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Five of the Best – the Secrets of Chinese Spice

Five Spice mix is an essential ingredient in almost all of traditional Chinese cuisine. Exquisitely balanced between bitter and pungent, spicy and sweet, sour and salty, a well-made Five Spice mix is truly a “wonder powder” that lifts your cooking into the stratosphere. You can use it a rub, in a marinade, as a cooking ingredient, or even as a table condiment. In fact it’s extremely versatile and can be used with rice, vegetables, port, chicken and in almost any kind of stir-fry. You can even be bold and add it to sweeter dishes non-traditional dishes such as muffins, nut breads, pancakes, and even in coffee.

At the heart of Chinese philosophy is the concept of yin and yang, the need to balance the hot masculine principle of yang with the cooling influence of yin. This harmony is an essential feature of Five Spice mixes where each element has its own role to play but none predominates. There are many variants to it but a common mix contains: Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, cloves, star anise, and fennel seeds.

Let’s look at the ingredients one by one. First of all, there’s Chinese cinnamon, or cassia, which imparts a sweet, spicy flavour. Usually, it’s best to avoid cassia, as Ceylon cinnamon is healthier and has a more refined taste, but Five Spice does seem to call for the more pungent cassia. Next, comes Sichuan pepper, which isn’t a true peppercorn but a brownish red berry deriving from the prickly ash bush. It’s spicy, with undertones of anise and ginger and modulates to a lemony, sour flavour, which is both salty and hot. Cloves are next and, when they are ground up, they release a sweet and yet pungent aroma. The beautiful star anise is reminiscent of liquorice and carries vital bitter undertones. Fennel seeds, the final ingredient of the spice mix, are similar but sweeter and less pungent. There are variants, of course, and they include: anise seeds, ginger root, nutmeg, turmeric, cardamom, liquorice, Mandarin orange peel and galangal.

Nyonya Lor Bak uses 5 spice powder as one of the ingredients in marinating the meat

In Penang, the Nyonya traditional of cooking, which includes Chinese, Malay, and Thai influences, Five Spice mixes are an essential component of many dishes. Many of the old Nyonya families have their own special recipe for Five Spice mixes, which are jealously guarded and handed down secretly from mother to daughter. If you are in Penang, you might like to join a Nyonya cuisine cooking class at the Tropical Spice Garden’s Cooking School. Cooking classes a held daily (except Mondays) featuring different local traditional cuisines including Malay, Indian, and of course Nyonya. Click here for class schedules. As classes are limited to 10 persons, chefs are able to provide a personalised approach. Though the menus follow authentic and traditional methods they are taught in such a way that you are able to recreate the delicious dishes at home.

Spice Up Your Stay at PARKROYAL Penang Resort

PARKROYAL Penang Resort – CREATING MEMORABLE HOTEL EXPERIENCES

Featuring our friendly neighbour just five minutes down the road from the Tropical Spice Garden –  PARKROYAL Penang Resort!

A modern day paradise with 5-star standards of accommodation, amenities, and personalised services within a tropical landscaped garden with wide-open and breezy spaces, providing every opportunity for guests to unwind in a relaxed and informal atmosphere. The perfect holiday resort and spa for both local and international, leisure and business travellers!

 

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Each of the over 300 guest rooms, inclusive of 46 suites, are well-equipped with an LCD television installed with in-house movies, BBC and Astro channels, hair dryer, iron and ironing board, air-conditioning, international direct dial (IDD) and free WiFi, minibar, ensuite shower and bath, and complimentary coffee and tea making facilities, bottled mineral water, bedroom slippers and personal grooming items.

Indulge in unforgettable dining experiences at an array of idyllic dining and entertainment outlets, each with its own special character and atmosphere. From the open-air Tamarind Brasserie that serves sumptuous international and local cuisines, to the al-fresco Uncle Zack by the Beach that offers unique dishes from Penang-style tapas to char-grilled steaks, to the stylish Javana Lounge with live music and the child-friendly Cool Bananas Poolside Cafe.

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This resort and spa offers an ideal blend of Asian contemporary charm and modern facilities such as a gymnasium, tennis court, shopping arcade, business centre, self-service launderette, and two swimming pools – one of which is equipped with two waterslides, providing endless of splashing fun for adventurous kids.

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An excellent children’s club, the Koko-Nut Klub, is open daily from 9.00am to 9.00pm and is free of charge for children aged four to 12 years old. Among the fun activities offered in the club are face painting, badge designing, ceramic workshop, hair-plaiting and t-shirt painting. Babysitting services are available for children below four years of age with a minimal charge.

For rejuvenating and relaxing treats, pamper yourself at Malaysia’s very own St. Gregory, a renowned spa outlet since 1997, with supreme Thalgo marine facial and massage treatments or simply relax with a menu of soothing traditional massage rituals and facial treatments, a complete holistic programme integrating spa therapy, fitness, aesthetics and active-ageing for the active and well-balanced lifestyle.

There is no other way to complement your exotic venue hire at Tropical Spice Garden –  either for a garden wedding or green-space conference meeting – with a stay at the 5-star PARKROYAL Penang Resort to complete your contemporary oasis!
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FAST FACTS

PARKROYAL Penang Resort PARKROYAL Hotels & Resorts

Address: Batu Ferringhi Beach 11100 Penang

Hotel Telephone: (604) 881 1133  |  Fax: (604) 881 2233

Email: enquiry.prpen@parkroyalhotels.com

Website: PARKROYAL Penang

Facebook: parkroyalpenangresort

Instagram: parkroyalpenangresort

A Natural Mosquito Repellent – Citronella Oil

Citronella & Cedar Wood Body Spray

Although most people love warmer weather, it does have one serious downside – mosquitoes. Not only are they an irritant, leading to itchiness and other allergic reactions, they can carry serious diseases, including malaria, dengue, and the newly discovered zika virus. So it’s important to avoid being bitten but that’s not as easy as it sounds. Mosquitoes have been around a lot longer than human beings and they have an exceptional sense of smell for such a small creature. They can detect a potential target from 30 metres away and so one of the best defences is to become “invisible” to them by changing your chemical signature.

Citronella aromatic candle

They are attracted by the carbon dioxide that human beings breathe out and the larger you are, the more carbon dioxide you will exhale. This goes for pregnant women, too, who often report that they are bitten more frequently than usual. Mosquitoes can also detect blood type, and people with Type O blood are twice as liable to be bitten as people with Type A. If you’re sweating a lot, or drinking beer, you’re also more likely to be attacked. You can spray yourself with artificial chemicals in the hope of deterring them but a better idea is to use a natural plant-based insect repellent – citronella oil. It’s an essential oil obtained from the leaves and stems of lemongrass. It’s effective but it’s also non-toxic and so safe for humans and pets to put directly on the skin.

 

Pure Citronella & Cedar Wood Burner Oil

As well as being an anti-fungal, and effective at calming barking, anxious dogs, citronella masks the smell of carbon dioxide and perspiration that attracts mosquitoes. It comes in a variety of forms: candles, incense sticks, coils, oils (for use in oil burners), and sprays. Canadian researchers found that lighting a citronella candle reduced the number of mosquito landings by nearly half. Most people find that a combination of citronella products works best. Use the personal sprays if you fall into one of the higher risk categories above in conjunction with the coils, the oils, or the candles.

 

Think about your environment as well and make sure that your garden is well maintained, with no standing water where mosquitoes can lay their eggs. If you put saucers under your flower-pots, make sure that there’s no stagnant water lurking in them. If you enjoy fresh flowers in your home, change the water every couple of days.

You can purchase a variety of high quality citronella products from the Tropical Spice Garden’s two shops in Penang as well as online.

Soya Sauce Factory Visit – More than just Salty

 

Mr. Cheah, third generation owner of Jin Chang Soya Sauce Factory treated a bunch of foodies and us from the gardens to a fantastic morning at this factory in Permatang Pauh. His various sauces are on the shelves under the Ayam Piru Brand.
Mr. Cheah shared some of his secrets of achieving good quality and healthy soya sauce – using lake salt and also ensuring the quality of his ‘koji’ (a naturally occurring culture that is mixed into his non-GMO soya beans).
Mr. Cheah has several grades of soya sauce with the most affordable being sold at RM6 for a 700ml bottle and the most expensive bottle of 150ml retailing at RM15 because it is without sugar and non-pasteurized.
He claims his hair has grown back and all his back pain has disappeared once he started on lake salt soya sauce!
A collector or artisan bicycles and also active cycler, Mr. Cheah receives much of his business revelation pedalling away on his bicycle! He also has been cooking dinner for his family for the last 10 years.
He gave me a great recipe for steamed fish by the way – just the way the chinese restaurants do it – watch this space to check out the results 🙂

Batik the Monkey Weekend!

Batik The Monkey Poster

A weekend of Batik Painting with Lusy Koror – Artist & Creative Facilitator in support of Langur Project Penang!

It is a FREE batik painting workshop for all ages 8 and above! At the same time, 50% of all garden entrace ticket sales for both days will be donated to Langur Project Penang if you join a guided tour!

Date: 9th & 10th July 2016
Time: 10AM – 5PM

*Just look for us at the Pavilion!
More info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/578529542320039/

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Langur Project Penang is a research project on the activity pattern, habitat use and diet of Langurs a.k.a. Dusky Leaf Monkeys (Trachypithecus obscurus) in Penang, Malaysia; endorsed by Universiti Sains Malaysia and Malaysian Primatological Society. Check out and follow their FB for updates!

TSG -Cooking School Open Day

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

Registration/Enquiries:
E: michelle@tropicalspicegarden.com
T: 04-8811797 | 012-4865795

 

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Tropical Spice Garden – IN THE CITY

Tropical Spice Garden - In The City Interior

Tropical Spice Garden – In The City Interior

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!

Address: 29, China Street, 10200, George Town, Penang.

Telephone: +604 261 3275

Open Hours: 08:30AM – 04:30PM (Mondays-Fridays)

10:00AM – 06:00PM (Saturdays)

Closed on Sundays

 

Tropical Spice Garden - In The City exterior. Look out for the big bold "29" !

Tropical Spice Garden – In The City exterior. Look out for the big bold “29” !

 

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Handicrafts, Books, Essential Oils and etc

 

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Top graded spices, teas, pastes, and many more

Feature Chef : Nyonya Su Pei

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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.

Nyonya Su Pei

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.

Photo Source: Nyonya Su Pei's Facebook

Photo Source: Nyonya Su Pei’s Facebook

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!

 

Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School

Garden Blooms – The Bat Lily (Tacca integrifolia)

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.

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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!

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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!

 

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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.

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One thing is common among the growers…. Everyone loves the unusual, odd, unique, exquisite and magnificent appearance and features of the Taccas!

 

 

 

More readings:

http://www.amjbot.org/content/92/3/517.full

http://www.logees.com/white-bat-flower-tacca-integrifolia.html