was “True Malay” and included traditional Malaysian dishes such as an appetizer of cucumber salad and a main course of ikan masak lemak cili padi (or fish in spicy coconut gravy).  Azizah walked us through how to make each of the dishes step-by-step, allowing us to watch her in action and then walking around as we each began our individual attempts.  Compared to the course I took in Thailand, I enjoyed the intimacy of the class at Tropical Spice Garden (which only had 6 students the day we attended) and the individual attention given to each student.  I never felt left behind, which is saying something considering that many Asian dishes are cooked very quickly at very high heat levels.

Not being the greatest in terms of knife skills, I was definitely shown up by WWW, who sliced all of his vegetables extremely thin as called for in making cucumber salad.  Our instructor also complimented him on the spiciness and consistency of his curry.  Mine was less flavorful, and I ate off his plate when we sat down in the garden to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Photos of Tropical Spice Garden, Pulau PenangPhotos of Tropical Spice Garden, Pulau Penang
Photos courtesy of TripAdvisor

After lunch, the weather had cleared and we went on a self-guided tour of the gardens, which include the Jungle Trail, Ornamental Trail, and Spice Trail.  The gardens are gorgeous if a little humid (the staff does provide citronella), and everything from cinnamon and clove to swamp taro and the Madagascar swamp palm can be found along their trails.

The Tropical Spice Garden is just west of the large resorts of Batu Feringgi beach, but was a 18km distance from our homebase in Georgetown.  Despite the distance, getting there via public transportation from Georgetown is rather simple and much cheaper than hiring a taxi.  Several buses (Rapid Penang #101 and #102) leaving from Komtar station in Georgetown travel to this side of the island for only a few RM.

The cost of the cooking course at Tropical Spice Garden is 200RM/person and includes the class, as well as a guided tour of and access to the gardens (25RM for non-participants).  The Garden also boasts a Thai-fusion restaurant on-site called Tree Monkey, which we weren’t able to dine at but heard rave reviews of from other travelers.

Have you taken a cooking class while traveling?  Did you enjoy it?  Let us know in the comments.

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