Cooking with Pearly

Cooking with Pearly

Stand under the clock tower facing the roundabout at 9:00 and my husband will find you. Those were our instructions from Pearly, our instructor for the day. So we did, Jane and I plus our two friends Rob and Joan. Pearly’s husband was a bit surprised to find Rob and Joan with us, but there was room in the class and it was no problem. Just a couple of more things to pick up at the market.

The chickens were super fresh. Killed in one room (barely out of
sight) and served right next door.

Chanda, Pearly’s husband drove us to the market where we waited for Pearly to arrive with the rest of the class. Then our lessons started. She did a great job of showing us around the market introducing us to all of the Malaysian produce. She was particularly focused on educating us about the various health benefits of all of the different kinds of root vegetables. By the time it was over I actually kind of wanted to eat a healthier diet with more greens and veggies. You read it here first folks! We also had the opportunity to try some great street food, including some peanut pancakes and some rice hoppers that were made with noodles, cane sugar, and coconut. Delicious!

Pearly, extolling the virtues of some root

A street vendor preparing our peanut pancakes.

After the market tour we drove to Pearly and Chanda’s home where she gave us a tour of the garden and then brought us to our cooking stations. Since Jane and I were the first to sign up for the class we got to choose the dishes to make! We made three dishes:

  • Curry Kapitan
  • Sambal Goreng -- Prawns in Cashew nut sauce
  • Ngor Hiang Lor Bak - 5 spice pork roll

None of these is the traditional Penang curry that we eat back home, but they are all traditional Nyonya dishes. Pearly is a fifth generation chinese living in Penang and they are the Nyonya. Over the years of cooking for the British they developed a style of cooking that was very flavorful but not as spicy as their Thai counterparts.

In each step of the work we washed everything thoroughly in a large bowl of fresh water at each of our stations. This was a little different than how I had cooked before, but the produce was all fresh and so whether it was to make sure we coaxed out any weavels hiding in the nuts or just to make sure we rinsed away any extra dirt or other nasty matter from the lemon grass or dried chilis or Galangal roots it seemed like a good idea.

When we first started it seemed like we might be in an episode of “worst cooks” as some of our classmates immediately knocked their ingredients on the ground and started cutting things up all wrong. But Pearly had pretty good humor about it and we spent most of our time laughing. She did go a little overboard at one point grabbing the spoon out of Jane’s hand in a misguided effort to “save her peppers” after her instructions about what to do were not entirely clear.

We didn’t finish cooking and eating until 2:00 in the afternoon, but the time went by very quickly.

The final product of our efforts. Very