When one is in Melaka, one is never short of things to eat. From the morning breakfast fare to the night time supper joints, Melaka offers a good range of delectables with something for everyone. During my recent trip to Melaka, I stayed at The Sterling which is located in Bukit Cina. After a tiring day out, I wanna find some supper nearby to keep my tummy happy before a good night’s sleep. A quick check with the concierge staff for makan recommendations at this hour and I am off to Restoran Dong Fung just a stone’s throw away to try out their wanton mee.
Whenever I am overseas, I love visiting the traditional “wet markets” which the locals go to for their groceries and daily produce. It provides a real glimpse of what the locals eat and the cuisines that develop as a result. During one of my recent visits to Melaka, I was brought to the Pasar Pulau Sebang morning market located at the heart of Tampin by a friend who guaranteed that I would love love love this place. And boy was she right!
Unknown to most tourists who only know Jonker Walk as a shopping district with a weekend night market, this area located on the northern banks of Malacca River is commonly known to the locals as “Melaka’s Chinatown”. Flanked by Heeren Street and Harmony Street on its sides, there are many old surname clans and locality associations, i.e. the Hokkiens from Eng Choon 永春, the Hakkas from Fui Chiew 惠州, and the Cantonese from Kong Chew 冈州 and SamSui 三水 found here, just to name a few. These clans and associations once helped their fellow kinsmen who either bore the same surname, or came from the same hometowns back in China before migrating to this region is search of better livelihoods, in numerous ways, including finding lodging and jobs, writing letters to the families back in Mainland China, providing a venue for folks whose families are not here with them to get together during celebratory activities and festivities, and of course to as simple as finding someone who could speak their same colloquial tongue to talk to, exchange news and gossips with, just to ease those moments of homesickness.
Over time, many Chinese eateries and small delis also sprung up around these clans, selling foods which the folks were familiar with, like hailam kopitiams near the Hainan Association, and of course 榮茂茶室 Low Yong Moh Dim Sum Restaurant along Jalan Tokong.
There are lots of interesting eating places in Melaka apart from those that serve Peranakan cuisine. Like the Chinese braised duck noodles and really good “hum jeen pheang” I had recently in Tengkera nearer to Limbongan, as well as uber fresh cockles and clams at Taman Merdeka Batu Berendam. While many of these require a bit of traveling away from Melaka Central and thus often out of the tourist radar, some of these places which have really good food are right smack in town just minutes away from the bustling shopping districts, like Sun May Hiong Satay House in Kota Laksamana, as well as Pak Putra which many purportedly serve the best naan and tandoori chicken in all Malaysia!
On our last day in Melaka, we were trying to make full use of our time yet making sure that we won’t be late for our coach ride back to Singapore. Then I remembered Sun May Hiong Satay House which my friend highly raved and recommended, that is just a stone’s throw away from the beautiful Casa del Rio Melaka we have been putting up at for the last couple of days. It seems like fate has it that satay should our last meal in Melaka for this trip! And a well deserving meal it was!
There are many new restaurants and cafes springing up all over Melaka each showcasing their own interpretation of Melakan Peranakan cuisine. For me, that is a heartening thing as it allows us to sample more of how each dish may have slight nuances and variations when they are cooked by different folks. In my last trip to Melaka, I brought some of my friends to my friend Ruby Song’s restaurant, “Nyonya Taste Cuisine” located at the end of Kota Laksamana, just a stone’s throw away from the Jonker Walk shopping district. We were in for a treat!
It is always exciting to be back in Melaka and even more so at Casa Del Rio. Tucked in an idyllic spot near to the mouth of Melaka River, the hotel offers the tranquility of luxurious lodging and hospitality complete with the the convenience of being so near to the heart of all the bustling sights and sounds this beautiful city has to offer. I’m so glad to be back here again, not just to stay and enjoy the comforts of its amenities but more importantly to sample the all new Ala Carte Dinner Menu just recently made available at Case Del Rio’s key restaurant, the River Grill.
Yes! I am back in Melaka again, barely a month since the last trip, only because there is still so much of this city that awaits to be explored and discovered. Despite the numerous trips I have made here over recent years, there is always something interesting, new and bizarre or old and nostalgic that continues to beckon me for a return to this beautiful city.
The only difference this time round is I am not travelling up alone but together with 4 other foodie-minded friends to experience what Malacca has to offer. The first stop upon getting off the coach is a welcome “tiffin lunch” set in the style of a Tok Panjang at the luxurious and idyllic Casa del Rio Melaka.
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.
Melaka is a unique city and a melting pot of all sorts. Being strategically positioned along the Straits of Malacca which was named after the city, it attracted people from all over the world in search of opportunities for better living, trade and territorial occupancy. Like Singapore and Penang, Melaka was an important trading post and pit-stop for the Maritime Silk Road, promoting interaction and subsequently, the forging of blood ties between the folks of the Far East from China and Siam, with those from India and even as far as Europe. One of the earliest to have reached were the Portuguese, who colonised Melaka for more than a century from the 1500s. As a mark of commemoration to celebrate the long time establishment of the Portuguese heritage in this UNESCO historic city, Casa Del Rio Melaka is running a special feature called “A Taste of Portugal” at their River Cafe and River Grill restaurants, paying homage to the Portuguese influence on Melaka. For the first night upon our arrival, we were enthralled by a Portuguese Wine Pairing Degustation, specially created by Chef Micael Valentim who was flown in from Portugal precisely for the occasion. It was a wonderful night which celebrated authentic Portuguese cuisine with Portuguese wine.
Melaka is a city which lies close to my heart. I love it for many reasons, the food, the people, and the surprises abound, be it a new Peranakan dish which I’d not eaten before, or an interesting little street dotted with small quaint shops which I’d never been to previously. Despite being to this city which lies just 4 hours north of Singapore on numerous occasions, I’d not grown tired of it and I don’t think I ever will. Just last week, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit this beautiful place once again, with an entirely new holidaying experience that awaits…
Making Malay and Nyonya kueh is a really colourful game of mix and match. Using a standard list of ingredients, one could come up with a large variety of these sweet delectable snacks and desserts which are so immensely popular and enjoyed by many. For example, gula melaka is commonly used in traditional Malay, Indonesian and Peranakan desserts and its employment into these snacks is literally endless. If it is chopped finely and used as a filling with a dough made with sweet potatoes and glutinous rice flour, it becomes ondeh ondeh as it is known in Singapore and Malaysia or Klepon in Indonesia, but when it is wrapped and steamed in a rice flour batter and banana leaves, it becomes Kueh Bongkong. Another steamed variation with barely reconstituted rice flour which remains grainy gives us Putu Piring. If the gula melaka is cooked with freshly grated coconut, it becomes the filling for Pulut Inti if steamed glutinous rice is used, and Kueh Kochi if it is wrapped into a glutinous rice flour dough over banana leaves. It becomes a variation of ondeh ondeh which some folks call Buah Melaka if the glutinous rice dough is rolled into balls and cooked over boiling water instead of being wrapped and steamed with banana leaves as with Kueh Kochi. Finally it becomes Kueh Dadar or Kuih Ketayap if the grated coconut and gula melaka filling is wrapped with a thin pancake into a roll instead. All variations of the same theme. This reminds me of the paper dolls which my sister and cousins used to play when we were all young, with “switchable” dresses, hats and whatnots latched over a generic paper mannequin. And this is pretty much the same for Putugal, a lesser known kueh shared between the Peranakan and Eurasian/Kristang heritage in Singapore and Malaysia.
When Wendy from Table for 2 or more revealed to me her plans some months back on initiating and organising an online food festival with a monthly locality-specified theme, I was absolutely enthralled! Heritage cooking has always been something close to my heart so naturally, this series of events to come is the perfect vehicle for me to explore some of the cuisines which I’d been always been curious about and intrigued by but never ventured far enough to try. While some others choose to advance and equip themselves with the latest gadgetry and seemingly chic culinary techniques like sous vide and molecular gastronomy, I seek solitude and comfort in my batu lesung and kuih moulds, while staying grounded with traditional methods of cooking. An old guard and custodian of the old ways? That noble beast I am not. All I merely hope for, is a perpetuation of what my grandmother and mother had taught me…
Alas the trip to Melaka was only a 2-day-1-night affair. With such a short time to make do with, I had to make the best out of it! Melaka, like Penang and Singapore are strongholds along the Straits of Malacca and thus custodians of the Peranakan culture. Melaka, having a longer developing history and slightly more leisurely set pace of life possibly mean that Straits Chinese heritage is much better preserved over there than here in Singapore, making it the ideal place to immerse oneself in the nyonya baba culture. And what better way to start with than food!
Despite being so near to home, I’d never been to Melaka all these years. We didn’t have any travelling plans last december but I desperately needed a break! The perfect excuse to visit this city which I’d always wanted to do so but never did!