The Malaysian island of Penang has some of the best Indian food. Why? More than 10 percent of the island is of Indian ancestry. One of the popular Indian dishes is Jingha (Hindi word for shrimp) Masala (from the Hindi word for spice).

The island’s heterogeneous population is highly diverse in ethnicity, culture, language and religion, making it a fascinating destination. It was settled by the English, but today, the island is about 40 percent Malay, 40 percent Chinese and 10 percent Indian with a variety of other groups making up the rest.

Ingredients for making Jingha Masala (c) Sandra Scott. FWT Magazine.

Ingredients for making Jingha Masala (c) Sandra Scott. FWT Magazine.

Penang is on various lists of great places people should visit during their lifetime, and it is second on CNN’s list of The 17 Best Places to Visit in 2017. It’s easy to see why. The island has a myriad of different things to do from exploring the UNESCO Heritage City of Georgetown to a walking tour through the new Entopia by Penang Butterfly Farm to parasailing over the Straits of Mallaca.   

Adding the prawns (c) Sandra Scott. FWT Magazine.

Adding the prawns to the Jingha Masala (c) Sandra Scott. FWT Magazine.

Penang is a honeymoon destination for Saudi couples and a winter getaway for Europeans. There are Europeans in itsy-bitsy bikinis and Arab women in swimsuits that cover them completely except for face, hands and feet; some are very colorful. There are women in abayas, some with face veils, while other guests are clad in a variety of outfits including saris and hijabs. Usually, only women are dressed in this way, but you’ll see an occasional male in a dishdasha.

Chef Laxman ready to show the group how to make Jingha Masala (c) Sandra Scott. FWT Magazine.

Chef Laxman ready to show the group how to make Jingha Masala (c) Sandra Scott. FWT Magazine.

With such a diverse clientele, chefs need to prepare food to suit all of their guests, although all of the food is halal as prescribed by Muslim law. Breakfasts are impressive: eggs, pancakes, grilled tomatoes, cheeses, soups, salads, fruits, bread pudding, curries, rice and even a fava bean dish called foul, which is very good. I recently stayed at the Holiday Inn Penang where every Wednesday, the chef demonstrates a local recipe. Free is good! And so is Jingha Masala.

How to Make Jingha Masala

1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped onion
15 curry leaves
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon garlic paste
½ cup tomato puree or finely chopped fresh tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon red chili powder
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
25 pieces prawn or shrimp (cleaned and washed)
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons cream (light)
1 teaspoon kastoori mathi powder (fenugreek)
Fresh coriander leaves chopped for garnish

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan. Add the garlic, onion and curry leaves. Sauté for a few seconds. Add the ginger and garlic paste. Sauté for one minute. Add the tomato puree, salt, red chili powder and turmeric. Cook for five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the prawns or shrimp, and cook gently for five minutes. Add the green pepper. Cook for one minute. Add the cream and kastoori mathi powder. Stir and remove from heat. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves, and serve with naan bread.