Malacca : History. Diversity. Gastronomy. (Part 1/2)October 18, 2011 | 8,892 views
Christ Church Melaka; and the famous fountain at Stadhuys – Walking on grounds trodden by the Dutch since more than 300 years ago.
Guess what? After a brief hiatus (two years, in fact), I was back in Melaka for an unofficial annual pilgrimage. It has been ingrained somewhat into the mind of this Motormouth; to honour the promise of visiting this town with the richest history in Malaysia; bursting with character and quaint charm almost unrivalled, at least once a year.
Last year was out of the question since the eventual move to KL took me some time to settle down amidst the barrage of workload inherited from my predecessor.
Since December is off limits again this year, might as well squeeze in a short getaway (about 1.5 – 2 hours of drive from Kuala Lumpur) in October when everyone’s still not in the holiday mood. Yet.
A hodge-podge of collective colonial elements, punctuated with influences from the Peranakan heritage and local flavours injected from the myriad of races staying within the neighbourhood, Melaka town is undoubtedly one of the best place in Malaysia to experience the spirit of 1Malaysia.
Be prepared for a very, VERY long post ahead. If you’re holding back your bladder, running chores and hastily squeezing in mere minutes in hopes of reading a filler post, or already on the brink of starvation waiting for your meal to be served, I highly recommend that you read this much later.
Ready? Here goes ….
Temples, tomb of Hang Kasturi (one of the 5 famous warriors of Melaka’s glory days), Geographer Cafe at the heart of Jonker Street is a bustling hive of activities come the darker hours of the day, but not when it’s stark bright. And the serene environment at the public library located a short distance away from Geographer Cafe.
Chokers of all designs; do you notice the resemblance of Jonker Walk, Khao San Road, Ubud and Chulia Street? Tourist magnets? Yes. But more of backpackers’ havens.
The Library on Jonker Walk – No, you should not make any noise here, but the shutter sound of your camera is perfectly acceptable. So shoot away. Or grab a book (mostly in Chinese though) and spare your battered brain some wisdom.
Hotel Puri; a boutique hotel on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (Heeren Street) looks astounding with an exceptional facade blending in with the rest of the heritage shophouses, yet aesthetically-pleasing to the eyes and spanking new at that. Rooms from RM140.00/USD50 onwards.
A majestic signboard perched atop the entrance amongst entrances in Eng Choon Association; a Hokkien clan association for the Chinese immigrants originating from Fujian province in China. The separated chambers within the compound reminded one of the many ‘wu xia’ movies shot in premises like this.
Easily passed off as another castle from a fairytale, or Disneyland, this grandiose structure on Heeren Street directly opposite of Hotel Puri is supposedly a residence of the Chee’s; an ancestral home that’s a thorn among the roses … yet injecting a not-so-subtle Western flavour to Heeren Street.
Entrance to Jonker Walk erected in 2010, and the Tamil Methodist Church at the background. Jonker Walk, or Jonker Street is known as Jalan Hang Jebat in road maps, thus don’t be surprised that your GPS does not indicate the name of the road as such.
Floral Power – When you need a healthy dose of fresh, vibrant colours to spice up your shots (or your day, it depends), can’t go wrong by taking a slow stride along the river of Melaka, the area around Stadhuys (the red administrative buildings around the clock tower) and the beautifully-decorated trishaws around town. An hour’s worth of ride for RM40/USD14.
Nyonya Laksa from Nancy’s Kitchen – Rice vermicelli and yellow noodles in a broth redolent with coconut milk and curry paste/oil, with julienned cucumber and blanched bean sprouts, pieces of fried tofu (tau fu pok) and 2-3 pieces of medium-sized prawns with shells intact.
Clockwise from top left : Babi Pongteh, Nyonya Bak Zhang, Colourful Ang Koo’s, Cendol Gula Melaka and Pie Tee with Popiah.
Nancy’s Kitchen is a Peranakan kitchen dishing out classic Nyonya dishes since 13 years ago. The menu was impressive; listing various authentic dishes not commonly found in commercialized Nyonya eateries we have grown accustomed with in the Klang Valley, or even Ipoh.
The Nyonya Laksa (RM6.00/USD2) looked promising yet left us with mixed reactions; the oily broth was a slight let down and was not the creamy curry laksa base that I have expected. A check with a local Malaccan boy revealed that better versions of the Nyonya laksa can be found at a shop near to Putra Specialist Centre in town, a short distance away from Renaissance Hotel, and the other at Baba Low on Jalan Tengkera; and the latter set up a branch in KL anyway.
Babi Pongteh (RM10.00/USD3.50) was a relief; chunky cuts of pork intermittent with beautiful layers of melt-in-mouth fats cooked until tender in a gravy that’s half sweet (from the gula melaka/palm sugar) and half savoury (from the other sauces such as bean paste, soy sauce, etc). This was certainly home-cooked food at its best and most unadulterated, what more with halved potatoes and heaps of white rice (optional).
The Pie Tee (RM4.50/USD1.50 for 5 pieces) and Popiah (RM3.00/USD1) shared the same fillings, with the former topped with a miniscule dollop of their signature tangy chili sauce, while the latter contained pork lard fritters within. Try the Nyonya Bak Zhang too, filled with minced pork, spices and a hint of sweetness from the addition of sugar (probably gula melaka).
Tai Chong Hygienic Ice Cafe @ Jalan Bunga Raya – Reminiscence of the golden years when your parents or grandparents used to date here eh? Homemade ice-cream with no frills toppings; peaches, fruit cocktail, crumbled cornflakes, chopped nuts, etc. Even a special Pat Poh Ice; a traditional herbal drink made into a refreshing dessert. Try the Ice Cream Soda here; the vanilla ice-cream went perfectly well with the gaseous carbonated drink. Everything’s priced below RM3.50/USD1.20 each.
The Malaccan River from day to night – You can take up the river cruise in case you’re keen. But consider doing this early in the morning or in the evening when the sun’s not directly on top of your head. For RM10/USD3.50 for adults, half price for children.
Joe doing the turn table fiasco!!!! Not. But his Only One Mango Juice was a thirst-quencher alright. A mixture of ripe mangoes and raw ones already cut into pieces before blended in front of your eyes. The addition of a piece of asam boi (preserved lime) lent the drink with a saltish tinge; a different dimension to the otherwise sweet and sour coalition of flavours. (RM2.50 with ice, RM3.00 with less ice, and RM4.00 without ice)
Portuguese Settlement – The waterfront was a delightfully breezy experience that evening; but spare the touts a forceful smirk if you would. The competition is indeed stiff among the 8-10 odd outlets serving the exact same fares. To get here, follow Jalan Ujong Pasir from town (about 6km from town centre), and take note of a signboard on your RIGHT. Easily missed, but just ask the locals if you’re not sure.
We only had ONE good experience at Portuguese Settlement; and that was way back before I started writing and the place has yet to undergo renovation works. After that? Two dismaying dining experiences with mediocre seafood. Definitely over-hyped. But wait, San Pedro Restaurant’s a different story altogether.
At San Pedro, we eat like how the locals do? Portuguese-style of Baked Fish (RM24/USD8), Fried Brinjals (RM5.00/USD2), Deep fried Squid (RM10.00/USD3.50) and Devil Curry Chicken (RM10.00/USD3.50)
Portuguese-style Baked Fish; served with shredded raw onions, a squeeze of lime and copious amount of gravy that’s a subtle blend of chili and tomato paste, with possibly a hint of coconut. The fish was fresh without any hint of staleness, or muddy/fishy odour. Don’t compare this to the casual Portuguese-style Grilled Fish at Petaling Street, Midvalley’s food court, etc. They are NOT the same.
Devil’s Curry Chicken (El Diablo!) – The main reason we were there in the first place. Albeit the ‘devil’ moniker, the spiciness was very acceptable as the gravy barely did much to torch the palate. More sourish from the tomatoes and vinegar in the gravy, the firm/half-cooked potatoes lent this dish with even more substance than imagined.
San Pedro is not located along the stretch of famous seafood restaurants fronting the sea. An unwanted child? Or was this a hidden gem?
Situated on Aranjo Road, directly behind of the seafood outlets at Portuguese Settlement, you don’t get premium sea view, or stroked by gentle breeze while tucking in. No, sirree.
Instead, we walked in a little too early. 5.30pm and there was barely a wandering soul (of human’s origin, mind you) inside the restaurant. Heck, the door was unlocked and there was NOBODY attending to this pesky/hungry glutton overstaying his welcome. Or lack thereof.
To that, we took a walk around the waterfront and returned half an hour later. The shop was still vacant, but the lady whom introduced herself as Virginia ushered us in. We were the first customers of the evening.
I had faith in San Pedro. More than the others parked at the infinitely more prized location nearby. San Pedro possessed an aura of warmth; of how they could have been cooking for their own family while at the same time doubling the portions and served us with the simple feast;
“A delightful feast of Portuguese baked fish, fried brinjals (aubergine/eggplant) with a spicy sambal topping, deep fried battered squids served with their prized concoction of chili sauce, and the highlight of the meal; the devil’s curry chicken.”
And Chatime saved my life in Melaka! The helpless addiction to anything caffeinated (except soft drinks) had me scrambling for coffee joints, kopitiams, etc in the most inconvenient of times. But Chatime has an outlet at Dataran Pahlawan Mall!
Jonker Walk – Where the streets come alive at night. The lower left picture was of Teo Soon Loong Chan; a famous Teo Chew restaurant in Melaka that only houses 6 tables and prior reservation is a must. Okay, maybe next round then. If you happen to be there, then don’t miss their Or Nee (yam paste with lard). Wait, you can’t miss it since it’s automatically added to your orders!
Wooden Clogs for decoration? Souvenirs? Or of practical use? You be the judge.
Gula Ketuk (Tok Tok Candy); at RM3/USD1 per pack, this certainly brought back fond memories for the older generations. Or at least, until the 80’s babies. Why tok-tok? The sound made by the knocking apparatus; an almost hammering motion to break the candy into bite-sized pieces.
Muar Otak-Otak (grilled marinated fish paste wrapped in banana leaf) crossing borders and making an appearance in Melaka, the ONLY Portuguese egg tarts stall in the whole of the stretch, and the Sotong Bakar (grilled cuttlefish) that’s supposedly a household brand on Jonker Walk.
Pardon the rants, but Jonker Walk has definitely seen better days. Wait, not that the street ain’t crowded or populated. Heck, since the night market ONLY operates on weekend evenings, you’d be glad to come in shorts and sandals for the heat and humidity will kill you.
If the overload of street foods haven’t.
But when the most frequented stalls sell “Tornado Potato” (freshly deep-fried potato chips on skewers with your choice of seasoning) and junks not indigenous to Melaka or barely had any local elements to them, it’s disheartening.
At one corner was this old granny selling gula melaka (palm sugar) in blocks, and several traditional kueh (Nyonya cakes). Yet, she was not doing so well.
Pak Putra Restaurant – Cheese Naan served with a thick dhal curry
Supper was a no-brainer. Since Pak Putra has been on the To-Eat list of most tourists AND locals; especially after the recent spur of reviews on the net.
But wait, just how good can a Tandoori stall be? To justify for the hype and to some extent; miles travelled JUST for some chicken and flat breads?!
Potato Pratha; a fried flat bread filled with mashed potatoes and bits of cheese, as well as finely-chopped scallions for extra flavour. The bowl of scary-looking green mush was Palak Paneer; a favourite of mine when dining in Northern Indian restaurants. Creamed spinach with cottage cheese, and Pak Putra’s version had robust hints of pepper.
Lo and behold. At few minutes short of 10pm (they close at 1.30am), they have run out of tandoori chicken. WHAT?!! And they’re only opened for dinner!
Okay, so it was a Saturday, but still …. you can imagine the disappointment. Of driving a good 160km and left without a single bite of Tandoori chicken.
So I over-reacted. But that was exactly what was on my mind. Until the man himself explained in his most Zen-like manner ……
Qamar‘s the brain behind the brand. There was NEVER a “Pak Putra” anyway. Pak refers to Pakistan, and Putra was a name easily remembered, as well as meaning son/prince in the language.
Usually, they sold off all the chickens before they call it a night. They have reduced the number of fowls served since October’s a slower month (don’t quote me). Hence, I was left with only breads and mashed spinach for supper.
But those were REALLY good breads. Both the naan and the pratha were of exceptional quality; they were served warm with a fluffy texture, and the first bite proved that most of the reviews were right.
Though I did not enjoy the Palak Paneer as much (too peppery and beaten to a very smooth consistency, I prefer mine to be slightly creamier with a thicker texture), the friendly demeanour of the man himself got me incredibly satisfied with the experience.
He started in KL way back then. For 2 years, he was running his restaurant on Jalan P. Ramlee. But then, the problem arose with foreign workers, and he had no choice but to close that establishment and moved to Melaka. That was in 2002.
For 9 years, Pak Putra Restaurant has been operating at this exact location. Started slow with just his family (he’s married to a Peranakan chinese in Melaka) assisting him in selling naan and nasi lemak, his business picked off sometime in 2005 when the immigration relaxed the stipulations for foreign workers.
And the rest, as they said ….. was “Tandoori history”.
TO BE CONTINUED WITH DAY TWO’S STORIES ………….
NANCY’S KITCHEN (Peranakan Food)
No. 7, Jalan Hang Lekir (3rd Cross Street)
Off Jln Tun Tan Cheng Lock,
Tel No : +606-283 6099, +6013-618 3608
Business Hours : 11am – 5.30pm
Public Holidays : 11am – 9.30pm
Closed on Tuesdays
TAI CHONG HYGIENIC ICE CAFE (ABC, Homemade Ice-Cream)
39, 42G & H, Jalan Bunga Raya,
Business Hours : 11am – 8pm daily
JOES ONLY ONE MANGO JUICE
Ujong Pasir, Melaka.
Business Hours : 5.30pm – 10.00pm
(A stall at the far end of the row of seafood restaurants at Portuguese Settlement)
RESTAURANT SAN PEDRO (Portuguese Food)
4, Aranjo Road,
Ujong Pasir, 75050 Melaka.
Tel No : +606-284 2170
Business Hours : 6pm onwards
F1-29, Dataran Pahlawan Mall,
PAK PUTRA RESTAURANT (Tandoori, Naan)
No 56, Jalan Kota Laksamana,
Tel No : +6012-601 5876
Business Hours : 5.30pm – 1.30am
Closed on Mondays
*Don’t forget to read Part 2 of this Eating Spree in Malacca ……