I believe there is no better way to experience the local culture than to be in it with the locals, and when in Kuala Lumpur where the city continues its development into a sophisticated metropolis, joining a cooking school in the suburbs was the best way to learn to go back to the basics of Malay culture.
“Eating is one of the most important aspects of the Malay culture,” explained Ana, owner of Lazat Cooking School in Kuala Lumpur. “We celebrate each and every occasion with a specialty dish, and recipes of these dishes are often passed on the generations with extreme pride.” The word Lazat, means delicious. Ana worked hard to ensure that her students can all go home with the knowledge that each and everyone of us can make a delicious meal. “It would mean that I have done a good job, in passing some of the recipes that I am proud of!”
In the morning, we were dropped off at a local suburban market for a tour. Ana led the way, and pointed out a selection of the ingredients that are basic to Malay cooking, as well as any odd fruit and vegetables that are only grown in the tropical environment. Ginger, galangal, tumeric and palm sugar. I tried to pay attention to each item, but it was hard not to be distracted by the strong curry smell coming from a nearby stall. “Ah, roti chanai!” Ana walks over and purchases a few pieces from the man who busily flapped his dough and placing them on the hot plate. We happily shared this flaky flatbread with curry dipping sauce, as Ana continue to point out the spices in the next shop.
After the tour, we were taken back to Ana’s house where she had set up the school, and was put straight to work. Our menu was a mouthwatering one: nasi lemak (Coconut rice), prawn sambal, and sago pudding. While my fellow students and I clumsily chopped the vegetables and pounded the spices, our teachers Jai and Sue paced between us making sure we were doing things correctly. “Never be lazy!” Jai said. “If you are lazy and you miss a few steps, I can guarantee you your dish will not be tasty.”
Patiently, we fried our spices and cooked our rice and prawns; carefully we drained out the sago and boiled the palm sugar; and slowly, each of our work stations were producing the end product that would be our lunch for the day. I was proud of what I had made. My nasi lemak tasted exactly how it taste in my favorite Malaysian restaurant at home, and my sago pudding with palm sugar went down nicely after a spicy meal.
It was certainly a wonderful experience cooking with Ana and her teaching team, and with another mouthful of the sago, I happily shout “Lazat!”