International travel is an exciting and (usually) amazing experience. On a recent trip to Singapore, I was able to take a cooking class which allowed me to bring home one of the best souvenirs possible – recipes for some of my favorite local foods. Why is a Singapore cooking class (or any cooking class on regional food) one of the best souvenirs you can bring home? Consider that you usually travel to a certain area where you like the food and now you can make that very same food in your own home, recipes take up very little room in your suitcase, and you’ve got nothing to declare (or hide) from customs on your return flight.
One of the reasons why I added this ‘Ramblings’ page to my new site is so that I could write more about my travels. I have been fortunate to be able to travel to some beautiful places and have some truly amazing experiences. These have been on my own and not sponsored, so what you’re reading was set up and experienced by me.
As part of a two week trip to Asia, my final destination was Singapore. (I promise there will be more posts on the rest of the trip, including recipes.) You may have already read about enjoying a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar, where that brightly colored libation was created. But another one of my favorite experiences in this tropical climate was a cooking class that I took at Cookery Magic.
This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a cooking class when visiting a foreign country. I’ve taken a pastry class in Paris and a dumpling class in Shanghai. And, as you can see by those links…I’ve used what I learned in those classes when I returned home. Craig does not participate in the classes with me, since he’s usually in meetings at that time, but all of these classes have included couples, locals, ex-pats and travelers. It’s quite an eclectic mix of people that really works and makes things fun.
Cookery Magic is owned and operated by Ruqxana Vasanwala, who is a self taught cook, and classes are taught in her home. In fact, the cooking takes place out back on the patio where everyone has room, their own cooking station and plenty of ventilation so as not to be overcome by some of those potent Thai bird chili’s that we were cooking in our class. Oh, and the set up works very well for the ‘watch cat’ to keep a close eye on the participants as well.
The best Singaporean food is a palate of Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian, Chinese and several other cuisines that make up the melting pot of Singapore. The class that I took was Malay cooking and included the making of three dishes all made with a different Sambal base. Lots and lots of peppers.
Our first completed dish was a grilled spicy soy sauce chicken made up with a spice paste base that was so fragrant and reminiscent of Singapore we were all actually smiling as we worked our arms and ingredients to an unrecognizable pulp with a mortar and pestle (the best arm workout ever). To make our lives easier, more like to give us the ultimate arm workout, we made all of our necessary spice pastes before any cooking started. This is one of Ruqxana’s many little secrets she teaches to make your cooking life a little easier. I’ve already made this dish since I’ve been home, and Craig was jealous that he wasn’t at the class to eat it sooner.
I got especially lucky with this class. Not only did I get hands on experience making some of the best Singapore food, but I was paired up with a vegetarian. While most people wouldn’t be too thrilled with that kind of pairing, for me it worked out like getting a double class. For each of the three dishes we made, my partner and I made six dishes. Ruqxana is very accommodating to her students. We learned the best vegetarian pairings for our sauces. This chili sambal topped steamed Pomfret for the meat eaters and steamed tofu and tempeh for the vegetarians (trust me when I tell you that you’ve never had tofu that tastes as good as the one that’s slathered in this rich and lightly spiced sambal…you might even be a convert after tasting it…many at our table were).
While all of the dishes we learned to make in this Singapore cooking class were those you would find being made and enjoyed by almost any Singaporean, the final dish of stew is one of the most commonly found dishes in a Singapore kitchen. The name of this stew really doesn’t do it any justice: Tapioca leaves stew in coconut milk. In fact, most of us wrinkled up our noses when we saw the dish on our recipe sheet and wore the look of heavy skepticism all while we were making the stew. But we learned that the greens used in the soup are highly interchangeable. We used sweet potato leaves, as tapioca weren’t available and learned that we could substitute chard or spinach when we returned home, as these might be more available to us. And the rich flavors of the stew soon taught us not to judge a book by its cover.
After all of our dishes were prepared, we retired to the dining room to enjoy the results of our work. Each of our groups made all the dishes and it was interesting to try one another’s handiwork. We determined our own levels of heat that we wanted by selecting anywhere from 0 to unlimited Thai bird chili’s. The differing levels of heat changed the overall flavors of the dishes in interesting ways.
After a few hours of cooking, enjoying the meal together and being able to meet the other people in the class was a really enjoyable experience. We traded dishes, stories about where we were from, what we were doing in Singapore and recommendations of places not to be missed.
So the next time you’re trying to figure out what to do when you visit a new city, why not take a cooking class that’s focused on the regional cuisine? You’ll learn about the area, the types of food eaten there, how to make it and might even learn a few local travel tips too.
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