After my recent experience with the Flavours of Malaysia buffet at The Grace Hotel, they invited me back to attend a Nyonya-style Masterclass with the famous Jackie M, unofficial ambassador and spokesperson for Malaysian cuisine in Australia.
I’ve written about my growing love for Malaysian food in my post about the buffet. But did I ever mention the fact that K’s grandmother has questioned me before about my ability to cook good meals for her grandson, and wants to make sure I can cook Malaysian food properly? Did I ever mention that my ability to cook Malaysian food will be the criteria by which she judges whether or not I would be a good granddaughter-in-law? Let’s just say that this Masterclass probably came at a good time!
Jackie spoke to the small group of about twelve wannabe chefs at the start about the cultural basis of the masterclass. Nyonya culture stems from the fourteenth century, when a Chinese princess married a Malaccan prince, and brought an entourage of Chinese servants with her to Malaysia. They intermarried with the local Malays, creating a distinct fusion of Chinese and Malay culture that became known as “Nyonya” culture. What I didn’t know, is that the term Nyonya cannot be applied to any Chinese immigrant to Malaysia, as it refers quite specifically to that particular era in the fourteenth century and the results of that mass migration and assimilation.
We then split into pairs to decide which three of the seven recipes we were provided was going to be our culinary challenge this afternoon. I partnered with Lena of Startled Art (amongst many other writing gigs!) to create Lobak, Ayam Sioh and Onde-Onde.
Our lobak was…interesting. I think that’s what you would call the end result, considering we mistook salt for sugar in the cooking process, and in Lena’s words “it could have gotten rid of a slug infestation”. The actual texture of the lobak itself was really good though as we managed to get the beancurd sheets nice and crispy in the frying process. Next time I make this, it will actually be perfect as long as I don’t mix up my seasonings!
Our onde-onde was a real crowd favourite as one of only a few desserts made on the day. It was actually surprisingly easy to make, with only five ingredients. It’s also a really fun process, as it’s very tactile. You use your hands to mix the dough and pandan essence, you use your palms to roll the balls…it’s the type of dish that really makes you get your hands right into the mixture.
Later comments on Twitter by Craig Hind told me that Lena and I actually found a good balance between the palm sugar inner and the glutinous outer, as the onde-onde wasn’t too sweet, but yet was sweet enough to be a good dessert. This is definitely an easy dessert that I’ll be adding to my repertoire for future dinner parties!
Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of our ayam sioh (tamarind chicken) as we very nearly ran out of time to complete the dish and had to leave it behind for staff to finish for us. Reports are that there was too much tamarind in our dish, adding to our reputation for getting ingredients wrong.
We got to all sample each other’s dishes at the end of the afternoon. Other pairs made dishes like assam laksa, sambal goreng udang, Nyonya fried rice and durian pancakes…it was a veritable feast! We didn’t all get our dishes right – there was a laksa that was too sour and a sambal goreng udang that was also too salty. Practice makes perfect though, and Jackie M provided us all with recipes for the seven dishes so we can cook them at home.
This class was actually fantastic timing, as I leave on Tuesday for a week in Malaysia (and more weeks elsewhere in Asia!). Learning to cook Nyonya food here in Australia just before I get the chance to eat it from street-side stalls in Malaysia has been an amazing experience, and I think it will help give some perspective to my dining experiences in Malaysia over the next week.
Congratulations to The Grace Hotel and Jackie M for running this series of Masterclasses, an excellent way to bring delicious Malaysian food into Australian kitchens. If you are interested in attending, there may still be some spaces left for the following classes (classes are selling out fast though!):
- Malaysian Street Food 1: Sunday 9 December, 12.30pm – 3.30pm
- Malaysian Street Food 2: Sunday 16 December, 12.30pm – 3.30pm
- Malaysian Mamak Fare: Sunday 23 December, 12.30pm – 3.30pm
Contact the Grace Hotel for more information on this series of Masterclasses and their other upcoming promotions and events on firstname.lastname@example.org or 02 8585 4320 – or Jackie M directly through the website www.jackiem.com.au.