When our good friends Matt and John found out we were moving to Singapore right after our wedding, they got us a most awesome wedding present–a Cookery Magic cooking class on the tiny island just off the coast of Singapore called Pulau Ubin. Set in an old kampong house, we’d forage the jungle for herbs and learn how to cook the local Malaysian dishes nasi kerabu, sambal belachan, and butter prawns. Now finally, finally! after months of coordinating schedules and skirting around the rainy seasons out here, we set aside a Saturday and took it. It was totally worth all the months of waiting.
That morning everyone in the class met at the Changi Village ferry terminal and after a short 10 minute ride, we landed on Pulau Ubin. Only about 60 people reside on this tiny island which is said to resemble what Singapore looked like 50 years ago. Singaporeans mostly come to the island to get out of the city and bike around the hills and wetlands. I’ve personally not really enjoyed biking in the hot and humid weather here in Singapore, so while biking around a jungle may sound fun and exotic, I’ll leave that activity to everyone else.
After a short van ride through the jungle, we arrived at the 100 year old house. Even though it was only 9:30am, it was already pretty hot and humid and the pesky mosquitoes were even out. You just have to learn to deal with it out here.
Before we got to cooking, a huge traditional breakfast awaited inside the house. Lontong (cakes of pressed rice) served with a coconut vegetable curry, sambal sauce, glutinous rice cakes with dried fish flakes, rose water jellies, sweet sponge cakes, and a kaffir lime leaf tea (to ward off the mosquitoes). It was all delish.
After breakfast we took a walk through the jungle where the guide pointed out various plants and herbs used for cooking and natural health remedies. Back at the house we gathered at our wok cooking stations, underneath an outside tent and watched the cooking instructor, Ruqxana Vasanwala, demo the dishes that we were going to make.
It was cool to make the chili sambal (you have to cook it much longer than I would have thought–till it makes you “cough and choke” as Ruqxana said), but the real highlight for me was the nasi kerabu. This is a simple rice dish served room temperature, with tons of fresh chopped herbs, ginger, lemongrass, torch ginger flower, shallot, and dried fish. There were maybe about 15 herbs or so here, including Asian pennyworth, mint, kaffir lime leaf, young cashew leaves, wild pepper leaves, coriander, thai basil, tumeric leaves, ginger leaves.
The final rice is actually supposed to be almost twice as green as this, but our group got a little lazy when it came to chopping all the herbs.
Eating the rice with the spicy sambal…
After we cooked and ate, an ice shaver was brought out and we each shaved ice so that we could assemble a ridiculously delicious Malaysian dessert, ice kachang. Over the shaved ice you dump on condensed milk, coconut milk, creamed corn, red beans, green cendol, and grass jelly. Yumm! The perfect ending to a hot day in the jungle.