This is the second post in the Malaysia and Singapore! series. Other posts in this series include Lot 10 Hutong - Kuala Lumpur's Most Famous Hawker Stalls Under One RoofI first discovered my love of taking cooking classes while on vacation in Thailand.Through a series of cooking classes throughout the week, I met some of the warmest and most passionate people who taught me about the local produce, spices, and cooking techniques. In Buenos Aires, I met a lovely couple who invited me into their home to show me how to make classic Argentinian dishes.
Cooking classes feel more genuine and personal. Instead of gazing at a famous statue or photographing a tourist-flocked building, you meet locals who are passionate about their own cuisine and want to share about it with you.
You make friends. You get a tiny peek inside the lives of locals, even if it's just for an afternoon.
Meet Ana, the owner and founder of LaZat Malaysian Home Cooking. Though she's always been a passionate home cook, she ran gas stations for a living. One day she had an epiphane. She Google searched "Malaysian Cooking School" in English and could not find a single hit.
She knew that it was time to share her passion about the cuisine with others.
After spending several months converting her dishes into tested, easy-to-follow recipes, she opened up LaZat Malaysian Home Cooking seven years ago.
The first part of the cooking class involves a market visit, which is always fun especially in an area where the local, indigenous produce is so different from what I get at home.
Here's Sue, the friendly woman who met us at the market to start us on our tour.
Our first stop was a fun spice market, where the owner let us try various types of snacks made with her spices. She also sells premade spice packets for popular Malaysian dishes. It was tempting to pick up a few packages, but I just didn't have time before our little tour moved on.
We then visited a market stand that specialized in wild, jungle-picked vegetables. Pictured above are local wild ferns picked straight from the jungle. They are typically chopped up and stir fried or used in salads. The texture is crunchy and sort of reminds me of seaweed a bit.
These huge Petai beans (or stink beans) are another hyper local crop that is mainly found in the rainforest. They are said to smell vaguely like natural gas and are often cooked with other strongly flavored elements like garlic, shrimp paste, or chili peppers.
I can't remember the name of this funny purple flower like thing.
Does anyone know?
Update! Thanks to my trusty mom, one of my most loyal readers, who pointed out to me that "[t]he purple flower in your post is called 洛神花 in Taiwan. It is very sour and we make tea or make candy out of it."
In English, this is called a roselle. It is a species of hibiscus and is often used to make teas, jams, or adding sourness to recipes. It reduces hypertension and is super high in vitamin C and other antioxidants.
Rambutans are tropical, spiky fruit with a sweet, white flesh and pit inside, not unlike a lychee.
Next to the rambutans are Duku, or lanzones, another tropical fruit with white flesh and a single pit on the inside, similar to rambutans and lychees (though less sweet).
We visited the meat section of the market. Here is Sue ordering some chickens for our chicken curry that we would make later in the day.
She showed us different types of fish, explaining what was typically local in Malaysia and what was not.
At the last part of the tour, we went to the food court area and saw this man making roti canai filled with bananas.
It looked so good that the people in my group could not resist and asked if we could try a few. It was only $2 ringit each (like 67 cents USD), so we bought several and shared them among ourselves.
Yes, we knew we would be cooking and eating a huge lunch after this, but it was so hard to resist!
We then hopped into the van and after about 5 minutes driving up the side of a mountain, we arrived at this beautiful sanctuary hidden within the trees.
Welcome to LaZat Malaysian Home Cooking!
We donned our aprons and met several other teachers: Ana the owner and Lisa (pictured below on the right).
It was a super fun morning and early afternoon spent meeting new people (my class included visitors from Australia and New Zealand), learning how to cook Malaysian food, and eating all the results of our hard labor!
Otak Otak (fish wrapped in banana leaves)
We got to know the owner, Ana, who shared with us her background, how she got to this point, and her dreams for the future.
Kari Ayam (chicken curry), Roti Jala (lacy pancake), and Onde Onde (sticky rice ball dessert)
When you talk to Ana, you can sense her true warmth and passion about Malaysia. She readily shares so much about herself through funny anecdotes and stories. By the end of the class, you feel like you've made a friend and simultaneously learned so much about Malaysia, its culture, and its cuisine.
Ana told us she was totally willing to share recipes with us, even recipes from classes that we did not take. To her, if you show a passion for Malaysian cooking, she wants to share that joy with you.
"Why do I share my recipes? In my mind, you want a recipe because you want to use it to cook a dish. Recipes don't just sit around collecting dust. When you cook a dish, you share the dish with your friends. If more people around the world are cooking Malaysian cuisine, then more people are exposed to it."
She wants to see Malaysian cuisine reach the level of worldwide reach that other Asian cuisines, like Chinese, Japanese, and Thai, have attained.
To further Ana's dream for Malaysian cuisine, I will share with you several of Ana's recipes in the next several posts as we learn how to make Otak-Otak (fish wrapped in banana leaves), Kari Ayam (chicken curry), Roti Jala (a delicate lacy pancake), and Onde Onde (an addictive pandan flavored sticky rice ball filled with palm sugar and coated with fresh shaved coconut).
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[…] then just last week Ana, my teacher from a cooking class I took in Malaysia back in 2014, reached out to me and said she was visiting Boston for just a day and a half! She […]