Laksa - noodles in curry soup, a local specialty and favorite
Total Miles Traveled: 31,733
Believe it or not, I have relatives in Malaysia, from the Cuban side of my family – go figure! My tio Felix and tia Eme (apparently, Tony’s long lost Cuban-Chinese aunt… not really, but more on this later) have lived in southeast Asia for over 20 years, and spent the last 10 years in Melaka, a city 2 hours northwest of Singapore. When Tony and I decided that we were going to travel to Malaysia, we immediately looked them up. It had been 10 years since I had last seen them! Here’s a picture of them below.
Melaka is a magical city. It’s downtown area is a world heritage site and, as such, it has retained it’s colonial charm. Melaka is one of three major cities of trade from back in the day – Penang and Singapore being the other two, -and therefore has an interesting and wonderful mix of cultures – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Portuguese, Dutch, and English. The cultures intermingle and one can walk down the street and see mosques, Chinese Buddhist temples, Indian temples and churches.
One of the most highly touted is the Baba-Nyonya (Peranakan) culture, which is a fusion of Chinese and Malay cultures created when Chinese men came down to work in Melaka and married Malay locals. These Chinese are also known as “Straits Chinese,” because they immigrated to the British Straits settlements in Malaysia in the 15th and 16th centuries. The ethnic Chinese in Melaka speak Mandarin and a variant of the Hokkien dialect very similar to Taiwanese, so Tony could understand a lot of what was said. It was a fun and nice surprise (and quite helpful!). As a result, my aunt Eme has become knowledgable about some aspects of Chinese culture and has even picked up a few words. One of her favorite phrases to Tony was “you never knew you had a Cuban-Chinese aunt did you?”
So what happens when you have so many cultures mixing in the same place? It is a perfect storm of culinary excellence. And we did not hesitate to revel in it. Here’s a look at some of the local food.
THE (repeat THE) best Tandoori chicken and garlic/garlic+cheese/garlic+onion naan we’ve both ever had. You know how Tandoori chicken often tastes dry? Well, this was cooked in a clay oven in front of you and so juicy when it comes out.
By the way, this restaurant, Pak Putra, is a Pakistani-run place in a little strip mall. The “dining room” is the parking lot. It was full of people around 8pm when we ate, and still full at 11pm when we came back to fetch our car… on a TUESDAY night!
Another very popular dish is Hainanese chicken rice. Yes, you guessed it, it’s from the island of Hainan off the south coast of China, west of Hong Kong. It’s basically steamed or roasted (better), chopped up, and served over coconut infused rice with hot sauce, soy sauce, and chicken broth on the side.
When we asked, do people cook in Melaka? Many locals said no (including my aunt and uncle). It’s because the food is so good and SOOOOO cheap in the restaurants and food courts like the one below. You’ll find 20-something different food stalls which each makes something different, all for the price of $1.50 or less per dish!
Char Kway Teow – stir-fried noodles with flat, broad noodles – a bit like ho fun. Very typical dish.
Chang fun (translated “long flour”) – very similar to the dim sum dish.
You’ve seen these before – chicken satay.
Another local specialty – fried oysters with eggs and sweet/hot sauce on the side.
Feeling full yet? Not Tony! On another night, we went with my aunt and uncle’s local friend Falynn (she’s pictured with Tony below and we called her the ‘social director’) and tried another local specialty – satay chelup. You basically load up on skewers of food you want to eat e.g. lots of fish/shrimp/meat balls, sausages, cockles, other meats, veggies, etc. and then you cook it all in boiling pot of peanut satay sauce. AWESOME.
Don’t forget to dip the sliced bread in the satay sauce and wash it down with some freshly made watermelon juice (You can see how happy I am to start eating!)
So how do you pay the bill? The waitress comes over and counts the number of sticks you ate – yellow ones are more expensive than orange ones). Brilliant.
On the weekends, the city puts on a night market. Super crowded, loaded with trinkets, and better yet, great food.
We stopped for some dessert called cendol (pronounced “chen-doll”) which is shaved ice, brown sugar syrup (called gula melaka), coconut milk, red bean, and some other good sweet stuff. Perfect for a hot, humid night.
Here’s another dish we stumbled upon. It was one of those things you walked by and couldn’t stop looking/smelling simultaneously and when you snapped out of your trance, you forked over 6 ringgit (US$2) for a big container of the kuih lobak. It doesn’t look very pretty so a pic doesn’t do it justice, but it will blow you away.
OK, now you must be full. So here are some images around the city. There are many buddhist temples around the city:
The historic district of Melaka sells lots of arts and antiques. More beautiful by night, but just as interesting during the day.
Tri-shaws or trickshaws (or tricked-out rickshaws) are waiting nearby to take you around town. You can’t see it here, but some of them have boomboxes that pump out club music as you ride around town. Classy.
Here’s some cool tile work in an old historic hotel called Hotel Puri on Heeren Street.
The entrance to another temple. A great addition to our collection of door pictures.
You’re looking across multiple storefronts along a street.
Finally, Melaka has done a great job of lighting up the town, literally. Each building is highlighted with lights so you can see them all at night. It’s quite a sight to see and a bit reminiscent of Disneyland. They even have a monorail!
Have a look at all the photos in the slideshow below: