Cooking Up a Feast: Malaysian Masterclass Review

Cooking Up a Feast: Malaysian Masterclass Review

By Angela Zaher

Do you want to go to Malaysia without the hassle of boarding a plane, taking your passport and travelling the 6,572 miles it takes to get there? It’s possible. You can avoid all that and instead spend three delightful hours immersed in Malaysia’s culinary culture, be seduced by the exotic smells of its traditional dishes and learn to recreate these in your own home by attending one of the Asian Cooking Academy’s Malaysian Masterclasses. You only have to travel as far as Edgware Road station and walk for five minutes until you get to Melur, a Malaysian restaurant where this class was hosted. Chef Norman Musa leads the class, and through his tales of growing up in Penang, watching his mother cook and picking lemongrass from his garden, you feel transported to a whole other world. A place where food takes centre stage and you leave all your worries and troubles behind to focus on making the most wonderful meal that you will then sit down and enjoy with your fellow students.

As the afternoon wears on, you become acquainted with new ingredients – galangal for me for example – and pick up clever chef’s tips such as peeling ginger and turmeric with a teaspoon- much easier and involves less waste. The aromas of spices – fennel, coriander, cumin, black pepper – being heated in a wok and the toasting of creamed coconut until it’s as dark as treacle and emitting the most rich, sweet and heavenly scent will tantalise your taste buds and make your stomach growl loudly (but it’s noisy so no one will hear) in anticipation of the lovely food it will soon receive.

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We started off by learning how to make Perak Beef Rendang, a Malay beef curry. We chopped and blended all the ingredients for the paste, then used this and the dry spice mix to cook the tenderised beef rump. Next on the menu was Mee Goreng Mamak, an egg noodle dish with sweet potatoes, potatoes, spinach, beansprouts and plump prawns.  And finally, we made the filling for chicken spring rolls and learnt how to tightly wrap this in beancurd skins so that none of it escapes during frying. All under the watchful and encouraging eye of chef Norman who moved from station to station, checking that we were all doing what we were meant to do and helping to iron out any glitches.

Class numbers are limited to 10 – there were 7 of us on the day – a good number given the size of the place. It feels energetic and busy but not crowded. These types of group cooking classes are a wonderful example of social connection at its best. With a common interest in food and collective curiosity for all matters culinary, it’s so easy to get along with your fellow classmates. You start off as a room of strangers and by the end of the 3 hour afternoon, you have cooked and learnt new techniques together and bonded over this shared experience.

Even though I spend many happy hours in my kitchen, I was a complete novice to Malaysian cuisine. But this class boosted my confidence to try something new. I feel I learnt a lot, not only about the different flavours and techniques used in Malaysian cooking but about the country too and chef Norman’s deep and nostalgic connection to it. Sitting down to eat the meal we had toiled over at the end (I exaggerate – there’s not much toil involved, chef Norman’s business partner Rak busily goes around throughout the class making sure stations are well stocked and you have everything you need for each section) was a real highlight. Plus, the fact that you can take any leftovers home to show off your new cooking skills to your loved ones. We were also given a goody bag with some delicious oriental snacks and ingredients courtesy of the sponsors.

This class cost £125 and it’s good value given what’s included. You get a bespoke brochure by email after with all the recipe cards, and photos of the group from the day, a really nice touch. The next Malaysian Masterclass is on Saturday 18 May and an Indian Masterclass run by Rak on 22 June.

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