While in Malaysia a few weeks ago I got to act as ambassador for the folks at TravelingSpoon, helping them to vet one of the food experiences they are hoping to offer. As the TravelingSpoon founders explained in the interview I published, they offer a unique peer to peer meal experience service, with each experience personally vetted by the staff or their delegates. How fun that they were willing to trust me as an ambassador!
The experience I was vetting involved a farm tour, a cooking lesson, a visit to the fish market, and then grilling out on a beach during sunset. Who would turn down this “work”?
Because it was a holiday week in Penang, busses were running on a strange (and unintelligible, even to locals) schedule. So my host invited me by her shop in the morning, rather than take the bus to meet her in the afternoon as originally planned. When I asked her what I’d do for the day she replied “We will entertain you, at my house and my shop.” And that she did!
In the morning I arrived at the Nazlina Spice Station, where Nazlina runs cooking classes. She had a few friends in town from Germany who were also meeting us at the shop and would join us for the day. She offered us some leftover Laksa which she had cooked with a student the day before. We all sat down to a delicious breakfast while Nazlina did a bit more food prep for the afternoon.
Then we drove out to Nazlina and Peter’s home on the other side of the island of Penang, about an hour from Georgetown where most of Penang’s tourists are concentrated. And after a brief rest and some coffee they took me out to the tiny town near their house to taste some of the local foods. I had Curry Mee with chicken blood, which actually had the consistency and taste of tofu (that is to say not like much of anything at all). We also had a desert of Chendul: a combination of coconut milk, green rice noodles, beans and ice that looks very odd and really shouldn’t work but is absolutely delicious!
Then it was time for the TravelingSpoon food experience to start. We went to Green Acres organic farm, run by Eric and his wife Kim. Eric is one of those people so passionate about his work and farm that it’s impossible not to be enchanted and entertained. We walked around tasting various fresh fruits and vegetables while he explained the history of the organic farm and some of the farming practices he was learning and implementing. We stopped for a swim in a natural pool Eric built. And we picked a few herbs and vegetables for later use with our dinner.
The fresh foods we tasted were so good it made me want to take up farming, but most interesting were the “magic seeds” we tried. I’m still not sure what they were, but I watched Eric pull them out of the roots of a small plant. He gave us each one and told us to eat the insides. Then he asked us what it tasted like. We looked at each other in mild confusion and commented that the taste was unremarkable. I felt bad, like we were disappointing him. But then he gave us each a glass of water and said to drink the “magic water” (all this magic really entertained his young son). And it was magic! The water in my mouth tasted delightfully sweet, with a mild fruity flavor. Some interaction between the seed and the water created this marvelous reaction. I suspect these seeds are related to the Synsepalum dulcificum berry that has no taste but makes your taste buds perceive everything as sweet.
Because the farm was so enchanting we didn’t get to the farm house until quite a bit later than planned. This is the vetting part that is so important to TravelingSpoon. There wasn’t enough time to do a lot of food prep, which meant the cooking lesson was cut a bit short. I wasn’t sad as I was enjoying the tasting of nutmeg jam and nutmeg tea, both local specialties, and the snack of fresh jackfruit.
Next up was the fish market, where we purchased some fish, fresh caught that day. And then we went to the beach where Peter had set up the grill, and there were just a few other people enjoying the water in the late evening sun. Nazlina produced the food she had prepped earlier and taught me how to make a dipping sauce for the fish. And then we grilled some meat and the fish, prepared a nice accompanying salad, and feasted on delicious foods as the sun set over the water.
There were some hiccups in the plan, especially around timing since everything was so much fun but there wasn’t enough time to do it all. We spent too much time swimming, and didn’t have enough time for the farm tour. The house on the farm was so lovely that we also wanted to linger there, but the fish market only runs for a few hours in the afternoon. And in all this the time for learning to cook was cut short. But these are all problems that can easily be resolved with some coordination and planning. The basics of a great food experience were all there, and the TravelingSpoon folks will work with Nazlina and Eric to craft an unforgettable experience for future travelers.
If you’re going to Asia, be sure to check out TravelingSpoon’s offerings if you want a unique food experience.