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“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.” — Calvin Trillin, writer.

Good cook or not, there’s something about a mother’s cooking that makes it especially delicious even if its as uninspiring as…leftovers! Infused with love, every dish retains the taste of memory that will remain with the child for the rest of his life.

This Mother’s Day, share the wonderful experience of making a meal for each other and strengthen the bonds of love with your child in our “Cooking With Mum” session. Learn to make easy to recreate dishes:- Begedel (meat patties), Pumpkin & Spinach Curry and a scrumptious Coconut & Passion Fruit Tart. Session includes a complimentary Guided Tour of the garden and a TSG Souvenir Gift for mums. Limited places so book early!

Date: 12th May 2013
Time: 9am-1pm
Price: RM350 per mother + 1 child (min 8 years)
Menu: Heart-shaped Begedels (meat patties) + Pumpkin & Spinach Curry + Coconut & Passion Fruit Tart
Chef: Rohana Turner
For reservations kindly call 04-8811 797 or email michelle@tropicalspicegarden.com

Remembering Penang’s Culinary Heritage

“It all started when I was collecting my mother’s recipes and putting them together,” explains Dr Ong Jin Teong when asked about the inspiration behind his culinary biography Penang Heritage Food. “I made a list of all the family dishes that I could recall and that is how the book developed.”

“There were modifications of some of the recipes with time and there were clarifications needed, like how big is the cup or bowl used or what is the weight of 5 cents of kunyit? I later decided to go back further to my mother’s handwritten recipes as well as her recipe collections to find out their origins.”

An engineer by profession, Dr Ong started his research upon his retirement in 2005. Tracing back the history and background of each dish was not easy for the myriad of cultural influences that have seeped into the recipes over time.

“I wanted to make a record of taste of the food of the 1950’s, the 60’s, the 70, and maybe the 80’s. I started typing out the recipes and thought it would be interesting if I give a history and background of each dish.”

“I was feeling nostalgic so I wrote about the good times we had, when we had our grand multi-family picnics at Sungei Pinang and at Telok Bahang. Food played a prominent part in these regular picnics.”

Shifting through his memories also helped Dr Ong to remember more about the recipes and cooking techniques used back in the day. “For some reason I remembered how the laksa noodles were made from scratch – from the grinding of the rice through to the squeezing of the dough through a press on to a pot of boiling water.”


Tropical Spice Garden will be hosting a “Book Launch and Cooking Demo” with Dr Ong Jin Teong on September 8 (Saturday) at 10am

Price is RM120 per person and includes a complimentary, signed copy of Penang Heritage Food and goodie bag.

To reserve, kindly call 04 – 8811 797 (Eleanor/Evelyne). As places are limited, a 30% deposit will be applicable to secure your booking.

The event aims to highlight and promote Dr Ong’s culinary biography Penang Heritage Food, a collection of recipes for the classic and forgotten dishes of Penang. More than just a cookbook, Penang Heritage Food also sheds light on the different cultural influences that has made Penang’s fusion cuisine a unique national heritage.

The cooking demonstration will showcase traditional dishes−Hainanese Chicken Pie, Chicken Stew and BuBur Pulut HItam−and will take place at the al-fresco style Pavilion area next to the Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School.

As the last of the Chinese immigrants to arrive in Penang in the early 1920s, the Hainanese immigrants found it difficult to find jobs. Most of the men ended up as cooks and domestic helpers in British homes and establishments.

They not only learned to prepare British dishes, but they also very successfully adapted these dishes with locally sourced ingredients and spices. This resulted in dishes like Min Chee, Curry Puffs, Pork Chops, Chicken Pie and Chicken/Mutton Stews.

A clove story

Resembling tiny torches, cloves (derived from the Latin word clavus which means nail) are an ancient and venerable spice that was much sought after for their versatility and medicinal value as far back as 1721 BC.

In fact, during the Han Dynasty (206BC to 220AD), courtiers in the Emperor’s court would put cloves in their mouth to prevent bad breath and the spread of disease. Even visiting dignitaries were obliged to do so in the presence of the Emperor and anyone found to have disregarded this rule were punishable by death.

As a treasured commodity, cloves have spurred expeditions to the east and have been the root cause of many wars at sea. In the early 17th century the Dutch incurred the wrath of natives when they destroyed cloves trees that were not within their colony in order to monopolise the trade.

This caused a lot of rage as it was a native tradition to plant a clove tree upon the birth of a child and the lifespan of the tree was believed to have a direct correlation to the child’s longevity.

In Britain during the 17th and 18th centuries, cloves were even worth their weight in gold. Needless to say, everyone was keen to profit from this valuable spice and before long, clove trees which are native to the Molucca Islands (near Indonesia) were being grown in other parts of the world including Brazil, Mauritius, Tanzania and Zanzibar.

The dried clove stalks that many are familiar with are actually the unopened flower buds of an evergreen tree, a member of the myrtle family. Clusters of the clove buds are handpicked just as they take on a pinkish hue. They are then separated from the stem and carefully dried till they turn brown.

Penang grown cloves are considered to be of superior quality as a hand selection of the biggest and highest quality cloves are sold and exported. These clove stalks are slightly reddish, plump and have a more fragrant, almost fruity scent.

Today cloves are widely used in cooking, though knowledge of their medicinal value has somewhat diminished. They add a unique sweetness and warmth to soups, breads, meat dishes, desserts and even beverages especially tea. But as they have a strong, overpowering flavour, it’s best to use them sparingly in any particular dish.

In terms of health value, cloves can be used for respiratory infections, upset stomachs, diarrhea , nausea and vomiting. Its analgesic properties are also recommended for toothache and as a counterirritant for skin and throat inflammation. It is also reported that when taken with tea, clove buds can help to eliminate intestinal parasites such as roundworms.

The oil that is extracted from cloves are widely used in mouthwashes, toothpaste, acne creams and in aromatherapy products. Its aphrodisiac nature makes clove oil one of the best stress reliever and stimulant for reducing mental exhaustion and fatigue.

Rice & spice

Dropping a smoldering chunk of coal into a pot of rice may not sound appealing to the general public but after bearing witness to this unusual cooking method, its something  we believe every foodie should try – at least once in their lifetime. And who knows, you could be so amazed by it that you’d even want to show your family and friends how to do it.

This Friday (July 20th) Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School will be introducing guest chef Asma Awadh who hails from Yemen. She will show us how to make a traditional Yemeni Kabsa. A famous Arabic meal that is indigenous to Yemen, Kabsa is rice cooked with a mixture of fragrant spices, meat and vegetables.

Its unique preparation using a hot coal buried in the rice adds smoky flavour to the wholesome dish. Having learned the basics of authentic Middle Eastern cuisine from the tender age of four, Asma picked up this unique trick from her mother who for a want of a pit oven used this technique to replicate the earthy flavours of a mandi rice dish, which is what sets the Yemeni Kabsa apart from kabsas from other Middle Eastern countries.

The first class will be held this Friday, July 20th at 9am at a special price of RM100 per person. To participate simply call 04-8811 797 or write in to reservations@tropicalspicegarden.com.

What would we do without black pepper?

I wonder sometimes how  an omelette  would taste without a dash of black pepper, or eating stir fried beef without black pepper sauce … life would be miserable. This pungent aromatic spice hailed all the way from the Malabar Coast in Southern India. Can you imagine what food would have tasted like in South East Asia before Peppers reached our shores?? It would have probably been bland and soupy. Pepper has been used in ancient times by the Greeks and Romans. While our current generation uses steroids and adrenaline gels for increase energy and performance, the Roman warriors were massaged in black pepper before battle to promote strength and stamina.Cool eh?

We’ve got to thank the Portugese explorer Vasco Da Gama  for opening up the sea routes for spice trade especially for Black Pepper.The Pepper culture extended from Europe to the Indonesian Archipelago back in the 16th century. Although Malabar exported pepper extensively to Europe, in the 17th century ,large quantities of pepper were imported by the Dutch and British from Java and Sumatra. 200 years later, Sumatra was the largest pepper supplier to Europe! whats very interesting here is that Sumatran Pepper was exported to Europe  via Penang! The British used Penang as a important depot for pepper supplies from Terengganu and Sumatra.

If I gave my landlord 600 peppercorns as rent this month, she would probably flip and kick me out but such a thing  did exist ages ago where Peppercorns were so valuable that people used peppercorns as a currency to trade. People paid rent with peppercorns hence the term peppercorn rent!

Pepper from the Piperaceae Family is a perennial woody vine where shrubs can grow up to 30 feet tall. Both white and black Pepper come from the same pepper plant, Piper Nigrum. Its flower are slender with dense spikes with about 50 blossoms each. Pepper bears berry like fruits which is produced as peppercorns.

Now when you bite into a peppercorn…oooh! the heat! where does that come from ? The hot sensation comes from the  resin in the peppercorn called chavicine. Another heat source substance in the peppercorn is an alkaloid called piperine which is used to add to the pungent effect in Brandy.

Most of  us love pepper in our food be in adding a dash of pepper in a pumpkin soup, marinating barbeque or black pepper crabs! now which pepper type  do you prefer?

<img class="aligncenter caption" src="/files/2012/Peppercorns.jpg" title="Peppercorns" alt="Black , White and Green Peppercorns.. which is your favourite?Source: www.silkroadgourmet.com” />

Green peppers are harvested before the peppers turn red. They are dried out in the sun for a week and a half and the green berries undergo an oxidation process and blacken to become black peppercorns. Black pepper has a sharp aroma with that signature woody taste.

White peppers are peppercorns that are stored in heaps after they have been boiled or harvested and packed in large stacks then lowered in running streams for 7-15 days. Bacteria plays a role in causing the outer layer of the peppercorn( pericarp) to break away. White peppercorns have a much milder taste compared to black pepper.

Peppers are also used in many remedies and Ayurvedic treatment in treating colic, tooth decay, liver problems, lung disease, indigestion and constipation. Its also very effective for coughs.

A simple cough remedy

Grind 3-4  black peppercorns into a fine powder.

Mix with1 tablespoon of honey


Best taken before going to bed 🙂


And where can you see fruiting peppers on Penang island? , right here along the spice terraces of Tropical Spice Garden! The peppers are happily fruiting! They are hard to see but they are definitely there! you can also purchase black peppercorns from our gift shop. Why not cook up a delicious meal of Black Pepper Chicken and steamed rice to complement the rainy weather these days. I might just do so this evening.

Little Green Detectives Camp was a blast!

If I could choose five words to describe the Little green Detectives Camp it would be…..
Fun, Enjoyable, Crazy , Friendship, Hands-On
With only 3 weeks to plan and organize a camp for 30-32 kids from diverse backgrounds, I sourced inspiration from my childhood heroes and heroins Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and tadaa!  The Little Green Detectives Camp . This Camp was geared for children to get away from their Ipads, playstations and Facebook and really immerse them into nature and have some real outdoor fun. It is  a vivid thought but people might assciate outdoor fun with shopping  or eating at hawker stalls if we do not educate children on what enjoying nature is all about.
The 3 day camp from 6-8 June 2012 brought children from all over Penang Island, the mainland and even from KL. We incorporated the Detective Element in all the activities mainly for children to think out of the box, to reason, to work together and do actually put some hard effort before they enjoy themselves.

I will let the pictures do the talking now 🙂

Day 2 was themed as Green Detectives. The children arrived all geared for more fun. As most children nowadays are so conditioned with Ipads and computers, writing was actually hard for a few. The first activity was the Nature Journal where they explored thier creativity in decorating thier cardboard covers with natural leaves  and sand and tying it up with string. Some wrote, some drew pictures of their newfound friends. As they wrote and expressed themselves , we facilitators realised how children are so used to clicking  on the screen if something is not interesting anymore. Nature Journal helped the kids to remember the past activities on the first day and reason and think before they record down their thoughts and expressions. A bit of work but still enjoyable! They later on continued to play a fruit game by being blindfolded and tasting different types of fruits. The afternoon began with them giving the turtles a good bath with the kids cleaning the turtle shells with old toothbrushes and the kids sure did have good fun getting dirty by cleaning the turtle pen. They sure did do a good job, the turtles now probably feel so much lighter without the excessive moss and  are happily swimming in a clear and clean turtle pen. The next activity was handling dung worms and measuring how long the worms are. They also identified the different parts of the worm and their importance of worms to our environment. After a fun filled day, the last activity was plant- a – pot. Children planted different types of seeds and got to take a pot home each to observe the little seedlings grow!

Day 3, the finale of the Little Green Detectives Camp was awesome! The children ran along with thier butterfly nets  in the morning to catch butterflies and insects and we continued with the nature journal as they recorded down more fun memories 🙂 The children learnt how to use a compass and were divided into three teams for the Nature Scavenger Hunt! it was rather challenging as children learnt to work in a team and of course listen to a leader! it was a great platform for children to think out of the box and learn more about plants and their usage through the hunt. After lunch, the children tested thier artistic skills with T shirt printing using leaves! It was lots of fun seeing children paint leaves , write words!( will let the pictures do the talking here).The much awaited activity was beach explorers, where all 32 kids landed on the beach for a good sunny time at the beach. Some got buried in the sand, the boys were  playing their favourite game of football and some played with the balls and make sandcastles. One mother commented on her daughter that it was the first time to see her daughter happily playing in the sun! We wrapped up the Camp with a simple prize giving and photo session.

It was sad the camp had to end, we all had so much fun! We achieved so much especially in getting children closer to nature and how to have fun with nature and most important of all in this increasingly individualistic society we got to encourage more children to learn how to share and care for one another.Cant wait for Little Green Detectives Camp 2!!

Little Green Detectives Camp is here!

Calling all kids 7-12 years old!


The school holidays are just round the corner and if you are a parent wondering how to help your child spend sometime away from Facebook and Video Games. LOOK NO FURTHER!
This is it!
The Little Green Detectives Camp   is geared for for children to have a hands on approach to exploring nature. We are creating a healthy environment for children to interact and observe and ask the  multitude of questions that begin with WHY? for example,

Do you know why a tree is called tree?
Do you know the difference between a frog and a toad?
Which are poisonous plants?
Why do some insects only eat certain flowers?
Why do some plants come alive at night?
Children will be guided on looking for clues and solving mysteries of nature through workshops, games and on exploring the garden grounds for answers!

Camp activities also include Beach exploring( note,no child goes into the sea 🙂 ) , T shirt printing with natural leaves, planting seeds, making bamboo chopsticks ,measuring worms,  making flower teas and so much more!Hurry and sign your kids up for a fun and enriching camp!! Please click on the Registration Form link to download the registration forms.


Details of the Little Green Detectves Camp are as follows
Date: 6-8 June 2012
Time: 9am-5pm
Venue: Tropical Spice Garden
Lunch and Refreshments provided

Camp Registration Form