Mention Melaka and most, if not everyone would immediately think of it as one of the important enclaves of baba-nyonya culture. Indeed, it is exactly this trading post which bore roots to the unique community formed through what is commonly thought of as inter-communal matrimony between the local folk and those who came in search of opportunities or shelter. Legends and folklore about Cheng Ho’s massive fleet and even a Princess Hang Li Po from the Ming Dynasty echoed through the centuries, stories told and retold down the generations.
Lesser known and often cast in shadow however, was the colonisation of Melaka by the Portuguese around 500 years ago, from which yet another unique community emerged which is known to some as “Cristangs” owing to their embrace of the Catholic-Christian faith that spread to this part of the world with the missionaries that came, or otherwise, simply as “Portuguese Melakans” honouring the special bond forged between the earliest European settlers to this part of the world and the local folk. An extraordinary culture developed as a result of this interaction, and of course, a cuisine which conglomerates all the different elements that arise out of this remarkable exchange that spanned more than a century. On our recent trip to Melaka, we were given a good introduction of this interesting cuisine through dining at Big Ben’s Restaurant Cafe located in the Portuguese Settlement in Melaka, a luncheon which I would fondly remember for a long time to come.