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!
There are many kuehs which we grew up eating and enjoying, often not just because they taste good but also the other dimensions of the gastronomic experience that surpass that from just the palate that makes each bite memorable. Like lapis sagu or kueh lapis beras, which can be made more fun by peeling the kueh layer by layer, or in the case of ondeh ondeh, the sheer joy one receives as every one of these sticky and chewy balls explodes with each mouthful to unleash an avalanche of sweet and savory juices from within…
It is just days to Christmas and I reckon it was timely for a gathering with some friends whom I’d gotten to know over Facebook, a good time to get together again since meet ups as such are far and few in between given everyone’s busy schedules. It is also good to be able to put a face to a name, transcending from online acquaintances to friends in real life. There have been quite a number of Christmas promotions running in our local restaurants and F&B establishments in hotels so we are literally spoilt for choices. Despite coming back from Melaka just a couple of days back, I still crave for good Peranakan food. A quick buzz over one of the Facebook groups I am active in and it didn’t take long for like-minded foodies to respond to the calling. We chose ‘The House of Indocafe’ as none of us have been here before. We thought it would be a good chance to try out their “Festive Ala Carte Buffet” menu which is currently running at their “White House” restaurant located just along the fringe of the Orchard Road shopping belt. It was a choice we grew to regret. Read on to find out why…
Ondeh Ondeh is a traditional “kueh” which many of us grew up snacking. I remember first having it in primary school during recess time at the school canteen which we called “tuckshop” then. The “makan melayu” food stall, operated by an old Malay couple sold mainly local Malay delights like nasi lemak and lotong. But my eyes are always glued to the assortment of homemade”kuih muih” in psychedelic colours, almost a dozen of varieties that rotated down the week, with 2-3 types available daily. Most of my classmates and friends love to buy their kueh lapis beras, and for obvious reasons. They would peel and eat them by the layer, just like what we would do at home with my mum and sister. While I love to eat their kuehs, it was more of an indulgence rather than a necessity, given the limited amount of pocket money we had. But I’d always looked forward to the day when mee rebus was on the “Special of the Day” menu, because I know that one of my favorite kuehs would also be available, and that is of course, ondeh ondeh.
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!