On our final full day in Malaysia, Michael and I took a cooking class! After eating so much great food round town, I was itching to learn how to make some of it for myself. And we could not have learned in a more pleasant environment. Our class at LaZaT had just four students that morning, meaning lots of opportunities to observe up close, ask questions and get one-on-one advice on our techniques. The kitchens had a lovely open design, our dirty pans were whisked away for someone else to clean and, most important of all, our teachers Ana and Saadiah were ten kinds of terrific.
LaZaT classes are not generally vegetarian but they were kind enough to adapt the day's recipes for Michael and I, having an alternative prepared for each of the meats that the other students cooked with.
Our first dish of the day was wontons. This had Michael and I a little nervous for different reasons. I'm not much of a deep-fryer (though I've no problem eating the outcome), while Michael prefers to avoid fiddly tasks like wrapper-folding.
It could not be denied, though, that Saadiah's chicken and prawn wontons looked rather good. So we gave it a shot, using firm tofu for the bulk of the filling.
Saadiah rightly noticed Michael's fine chopping skills, and he actually did a pretty good job of the folding too. I managed the hot oil well enough, ultimately frying the most wontons of all.
The tofu filling was flavoured with spring onions, garlic, fresh water chestnut, soy sauce and sesame oil. I'd never seen a fresh water chestnut before - it tastes so different to the canned ones! Their distinctiveness got a bit lost in this filling but I'd love to find and try cooking with them again.
Our second course was san chou bau, which Saadiah demonstrated using soaked bean curd skin instead of the usual crab meat.
With the bean curd skin already soaked, this was a super speedy dish. I reckon it'd make a brilliant weeknight dinner in summer.
Rather than moving on to the main dish we next prepared our dessert, bubur cha cha. It's a rich pudding of noodles (the coloured strips, like the ones in cendol), sago, yam and sweet potato cooked in sweetened coconut milk that's infused with a pandan leaf.
Like rice pudding, this is the kind of dessert that I would not have loved a few years ago and consequently I don't tend cook such things at home. More recently these starchy puddings have crept up on me. In fact when the time came, I think I was the only person round the table to gobble down my entire bowlful!
Our main course was char koay teow. Instead of the fish cake and prawns used by the others, Michael and I were supplied with mock chicken pieces. Nice!
Though it's a simple fried-noodle dish, we learned a few new things here too:
- the wok should be shifted on and off the high heat regularly to ensure nothing burns
- cracking an egg with one hand!
- pouring the egg into the centre of the wok and piling the noodles on top while it sets
- that clever wrist manoeuvre that tosses the noodles around in the pan (well, we observed it several times, both of us struggling to replicate the movement ourselves)
It's another delicious dish that I'd love to make more often at home.
With the char koay teow cooked, we had plenty of time to chat over the fruits of our (and the LaZaT assistants') labours.
Of course this meant that we weren't hungry for quite some hours afterwards. Late in the afternoon we did at least dig into these curious fruits, which we'd picked up at the Petaling markets the previous day.
Nothing about this fruit was what I expected - beneath the red skin the flesh was most similar to an apple, though the flavour reminded me of carambola/starfruit.
Eventually we did develop sufficient appetite for dinner and walked on over to Pure Mind vegetarian restaurant.
Compared to most of our other meals in Malaysia, Pure Mind was a little more expensive (with mains running from RM12-25 ~ $4.10-8.60) but it probably also had the most refined setting.
I chose the deep-fried gluten balls in a pineapple basket (RM15 ~ $5.20). For me, this was all about that pineapple - it's rare that I eat it so fresh and sweet.
Michael went for the mah po tau fu (RM12 ~ $4.10), which was both delicious and gratifyingly similar to our home-cooked version.
We walked back to our hotel - content with our meal, our day, our entire holiday - but also ready to return home. I was looking forward to some more familiar home cooking in my kitchen (and an Aussie cafe breakfast!), while also inspired to bring back some of the flavours and styles I'd been tasting for the first time.