Bayan Indah is a gorgeous villa tucked away in the small Malay community of Sungai Penchala near the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Damansara. Backed by dense, rainforest-covered hills and surrounded by gurgling streams, a large fish pond and aromatic herb gardens, the villa is a serene oasis just 30 minutes outside the centre of Kuala Lumpur.
Run by the lovely Rohani Jelani, Bayan Indah is a beautiful retreat for those seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. But Bayan Indah is more than just a retreat, it is also a place where guests come to experience and learn about authentic Malaysian cuisine.
Rohani is an avid proponent of cooking with organic ingredients. In a country where traditional cooking techniques are slowly making way for quick-and-easy solutions (like ready-made pastes and other concoctions), Rohani is an advocate of a back-to-basic approach to Malaysian cooking – many of the ingredients come from her backyard and everything, from the soup bases to sauces and herb and spice mixes for marinades, is made from scratch. Rohani aspires to rediscover traditional Malaysian cooking techniques, using traditional kitchen cookware, document them and pass these on to younger generations, and her efforts thus far command deep respect.
Cooking courses at Bayan Indah
Rohani conducts a variety of cooking courses at Bayan Indah which provide guests with fascinating insights into traditional Malaysian cooking. I attended the course on Malay ‘kampung’ (village) style cooking and it was an amazing sensory experience that certainly opened my eyes to the finer points of Malay cooking. Rohani took her time to explain the various herbs and spices and what they could be used for. Everyone was invited to touch, smell and taste each ingredient before being ushered into one of the prettiest tropical kitchens I’ve ever seen!
Traditional Malay recipes were introduced such as ‘Nasi Kerabu’ (aromatic, herb-filled rice), ‘Ayam Percik’ (chicken in a spicy coconut gravy) and ‘Kerabu Jantung Pisang’ (spicy banana flower salad). We were divided into teams of two and were given three recipes: two main courses and a dessert.
It’s not until you attend Rohani’s course that you start to appreciate the amount of work that goes into Malay cooking – for instance, I spent 45 minutes slowly stirring grated coconut in a wok above a very slow fire just to get it to look golden brown (not black) and create a light, smoky (not burnt) flavour!
Rohani also taught us how villagers roll herb leaves (small leaves are packed into a large leaf) into a tight ‘cigar’ before chopping it up – this method creates a blend of herbs which bursts to life when they’re sliced very thinly; the aromas that emanated from that ‘cigar’ of herbs were absolutely gorgeous. Rolling it up tightly into a ‘cigar’ also makes it easier to slice into very fine pieces.
It was a noisy affair: laughter mixed with the whirring of blenders or the pounding of pestles. Rohani fluttered around the kitchen, inspecting the groups and making sure we knew what we were doing! 🙂 She would stop us occasionally to explain a certain ingredient or technique, or tell us an anecdote. Everyone had a brilliant time!
We pounded, chopped and blended herbs and spices to create aromatic marinades. Shallots, ginger, garlic and turmeric were stir-fried while chicken pieces were carefully grilled. The waft of spices that filled the kitchen was simply gorgeous. It was a lovely, fun-filled and not to mention, highly-educational afternoon. The result, as shown below, was a series of mouth-watering Malay dishes!
We sat down to a delightful lunch while Rohani kept us entertained with stories of her culinary adventures around the world. After lunch, she took us on a tour around Bayan Indah – guests can stay in any of the four beautiful, spacious rooms upstairs, with views of the forest.
I had an absolutely wonderful time at Bayan Indah. A huge thank you goes to Rohani Jelani for being a great inspiration and for teaching us how it’s really done! If you’re looking for a fascinating culinary experience in a unique ambiance, or if you’re keen to learn the finer points of Malaysian cooking, I highly recommend a stay or cooking course at Bayan Indah. Oh, and please send Rohani my love! 🙂
3343, Kampung Palimbayan Indah,
60000 Kuala Lumpur,
Tel: +60 3 7729 0122
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