Disclosure: I was given a complimentary cooking class in exchange for this Palate Sensations review, but as always, all opinions are my own.
It’s Saturday, shortly before 9 am and I’ve just arrived at the famous Tiong Bahru Market. Part hawker center and part food market, it’s bustling despite the fact that it’s early(ish) on a Saturday. I’m not totally awake yet since I’d just spent the past 48 hours running around Singapore with Intrepid (closely following this itinerary during my extra time). However, I was eager to learn how to cook some of the dishes I’d been so enthusiastically consuming while I was in Singapore.
A few minutes later, my Singaporean friend Lydia arrives. She has a bit of ingredient shopping to do for her own apartment, so I follow her around the market, awestruck by the multitude of foreign ingredients in front of me.
At 9 am sharp, we’re back at the entrance of Tiong Bahru to meet Brenda, chef at Palate Sensations and our instructor for the day. I’d eaten my fair share of Singaporean food by this point and was excited to learn about the ingredients that went into all those delicious meals. I’m a firm believer that understanding the cooking process makes you enjoy the food more and was pleased to be involved in the ingredient-picking portion as well.
Brenda leads us through the market, pointing out various vegetables and ingredients on display. She grew up going to wet markets throughout Singapore, including this one, and answers all my questions about the unfamiliar vegetables and spices.
Our menu for the day consists of three popular Singaporean dishes: sambal kangkong, a deliciously spicy stir-fried vegetable, Singaporean laksa, a noodle dish in a hearty coconut broth, and otak otak, a steamed fish cake grilled in banana leaves. I’m drooling just thinking about them!
Anyway, back to the market. We wander through leisurely, picking up ingredients along the way. I ask a ton of questions; since I’m more pro at eating Southeast Asian food than actually cooking it. Brenda greets some of the stall owners like old friends and explains to me that most Singaporeans buy their ingredients from the same stalls week after week. Vendors are loyal to their returning customers, oftentimes saving them the best fish or the freshest vegetables. Pretty cool, huh?
After all the shopping is done, we head upstairs to the hawker center, a favorite amongst tourists and locals alike. Several stalls have long lines, despite the fact that there are other stalls selling the same thing. If there’s one thing I’d say about Singaporeans, it’s this: they’re all foodies.
Since I haven’t had breakfast yet, Brenda picks up some chwee kueh from Jian Bo Shui Kueh for us to take back to the school. Lydia gives it the stamp of approval since this is one of her mom’s favorite places for the dish. The literal translation of chwee kueh is “water cake,” but you can think of it as a steamed rice cake. It’s served with preserved radish and chili sauce and is delicious. Let’s not discuss the calorie content, though.
Once we’re done at the market, we head to Palate Sensations to get our cooking game on.
Upon arrival, we meet Lynette, the owner, and Loreta, another chef instructor. While the group of us shares the chwee kueh, Lynette explains how she left a career in finance to start Palate Sensations in 2005. #ChaseYourDreams.
Lydia and I don our aprons and Brenda has us start with the most difficult dish – the Singaporean Laksa. The three of us work together to prep the various ingredients, including deveining the prawns and turning the peels into a broth. I was a total newbie since I rarely cook seafood at home (it’s intimidating, okay?) but Lydia was a pro. Shortly after, I’m tasked with frying the chili-laksa paste. How do I know when it’s done? When I start to sneeze, according to Brenda.
While I’m frying the chili paste and holding back my sneezes (my nose is sensitive), Lydia and Brenda get to work on cutting up the mackerel and prepping the paste for the otak otak. Brenda checks on me occasionally. When my eyes start to water and I start sneezing, it’s time for us to add in the coconut milk, bean curd, and spices. By then, Lydia has moved on to cutting the banana leaves for the otak otak.
While the laksa is simmering, I turn my attention to the kangkong (water spinach), which needs its stems removed. This is a fairly time-consuming task, and I watch as Lydia finishes prepping and cooking the otak otak mix in the saucepan.
The laksa sauce has been done for awhile, so I take a short break while Lydia quickly stir-fries the kangkong. It’s the fastest dish of the bunch once you finish the ingredient prep. A few minutes later and boom, it’s done!
There’s one final step to completing the laksa – cooking the noodles. We use a mix of yellow and white noodles, and in true hawker stall fashion, measure out our portions in long-handled colanders. Don’t we look legit?
Our last task is to cook the otak otak. Lydia and I scoop the mixture onto the banana leaves and secure them closed with toothpicks, careful not to overfill them. We’ve made a fairly large amount, but we tell Brenda to only grill a few since we have so much food.
No meal is complete without a photo shoot, so Brenda holds off on adding the laksa sauce to the dish until I’ve finished taking all my photos because #DoItForTheInsta.
The best part of cooking classes is always the end because we get to eat everything we’ve cooked! We consume our dishes on the patio, and as luck would have it, the weather outside is perfect.
On to the review part:
The cooking class at Palate Sensations was incredibly fun and educational. Rather than being forced into cooking specific dishes, you’re given the option to cook one main (char keow teow, laksa, fried Hokkien mee or chicken rice) and two sides (Singaporean fried rice, sambal sotong, sambal kangkong or otak otak). The market visit is also an optional add-on, so if you’re not keen on waking up early, you can skip it (but you shouldn’t)! The entire team was incredibly flexible with scheduling since I had a short window of time in Singapore at the end of my trip, which I truly appreciated.
What I loved:
- Visiting the market: While you can book the cooking class without a market visit, I highly recommend booking the combo. It’s really interesting to learn about market culture in Singapore and about the ingredients themselves. Plus, it makes you appreciate the dishes that much more!
- The private class: While group classes are a fun way to meet people, this oftentimes means the chef instructor isn’t paying as much attention to you (or answering all your questions). Brenda was an attentive instructor, and I felt quite knowledgeable about Singaporean food by the end of the class.
- My instructor: Not only did Brenda grow up in Singapore, but she has been going to Tiong Bahru market her entire life. She’s incredibly patient and knowledgeable and answered all 1,000 of my questions about the ingredients and the cooking methods. She made me feel totally comfortable cooking the cuisine, to the point where I would actually attempt these dishes at home.
- The food itself: Although I’d had a minor stomach bug from the night before, I still ate a lot from the final dishes. A couple were a tad spicy (and all my time in Spain has made me such a weakling) but the flavors were absolutely delicious. I’d initially requested to cook other dishes, but I’m glad I went with Lynette’s recommendations.
Suggestions for improvement:
Honestly, I don’t have much to say in terms of suggestions for improvement. However, if I would change one thing, I would prefer not to cook the dishes simultaneously. Because some of these dishes are time-consuming (especially with prep), there were various points in time where Lydia and I would be cooking or prepping two separate dishes at the same time, unaware of what each person was doing. Although we’re both avid cooks and can jump back into a dish at any point in time, this might be a bit off-putting for those that are less comfortable in the kitchen.
Overall, I had a spectacular cooking class at Palate Sensations. I left with a happy stomach and armed with the knowledge and confidence to cook Singaporean cuisine at home. If you’re looking for an entertaining and educational cooking class in Singapore, Palate Sensations is the place to go! Special thanks to Lynette and Brenda for making my day unforgettable.
Book your spot here! Prices start at SGD $150 per person.
Palate Sensations Cooking School
Chromos #01-03, 10 Biopolis Road
Telephone: +65 6589 8843
Tell me: have you ever had Singaporean food? What’s your favorite dish? Share in the comments below!
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