What’s Cooking in… Malaysia

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 54 of the April 2017 issue.
Chef Laxman with the ingredients for Jhinga Masala — Holiday Inn Resort Penang. Photos by Sandra Scott


The Malaysian island of Penang is on many travelers’ lists of great places to visit during one’s lifetime, and it is second on CNN’s list of “17 Best Places to Visit in 2017.” It is easy to see why. The island has myriad things to do, including exploring the UNESCO World Heritage City of Georgetown, taking a walking tour through the new Entopia by Penang Butterfly Farm and parasailing over the Strait of Malacca.

I found the island’s heterogeneous population — which is highly diverse in ethnicities, cultures, languages and religions — fascinating.

My husband, John, and I paid $77 per night for a double room at the Holiday Inn Resort Penang (72, Jalan Batu Ferringhi, 11100 Penang, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia; phone, in the US, 800/465-4329, penang.holidayinnresorts.com). We belong to the IHG® Rewards Club, so we got a preferred-member’s rate plus an upgrade.

Jhinga Masala ready to serve.

Serving a diverse clientele at the resort, the chefs go to special efforts to prepare food to suit everyone. All the food is halal (prepared according to Muslim law). Breakfasts were impressive — eggs, pancakes, grilled tomatoes, cheese, soups, salads, fruits, bread pudding, curries, rice and even a fava bean dish called fu¯l, or foul, which was very good. 

John and I were at the resort for Chinese New Year, which the hotel celebrated with firecrackers, a lion dance and the traditional Prosperity Toss. A Prosperity Toss is a salad of colorful veggies and fish that people, using chopsticks, toss in the air while shouting “Lo hei,” which, in Cantonese, means “Tossing up good fortune.” It is symbolic of the wish for fortunes to grow during the coming year.

Every Wednesday at the resort, a free cooking demonstration is offered in the garden. In our class, Chef Laxman, the hotel’s Indian chef, showed us how to make an Indian dish called Jhinga Masala.

The Prosperity Toss salad and everyone shouting “Lo hei.”

This can be eaten Indian-style, using naan to pick up the food, or served with rice and eaten with a fork. It is a spicy dish, with curry dominating the flavor, but a milder version can be made by decreasing the amount of chili powder used.

In the cooking class, an Englishman standing next to me said, “I don’t usually like seafood, but this is delicious.” 

 I agreed.

Sandra Scott can be reached by email at sanscott@gmail.com.