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%)
Working in a natural environment is a totally different experience than a typical office job. Besides having the privilege of savoring tasty herbal drinks and listening to the beautiful wildlife orchestra every day, we also stand a higher chance of observing and witnessing some of the greatest nature findings in the garden (think Nat Geo)!
Spread across 8 acres of the secondary forest, Tropical Spice Garden is a natural tropical habitat to more than 500 varieties of flora and fauna, ranging from native trees to sub-tropical plants, and creepy crawlies to mammals. Therefore when luck strikes, it is no surprise that you may encounter a Malayan water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) swimming in the water garden, a yellow-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) feeding on a praying mantis, or a colony of giant forest ants (Camponotus Gigas) making their way back to their nest.
One sunny afternoon when everyone is off for lunch, something happened in front of the garden’s pantry that grabbed everyone’s attention.
A live “Urban Jungle” show was happening in front of our eyes – an Oriental whip snake (Ahaetulla prasina) was attempting to consume a green crested lizard (Bronchocela cristatella)! Being the naturalists that we are, we started to observe and document the behavioral and physical changes of the two species. The initial thought was: “The slim, slender snake will have a hard time swallowing the bigger and stronger lizard. Surely it’ll eventually give up…” To our astonishment, instead of giving up, the snake took almost an hour to finish a large and surely satisfying meal.
During the first 20 minutes, the snake maintained a firm grip on the lizard’s neck, which was very much still alive and struggling to escape.
Within half an hour, the lizard’s head was already halfway in the snake’s mouth with its legs still twitching! Soon, some small black ants started to gather around both reptiles. Despite the distraction of the ants crawling over both reptiles, the snake continued its mammoth task of a meal. As time goes by we realized that the lizard wasn’t moving anymore, which we concluded that it might already be dead at that point.
At the 45 minute mark, there was a dramatic change in the situation. The snake started to utilise its powerful muscles – expanding its jaws to accommodate the size of the lizard, we noticed a pale banding on the throat becoming more apparent. This banding pattern is only noticeable when a whip snake is feeding or feeling threatened.
Lastly, when 95% of the lizard was swallowed, the whip snake looking quite proud of itself gradually moved away from the limelight of our keen observations.
The Oriental whip snake is one of the common tree snakes that can be found in secondary forests, residential and agricultural areas throughout Southeast Asia. It is mildly venomous towards its prey – insects and small vertebrates – which it actively seeks out as it glides from tree to tree.
A common sight in Tropical Spice Garden, the green crested lizard (Bronchocela cristatella) also has a widespread distribution in primary and secondary tropical forests.
The Nature Education team from Tropical Spice Garden held their third overnight camp in the garden grounds on 6th – 7th June 2015. Being a different type of experience from the daytime tours and workshops, this two day, one night camp was a hit with a boisterous bunch of 15 participants ranging from six to ten years old.
Titled ‘Garden Crafters’, the camp aimed to encourage the children to combine their creativity skills with some newfound gardening knowledge and gain some environmental awareness as well.
Upon arrival, the children were gathered at our newly erected Guides’ shelter that sits over a small stream. It was the perfect place to start introductions; a cool and comfortable place for the new faces to relax and integrate with those who are more at ease, having participated in previous workshops and camps. Most of them were already friends and to make more is always a bonus!
After a little ice-breaking session, the first order of the day would be setting up the tents!
As they say, ‘best to make hay while the sun still shines’ so we took the opportunity of clear, bright skies to set up our sleeping tents. This way, we avoid fumbling in the dark and risking mosquitoes and other insects flying into the tent. It was a great moment when the children started to help each other, regardless of whether it was their own tent or not. As the tents started to take form, the growing excitement was heart-warming as they started to pick their sleeping spots and made pacts with each other to stay up as late as possible!
The next activity was the main event: getting their hands dirty! The children were taught some gardening basics: what is the use of soil and the importance of proper combination of soil types, and how to plant from cuttings by using our popular Cat’s Whiskers plant.
By teaching the children how to make mini planter pots from plastic bottles, we not only create awareness on the importance of recycling but show resourceful ways of reusing items. Creativity skills were put to the test when decorating their pots.
As darkness fell, it was time for the much anticipated Night Walk! Armed with a torch, the children traipsed through the Gardens with Joleen at the front, looking for creepy crawlies and experiencing firsthand the night time characteristics of some plants and animals – some go to sleep, and some wake up.
The night didn’t end after the Night Walk. We had Movie Time where we screened ‘Rio 2’ and enjoyed some mango pudding and other tidbits while watching the movie. It was past midnight when heavy eyelids got the children crawling back into their tents. With the bright, full moon watching over them, everyone slept well to the soothing orchestra of frog and cricket songs.
The next morning, we got up bright and early at 7am to have breakfast at the Bamboo Garden. After a quick shower and change, it was time for the next event: art in nature where we explored the creativity of Mother Nature.
This activity was to inspire creativity and learn to appreciate the natural colours and textures in our environment. We made up some stories and drew them out on large pieces of tracing paper where we used leaf and bark rubbings. Such interesting and rib-tickling ideas were created that morning!
All too soon it was time to say goodbye, but not before the prize-giving session! We awarded the Best Leader, Best Group, Best Female and Male Participants in order to recognise and encourage the effort in team work and leadership skills, and eagerness in participating and learning.
Hopefully we will all get to see each other again for another adventure in nature education at Tropical Spice Garden!
- 2 cups shredded peeled russet potatoes
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1-2 fresh green Serrano chiles, stemmed and finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 1/2 cup chickpea flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
- Thoroughly mix potatoes, onion, chiles to taste, cilantro, flour, cumin, salt, turmeric and eggs in a large bowl.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat.
- Place a heaping tablespoon of the potato mixture in the skillet and flatten with a spatula into a disk roughly 3 inches in diameter. Form as many latkes as you can in the pan without overcrowding.
- l Cook until golden brown and crispy on the bottom, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until the other side is golden brown and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes.
- l Briefly drain on a paper towel-lined plate, then transfer to the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining oil and potato mixture.
Come the month of May, the atmosphere in Tropical Spice Garden is filled with a pungent, fruity fragrance. While walking around the Heart of the Garden, look down and you will notice an abundance of rotten berries/fruits along the pathway. Yes, those are the figs, wild and flourishing in the Garden.
There are a few large fig trees in the garden. One of the specimens in the Heart of the Garden is the Strangler fig tree.
Figs (Ficus spp) are one of the successful forest species, with up to 900 species distributed around the world. Fig trees play an important role in the tropical rainforest as the syconium makes up the main diet for many types of animals in the forest, from mammals, e.g. monkeys, bats, and squirrels; to birds – residential and migrating species.
The way a Strangler fig grows is very special. Life starts as a tiny, sticky seed in an animal’s feces disposed in the canopy of a host tree. With ample sunlight and water, the seed grows its roots downwards towards to forest floor, aiming to penetrate into the soil. As time passes, the roots thicken and wraps around the host tree. Eventually the fig’s crown grows and overshadows the host. Once the host is strangled, the fig will then absorb the nutrients from the host while competing with the host for sunlight and water. Eventually, the host tree dies, leaving the Strangler fig with a hollow trunk.
One unique feature of Strangler figs is the syconium, a type of multiple fruit that are formed from a cluster of flowers (inflorescence), where the ovaries are found within a hollow, succulent vessel. Due to the absence of physical flowers on the tree itself, the fig tree is often called “Wu Hua Guo” in Chinese, meaning “fruit borne without flower”.
Open a syconium and you can see ten to hundreds of stamens and ovaries, and dead insects inside! Therefore, when guests ask whether the fig fruits are safe to be eaten, we always advise not to because it is usually eaten by wild animals, not recommended for humans as there are insect eggs and/or other invertebrates inside the fruit, which can be unhygienic.
Why are there insects in the fruits? Syconium has a symbiotic relationship with the fig wasps (Agaonidae spp). The wasps enter through the small opening underneath the fruit and pollinate the flower in the process of laying eggs. The fruits then bear seeds which fall to the ground upon maturation. The wildlife in the Garden usually consumes the fruit while it is still green and attached to the tree, as mature fruits on the ground are highly likely to be infested with dead wasps and wasp eggs.
Visit our Garden in the early morning and you might chance upon witnessing the Green Pigeons feeding on the fig tree growing splendidly in the middle of our Gift Shop!
Some forest figs fruit all year long, providing a constant supply for the frugivorous wildlife in the rainforest. However, due to constant logging and open forest burning, many slow-growing forest species are unable to regenerate and may also affect the fruiting consistency of the figs. Consequently, the frugivores are forced to source and compete for alternative fruit sources during the irregular fig ‘non-flowering’ seasons. Hence, it is vital for us to understand and appreciate the significance of wild plants in the rainforest, which they are not only useful for medicinal & nutrient values, but also furnish the wild animals with protection & care.
Why “5 Senses”
Tropical Spice Garden offers a variety of children nature educational programmes, targeting kids between the ages of 6 to 12 years old. We hope to educate the next generation on the importance of the tropical rainforest ecosystem and ignite an appreciation for the Garden’s various flora & fauna.
One of the “not to be-missed” activities is the 5 Senses Tour!
Why “5 Senses”?
We hope to trigger the curiosity of children and encourage them to utilize their five senses in learning the natural environment.
Sense of …
Touch – Feel the texture and surface of the plants.
Smell – Experience the various rainforest scents, such as flower and spice fragrance
Sight – Enjoy the garden views and practice observation skills by spotting wildlife.
Sound – Listen to nature music in the garden (bugs, water, amphibians…)
Taste – Have a taste of the garden’s herbal/spice teas at the Bamboo Garden.
As the 5 Senses Tour takes the children on a journey into the tropical trails in the garden, our well-trained children guides (Nature Educationists) explain on the variety of tropical flora & fauna that can be found around the world. Some of the kids’ favorite plants are the Cat’s Tails (Acalypha hispida), Sliver Joey Palm (Johannesteijsmannia magnifica), and Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) to name a few.
The main highlight of the 5 Senses Tour is the Spice trails exploration. The nature educators talk about the medicinal properties and culinary uses of spices, allowing the children to smell and touch the spices to identify the characteristics and remembering the names. Some spices we talk about are the Cinnamon, Cloves, Black Peppers, Torch Gingers, and Lime. Instead of just showing them the dry/fresh spices, we also bring the children to the spice trees, touch the tree bark, smell the leaf and compare the scent to the dry spices.
Children will also be stopping by the bamboo garden for a short tea break before proceeding to the next activity. We serve herbal/spice drinks to the children, which at the same time they can relax and chill next to the lily pond, looking for froggies, guppies and water striders.
We believe that “Nature is the best teacher”. By exposing the children to outdoor adventures and activities, we are able to bring out the best from each child: teamwork, independence, patience, observation and time management skills, and more.
Tropical Spice Garden organizes half day nature education activities, 1 day workshops, overnight camps and educational nature talks.
For further information, kindly contact TSG Nature Education Department:
Tel: 04-8811797 (ext 311)
Save the date! 25th April 2015 (Saturday), 11am, at Tropical Spice Garden.
Tickets: RM15 & RM10 (Spice Friends)
For registrations & enquiry, please contact:
Ms Joleen Yap
T:+604 8811 797 | M:+6012 4988 797 | firstname.lastname@example.org
*register in advance with us to avoid disappointment
Stevia is fast replacing sugar and the sweetener that is becoming popular. There are a lot of packaged stevia for sale in the stores today. However we recommend that you make your own pure and liquid stevia from the stevia leaves.
- Dried stevia leaves
- 1 cup of hot filtered water
- ¼ cup of pure grounded stevia (this is needed to make liquid stevia)
- Grind the stevia leaves in a food processor or better yet a coffee grinder to make pure stevia. Make enough for a cup or more if you prefer. Store the grounded stevia in an air-tight jar, ready for use.
- Note – To cook with stevia simply replace every 1 cup of sugar with 3 to 4 teaspoons of stevia.
- To make liquid stevia, dissolve ¼ cup of the stevia powder with 1 cup of hot filtered water. Stir well and leave out to cool at room temperature for a day. After a day strain the stevia out of the liquid and store the liquid stevia in the refrigerator
That is it! The taste is amazing with the calories and it’s good for your health. The Tropical Spice Garden Gift Shop sells top grade stevia leaves in 40gms and 110gms packages, ready for use.
Missed the last “I’m a Junior Naturalist” 2013?
No worries, you can start planning for the upcoming March school holiday’s “I’m a Junior Naturalist TOO”!
Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.” – William Wordsworth
Nature is the best teacher and greatest classroom for children to learn about their surrounding. Enroll your kids now as they explore the plants and animals around them through their observation & critical thinking skills.
Not forget to mention that the kids will be trekking up to the secondary forest and learn about the native plants, going down to the stream area hunting for guppies and water striders, plus an exciting fun amazing race game in the garden, and many more!
We always believe that Nature Education does not only inspires, but also enhances the creativity & imagination of children.
For more information & registration, contact:
04-8811797 Ext. 311