My name is Rod Gowen…
I am a retired British Telecom Health and Safety Manager, raised in a small seaside town called Ilfracombe, on the North Devon coast in England. My interest in watching birds started when I was young. At school, when I was ten years old, I won first prize in an art competition and with the prize money, 10 shillings, I bought my first bird book which I still have.
So I was delighted, when I was invited to Tropical Spice Garden to make a list of birds that can be seen there. My first visit was on 6th March 2015.
My name is Steven Struyck…
I am a retired Export Manager and was born in the eastern part of Holland. I used to register meadow birds in Holland which meant watching birds over the expanse of meadows without trees. My local experience in Penang covers five years of watching birds in the skies and on tree tops. In both situations, the watching concerned mostly medium to large size birds.
Armed with a new camera, I discovered I had a “talent” to make rather good photos of animals which can be spotted here in Penang
For the first time, Rod and Steven met at the entrance of Tropical Spice Garden on 2nd February 2016. Having exchanged some information on each other’s background, they clicked right away over their common fondness for feathery friends!
Rod, being more familiar with the grounds of Tropical Spice Garden, introduced Steven to the various locations ideal for bird spotting. They decided to use the tea kiosk in the Bamboo Garden as their common spot as they both agreed that bird watching is a matter of endless patience to be exercised in a central location.
For Steven, it was a new experience because bird watching in Tropical Spice Garden consists of looking mostly upwards into the foliage of trees. Also, listening to the songs of birds in order to locate the -mostly- tiny birds is essential. Shooting photos of such small and fast moving creatures is an art by itself and not easy, but slowly and surely some progress was made.
Good ears are needed to follow the flight path of birds by means of detecting the change of direction and distance of the incoming sounds. As a certain degree of concentration is needed, the both of them try to avoid being distracted by tourists and hence, start their bird watching at about 8.30am; Rod arrives a little earlier to register the birds at the beach in front of Tropical Spice Garden. They finish up about noon as it gets too hot and the presence of birds declines for the same reason.
Recognition is mostly visual although sometimes the call of a bird is enough to identify it. Rod and Steven each carry illustrated books with them so that possible guessing can be eliminated. So far, they have seen over fifty different species. Each visit has been recorded on a database called “Bird Jar”.
The Tropical Spice Garden is a very beautiful place and we have enjoyed every minute we have spent there…while watching birds, one can really get involved with Mother Nature
Tropical Spice Garden’s much acclaimed Cooking School is now having an Open Day, filled with fun activities for both adults and children! Delicious cooking classes and tantalising cooking demos to excite a foodie’s tastebuds! Food vendors galore to whet your appetite 😀
Please register for the cooking classes as spaces are limited: only 10 personal cooking stations so hurry up!
More details here: TSG COOKING SCHOOL OPEN DAY
T: 04-8811797 | 012-4865795
Visit the latest extension of Tropical Spice Garden – a little pocket garden shop in the heart of George Town! Situated near to Little India and the busy Beach Street, our little shop carries all our favourite TSG essentials – high grade spices, aromatherapy and household scents, beautiful fabrics and loads of interesting souvenirs!
Visitors can also make bookings for cooking classes, day tours and night walks in the city. Spice Friends discounts apply here too!
Telephone: +604 261 3275
Open Hours: 08:30AM – 04:30PM (Mondays-Fridays)
10:00AM – 06:00PM (Saturdays)
Closed on Sundays
When you are walking up to the Bamboo Garden along the tractor pathway, pay attention to your left and you will see one of the most beautiful plants in Tropical Spice Garden: the Silver Joey palm, Johannesteijmannia magnifica, or locally known as ‘pokok payung’, or ‘daun serdang’.
The Silver Joey palm has some of the largest and most fascinating leaves of any palm tree on the planet. Along with its sibling species, the Slender Joey palm (J. lanceolata) , these palms have been reported to be threatened and endangered in the IUCN Red List, 1997, due to poaching and seed collection. Besides uncontrolled deforestation and conversion of forest areas to oil palm plantations and rubber estates, the building of dams and illegal logging activities are also driving the cause of decline in these majestic palms in the wild.
There are 4 species of Johannesteijsmannia species:Silver Joey (J. magnifica), Diamond Joey (J. altifrons), Joey on the stick (J. perakensis), and Slender Joey (J. lanceolata).
The distribution of the Joey palms is limited to small ranges in Malaysia. Today, we are going to look more in-depth towards the Silver Joey palm and its unique characteristics.
The Silver Joey is distributed in Perak, Selangor, and Negeri Sembilan, where it occurs only in the hilly and virgin rainforest. This species is endemic to Peninsular Malaysia and it appears to be stem-less with the leaves growing out from the ground in a cluster. However, the stem or trunk is actually formed below ground, out of sight. The plant can attain a height of up to three metres with its big diamond shaped leaves stretching out to two metres with silvery grey undersides. This stunning effect from the leaves’ undersides however, is more noticeable at night when you shine a light directly at it. A lovely sight to behold during our Night Walks!
The indigenous communities used the leaves of the palm as an ‘atap’ or roof thatch for small shelters and houses. However, when zinc roofs begin to replace the rooftops of the villages, they rarely use the leaves nowadays. Furthermore, medicinal values of Silver Palm was recorded in Johor, where the petioles are burnt and the ashes, with some water added, are applied topically to the body, especially to ease respiratory problems and small wounds. The seeds are boiled with water and the concoction is taken orally to reduce fever among children. The seeds can also be grated into powder and applied to the face, chest or tongue for relieving sore throat, cough and asthma.
There is an increasing demand for these palms as an ornamental due to their exotic appearance, thus illegal harvesting and uncontrolled seed harvesting had been the main threat to their survival. Moreover, the growth development of Silver Joey is a very slow process – taking up to decades – and irresponsible humans would poach younger specimens before the young plants have the chance to stabilise and thrive in their natural habitat. The inflorescences attract stingless bees (Trigona spp) and they are believed to be one of the main pollinators. Of course, when you visit our garden during the Night Walks, you might observe the inflorescences attracting a wide range of insects and bugs too!
The Silver Joey Palm is indeed a unique palm species that deserves our attention and appreciation. There were surveys carried out in orang asli communities in Peninsular Malaysia and it seems that the orang asli have been collecting the seeds or live specimens for sale. That, and with the increasing rate of deforestation in West Malaysia, the cultivation of Silver Joey palms in nurseries becomes a sliver of hope in preserving the species for future generations. Most importantly, the protection of the Johannesteijsmannia lies in educating indigenous and local communities, and exotic plant collectors in order to save this species from extinction in the wild.
Next time, we’ll elaborate more on the remaining 3 species of Johannesteijsmannia! Come over to Tropical Spice to witness the beauty of Silver Joey Palm!
The new year 2016 sees Chef Nyonya Su Pei hitting the ground running as she is being carried forward by the momentum of success she was catapulted into after last year’s incredible George Town World Heritage Eat Rite Festival.
With her increasing popularity, Nyonya Su Pei is being kept busy and she laments that last year was the first time she was unable to complete a project – be it a piece of embroidery artwork or writing down all her recipes to be compiled into a book. With a goal of adapting sophisticated Nyonya cuisine for the public, she collaborated with Straits Chinese (Penang) Association on a two-volume cookbook: Nyonya Flavours which has been best-selling for five consecutive years.
As the Nyonya cuisine are essentially family secret recipes which have been adapted and adopted over many generations, we asked the ‘taboo’ question of whether Nyonya recipes can really be shared. “When writing out a recipe, I can only write so much,” says Nyonya Su Pei. She reveals that even if there is a group of people cooking the same recipe, the differences in environment, ingredient preparation and even stirring methods can result in different tastes. The intimacy of hands-on teaching can never be replaced with mere words.
For her first ever cooking class in Tropical Spice Garden, it was a “daunting experience to demonstrate to experienced and international gourmands who have probably seen more of the world than I have.” With her incredible passion and determination, Nyonya Su Pei has converted many visitors to the gardens into Nyonya food lovers and has even successfully carried out several Nyonya Masterchef Challenges as a team building activity.
With 10 working stations in Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School, we provide a hands-on environment for that personal experience in learning of our unique local cuisines. Book a class or a teambuilding session today!
Flowering plants, also known as Angiosperms, are the most diverse group of land plants in the world. Existing in different shapes, sizes, and colours, there are more than 95 species of flowering plants in Tropical Spice Garden – ranging from bromeliads to palms, cacti to begonias, and more! However, one genus stood out among all the flowering dicotyledons and monocotyledons in the garden; the genus Tacca which consists of the bat flowers and arrowroots – herbaceous perennials native to Africa and Asia.
The genus Tacca consists of the flowering plants in the yam family, Dioscoreaceae, and there are at least 17 species of Taccas. They are native to tropical region of China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, East India, Indonesia, Laos, West Malaysia, Burma, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.
The well-known Tacca species that have been cultivated as ornamental plants are the T. chantrieri and T. integrifolia. Taccas are known for their strange, yet mesmerizing flowers with long ‘whiskery’ bracts that can reach up to a foot in length! The lurid, purplish flowers are also known as the Bat Lily or keladi murai due to the two light coloured bracts held high like bat wings. Besides, Taccas have large, beautiful dark green foliage and prefer to be grown in low light conditions with good air circulation.
In Tropical Spice Garden, looking for a T. integrifolia is like participating in a botany treasure hunt! They are planted in various parts of the garden: from the Ornamental Trail to the Spice Terraces. Sometimes the flowers are so well hidden that you might miss them even though they are just right beside you! There are also a few Tacca integrifolia alba scattered around the garden, where the flowers are a ghostly white instead of purple!
Taccas bloom during the warmest months of the year, and in Tropical Spice Garden, we are lucky enough to witness the blooms up to 6-8 times per year!
Till today, the pharmacological potential of T. integrifolia remains unknown. In Malaysia, a paste from the tubers of the plant is applied to rash caused by insect bites. It is also used in traditional medicine for lowering blood pressure, gastric ulcer and minor burns. Furthermore, the plant was also found to be a diuretic. However, caution must be taken, as the toxic effects of this plant are still unknown. A more intensive study of T. integrifolia in the future would be great to disclose any compounds of therapeutic interest.
There is a lack of information regarding the function of the long bracts of the flower, where there was assumption of this feature as a “deceit syndrome”, in which reproductive structures resemble decaying organic material attracts flies that facilitate cross-pollination (sapromyiophily). However, some research showed that the Tacca populations were highly self-pollinating; pollinator visits were infrequent yet there were high pollen loads on the stigma, some of which occurred before the flower even blooms. Here at Tropical Spice Garden, we do observe something interesting during our Night Walks, where wingless insects utilize the long ‘whiskers’ to crawl up the flowers!
Taccas can be grown successfully indoors and outdoors as a popular ornamental plant, propagated from seeds or rhizomes grown best in well-drained, fertile soil. In terms of growing conditions, Taccas do well in conditions with ample humidity, strong airflow, and moderate light and temperatures. Thus, they make a good choice for your shade garden or indoor houseplant.
One thing is common among the growers…. Everyone loves the unusual, odd, unique, exquisite and magnificent appearance and features of the Taccas!
When the sun shines and the heat wakes up the plants, tiny invertebrates are starting their daily routine in the woods. Squirrels are climbing up the trees for nuts and berries, monkeys reach up to the canopy of the rainforest to feed on shoots, and magnificent water monitor lizards emerge from the streams and ponds to explore and hunt for food. Aside from these scenarios in Tropical Spice Garden, butterflies are also fluttering about in the bright sunshine, displaying their beauty. One of the common butterfly species sighted is the Chocolate Soldier, Junonia iphita.
J. iphita is a nondescript brown with some dull markings on the wings. When a J. iphita sits on the ground, you might easily mistake it as a small dry leaf! With a wingspan of about 5 – 6cm, both sexes are nearly very similar in appearance. However, butterfly experts pointed out the fact that females have slightly broader and rounded wings. It is one of the most widespread species with a distribution from Sri Langka and India, through Malaysia to Bali and the Lesser Sunda Isles, all the way to China. J. iphita are usually found close to the ground level and often bask in the sun during sunny day.
In Tropical Spice Garden, we often observe J. iphita flying in pairs, circling around the Heliconia plants along the tractor path up to the Bamboo Garden. When the sun shines through the canopy, the little beauty sits in the sunny spots on the cemented ground, slowly folding and unfolding its wings, enjoying the heat from the sun.
Like bees and bats, butterflies play an important role in pollination and also as ecosystem indicator. Various habitats across the world have been destroyed on a massive scale, and the patterns of climate and weather are shifting unpredictably in response to deforestation and pollution. The disappearance of butterflies in many areas due to deforestation and pollution results in a more severe consequence than just a loss of colour in the environment. As biological indicators of a healthy ecosystem, butterflies and moths collectively provide a range of environmental benefits: pollution, natural pest control, and a vital part of the bottom-up food chain.
Butterflies and moths have an interesting life cycle worthy of study and research. Not only they undergo a complete physiological change but they’ve been around for at least 50 million years and make up around a quarter of all estimated species on earth. These creatures are very sensitive to pollution and changes in the climate. With the uncontrolled growth in unsustainable urban development, we don’t realise that we are actually degrading our living conditions and what more, destroying a variety of invertebrate species with every land clearing. We also fail to recognise that the world’s food supply depend on pollinators.
Looking at butterflies make us happy, right? To attract butterflies to your own neighborhood or garden, try planting some perennials, flowering shrubs and trees that butterflies love. You can even try enticing them to visit by putting out a small saucer of syrup but do be careful of ants! Educate yourself and your children on the importance of these tiny friends before thinking twice to execute the “babies” – eggs and caterpillars on household plants. Go outside to your nearby park or create a garden of your own and try to identify the types of butterflies existing around. Create a sketchbook to learn and appreciate these pollinators.
Butterflies love friendly neighborhoods. Next time when you see a Chocolate Soldier nearby, make sure you welcome them with smile, snap a photo of the butterfly and share it with us!
More to read:
I had a major craving for Indian food last weekend so I had briyani on Saturday and ‘tosai’ on Sunday – both with incredibly explosive combinations of spices in each dish that left my tummy rumbling quite happily.
Many of us may take spices for granted now since it’s readily available at every wet market and even have their own aisle in supermarkets. We hear right, left, and centre on their uses and benefits – whether to flavour foods, as a form of therapy and medicine. When faced with such an amazing array of varieties, do you ever stop to wonder where these spices come from? Why certain spices are more prominently used in Chinese/Malay/Indian cuisine and traditional medicine?
The spice trade is pretty old and back then, they weren’t as accessible as they are now. The history behind the spice trade is fascinating and inspiring in how they shaped the world – our world and our nation.
In the next couple of months, we bring you the experts on our local spice history.
Attend both talks and the special garden tour for RM110 which includes a Spice Friends membership!
Enquiries & Bookings:
T: +604 8811 797 | +6012 4988 797
FB Event Page: Spice Wars
Going ‘green’ seem to be a fast-growing trend in the light of current environmental issues but are you as confused over the variety of areas and options and ways as we are? Fear not, for the next month or so we are here to help!
Pamela Nowicka, a staunch supporter of environmental friendly pursuits, will be holding a couple of talks at our town shop: TSG In The City, 29 China St.
- Being Vegan: Saving The Planet One Bite At A Time
- Going Green: Saving The Planet One Habit At A Time
Being Vegan: Saving The Planet One Bite At A Time
Veganism sounds like daunting lifestyle for those of us who grew up loving our pork knuckles, beef rendang, and mutton curry. Author and journalist, Pamela Nowicka, will be introducing the vegan concept – what it is and what it isn’t. Pamela became a vegan in 2013 for personal health reasons and after experiencing the life-changing benefits, she embarked on a mission to debunk myths and false assumptions about veganism.
In this talk, she will be comparing the implications between a non-vegan and a vegan lifestyle for the environment, water, animals, health, climate change.
If you are curious about the benefits of living a vegan lifestyle or apprehensive about potential challenges of going vegan, bring those questions to the talk!
Going Green: Saving The Planet One Habit At A Time
Modern life leaves a lot to be desired on the sustainability front. With ever decreasing resources like water, topsoil and biodiversity, what can the ordinary person do to make a difference?
Pamela will be outlining the above issues and explore the challenges in changing our lifestyle to be more environmental friendly – does living in high-rise buildings mean we can’t do much? What can we actually do?
Complementary to these talks, we have a vegan cooking demo and a gardening workshop which relates back to the talks and for you to follow up with ready-made, pro-active solutions.
Keen to start a greener lifestyle with us? Come spice it up with our promotional package!!
Attend both talks, the cooking demo and gardening workshop for RM180 which includes a Spice Friends membership and save up to RM60!
Enquiries & Bookings:
T: +604 8811 797 | +6012 4988 797
FB Event Page: Spicing Up The Green Life
This 4th August 2015, TSG Cooking School will be having a Jawi Peranakan cuisine cooking class conducted by one of our guest chefs, Chef Nuril.
Jawi Peranakan refers to a community of Muslims with South Indian and Malay parentage born in the port cities of the Straits of Melaka; namely Penang, Malacca, and Singapore. It all started in the early 19th century when Muslims from South India migrated to Southeast Asia as traders and missionaries. As they settled down and married the locals, the resulting cultural merge was a “distinctive identity that was captured in their architecture, clothing, jewellery, and cuisine.”
Immensely proud of his heritage, Chef Nuril is eager to share the delights of Jawi Peranakan cuisine with TSG Cooking School guests where “the surroundings are calming with its beautifully landscaped hills of healthy spice [and herb plants] which allow us to gain a further understanding of how we incorporate these spices in our daily food.”
“Working as a chef, I have done quite a number of classes and demonstrations but cooking in Tropical Spice Garden is a privilege for anyone who loves food and the bond it has with nature.” The kitchen in TSG Cooking School is equipped with 10 working stations for a very intimate, hands-on experience for “enthusiastic individuals be it a tourist or local who is keen on learning the unique blends of Malaysian cuisine.”
Chef Nuril has won multiple awards since his undergraduate days and was the Culinary Editor of the Peranakan Muslim Heritage Series book, “Feasts of Penang: Muslim Culinary Heritage” by Dato Dr. Wazir Jahan Karim. With a remarkable academic background in western culinary arts, his passion remains in the tantalising flavours of Asian food and Penang’s unique Jawi Peranakan cuisine.
As an esteemed chef, one does wonder if Chef Nuril has higher expectations of himself when it comes to cooking Jawi Peranakan dishes compared to other cuisines.
“I definitely have high expectations of myself, not only in the food but more for the overall delivery of the class, and whether the students are comfortable with my workflow. Personal expectations are usually achievable if we take the necessary steps to reduce the risk of making a mistake. For my students, when it comes to Jawi Peranakan cooking, setting my expectations too high would mean a very rigid class. Personally, to relax and enjoy the fun you have with cooking is the first step so knowledge can be retained alongside fond memories, my expectations for the students most of the time is their willingness to learn and to try new things even though if it may seem a little alien at first. Jawi Peranakan food, like many cuisines from fusions of many cultures, focuses on balance although [it is] slightly richer than traditional Malay food. Once the students understand how to achieve this balance in the food with the usage of the proper ingredients and its quantities, most of my work is done. From there having understood the fundamental principles of cooking, the student is then empowered to add their own personal touches or adjust the flavours notes to their liking.”
9.00am – Live Guided Tour of the Spice Terraces
9.45am – Complimentary tea @ Bamboo Garden
10.00am – Gift Shop 10.15am – Cooking Class
1.00pm – Lunch with Chef @ The Patio
Creamy Rose Chicken
Ghee Rice with Cucumber Achar
Sago Pudding with Palm Sugar
Charges: RM233.20 (incl. GST 6%)