Malacca or Melaka? The official name for Malaysia's third smallest state should be Melaka, we're told by our friendly guide. The traditional Malay spelling was reinstated after the city centre was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. Malacca is the British spelling - still used for the Malacca Straits that run between the Malay Peninsula and the island of Sumatra in Indonesia.
Our group was leaving Kuala Lumpur today for the two-hour drive to Melaka. But not before I had one last breakfast...
Alright stop. Roti time.
The roti man laughed when he saw me approach. Three roti tisus in three days is a neat hat trick (boom tish).
Thin, crisp and crunchy with sugar crystals
In 2009, 8.9 millions tourists visited Melaka. About 70% of these are domestic visitors, with the majority descending on the city over the weekend. Only buses are allowed on the roads on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and locals tend to avoid going out on weekends because the traffic is so chaotic.
Melaka was originally founded as a small fishing village but its strategic geographic position -- particularly as a port city on the Spice Route -- quickly became apparent. Melaka was occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch, British and Japanese before finally gaining independence in 1957.
Tourism was only pushed by the governor of Melaka in 1990. Before then, Melaka was a relatively sleepy town that was filled with rice paddies with a growing industry in electronics. Its peak tourism numbers occured in 2008, after World Heritage status was officially granted.
We pull up to D'Perigi Inn on the outskirts of Melaka for what our guide promises to be some of the best mee rebus in town. This noodle dish is a breakfast staple in Malaysia, and D'Perigi Inn is particularly famous after appearing on the national broadcaster TV3.
Ladling out the curry sauce
Mee rebus translates as boiled noodles, but really this dish is more than that: combining yellow egg noodles with a curry gravy that is thick, sweet and spicy. You'll find fried tofu, spring onions, green chillies and a hard-boiled egg. It's a saucy comforting concoction.
Clockwise from top left: Mee rebus, mee sup and rojak
We also find space for mee sup beef noodle soup and a dish of Indian or mamak rojak, a salad of cucumber, cuttlefish, potato, tofu and egg drenched in a spicy peanut sauce.
Sharing is caring
We pull up at the Majestic Hotel, our digs for the next couple of nights. To say this hotel exemplifies luxury is a bit of an understatement. I'm immediately smitten by the charm of the British colonial decor in the converted 1920s mansion.
The library with original porcelain flooring
High tea in the library
The swimming pool
A new building behind the mansion contains 54 rooms and suites for guests.
I'm awestruck by my room, which is elegantly opulent without being ostentatious. On the bed is a wooden breakfast tray containing vintage postcards and hotel letterhead. The bathroom can be exposed or enclosed using brown shutter doors on tracks. The bathtub has clawed feet, and is long and deep.
Candy jars in the lobby
Apart from the room, I'm most excited by the candy jars in the lobby! These are dotted throughout the reception area and contain miniature biscuits with icing, preserved prunes, peanut biscuits, coconut lollies and salted plums.
The dining room
We adjourn upstairs to the dining room for a lunch of traditional Nyonya cuisine prepared by the hotel kitchen.
We also meet Florence Tan, who will be showing us around her hometown of Melaka for the next couple of days. Florence is one of Malaysia's most well known chefs, particularly recognised for her expertise in Nyonya cuisine.
Nyonya cuisine refers to the fusion of recipes that developed when early Chinese immigrants to Malaysia in the 1400s and 1500s married into the local Malay community. Nyonya are the females in this community; babas are the males.
Florence is one of those amazing characters you meet who is filled with life and infectious with her spirit. She featured on Poh's Kitchen and Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey and her enthusiasm for food and the joy it brings is immediately apparent.
"Spices are to the tongue as colour is to the eyes!" she pronounces, and claps her hands together for emphasis as her eyes twinkle in delight.
Formally dressed staff
Lunch is a formal affair in austere surrounds, but we plough through a feast of dishes with unbridled enthusiasm. The Sup Ayam Masak O ginger and garlic chicken soup is a comforting broth although Florence clucks with disappointment at the chunky shredded vegetables in the Pie Tee top hat. Later we hear that she doesn't hold back with her cooking critiques for the hotel chefs, but such is her earnestness and reputation that the chefs simply nod and take notes without question, eager to learn.
Clockwise from top: Udang Kuah Nenas prawn cooked in pineapple gravy;
Ayam Pongteh braised chicken, mushroom and potato with preserved bean;
Beef Rendang beef cooked with chili, galangal, lemongrass, tumeric and coconut milk;
and Cincalok Omelette fried egg with vegetables and preserved shrimp
We eat our way through Udang Kuah Nenas prawn cooked in pineapple gravy, Ayam Pongteh braised chicken and tender shreds of a hearty beef rendang. It's my first time trying cincalok omelette, a usually potent dish made with fermented shrimps, but the flavour here is quite mild. Actually we find almost all of the dishes seem to have been disappointingly tempered, as though to suit Western palates.
Bubur Cha Cha
Dessert is bubur cha cha, a traditional Nyonya dessert of soft cooked taro and sweet potato mixed with sago pearls and tapioca jelly in a sweet coconut milk soup. The coconut milk has so much palm sugar, it almost tastes like caramel. It's a rich and heavy end to the meal, and we roll out onto the streets of Melaka for a chance to explore.
Cooking satay skewers at a street stall
Stretching dodol tofffee, made from coconut milk, palm sugar and rice flour
Taking a river cruise down Melaka River which is now a canal. The water in the canal is changed every 3-4 days
Local wildlife - the monitor lizards are huge and can often be spotted swimming in the river. I almost stepped on one when its head poked up from a drain in the street!
School kids on an excursion with their teacher
With age comes wisdom
Trishaws in Melaka are commonly festooned with silk flowers
For afternoon tea we stop at Perhentian Kuih Kampong, famous for its selection of freshly made kuih or kueh. Kuih can be savoury or sweet bite-sized snacks, and here it's a self-serve pick-and-mix for eat in or takeaway.
Kuih RM0.40 each (AU$0.13)
Bag your own kuih or get the stall holders to help
Our plate of kuih to share: a mix of fried, steamed and grilled snacks that were salty, sweet, chewy and glutinous - sometimes all at once
Choosing your own kuih is fun
Amy's Heritage Nyonya Cuisine Restaurant
For dinner we head to Amy's Heritage Nyonya Cuisine Restaurant. Amy is Florence Tan's cousin.
Sambal Jantung Pisang banana blossom salad with spicy coconut cream dressing
The restaurant is small and humble, and Florence and Amy are both determined to show us the best of authentic Nyonya cuisine.
Clockwise from top: Sotong Goreng deep fried seasoned squid with Amy's chili sauce
Amy is much chattier than the character I'd seen on the Rick Stein episode, and Florence confesses she'd instructed her cousin to stay quiet so Rick didn't get confused with two larger-than-life characters.
A feast of dishes appears with unrelenting pace. We all carefully examine our Pie Tee top hats and note the delicate knife work on the vegetables. These snacks make a perfect appetiser, a delicate deep-fried shell offering crunch against the saucy shreds of turnip.
Nyonya wedding soup is another winner, a treasure trove of smooth fish balls, tender cabbage and slippery mouthfuls of fish maw, the swim bladder found in fish.
Ayam Buah Keluak chicken in Nyonya spicy gravy with black nuts
Ayam Buah Keluak is the dish that fascinates everyone, a chicken stew made with black nuts. The black nuts must be soaked for two to three weeks, and the water changed every day to allow the nuts to gradually soften. When the nuts are finally ready, you can scoop out the flesh inside with a spoon.
This is a dark stew that is both herbal and nourishing.
Clockwise from top: Chap Chye Nyonya-style mixed vegetables;
So. Much. Food. We attack plates of deep-fried squid, tamarind prawns and tofu puffs covered in carrot shreds and crushed peanuts. Chap Chye is a stir-fried vegetable and noodle dish that seems to have echoes of the Korean dish jap chae. The table favourite is the Ikan Gerang asam fish that is a masterful mix of sweet, sour and spicy.
Traditional Nyonya dance
Florence and Amy have even arranged a display of traditional Nyonya dancing for us to enjoy.
Florence says everyone must now dance
We can't leave without being plied with dessert. The sticky rice tinted blue from pea flowers is striking in colour, but I find myself addicted to the onde onde, petite balls of glutinous rice flour rolled in fresh coconut and filled with a burst of liquid palm sugar that never fails to delight.
Bubur cha cha with handmade tapioca jellies (the round marble with the thumb print)
And there is a second encounter with bubur cha cha for the day, this one produced proudly with homemade tapioca jellies - just like a real Nyonya recipe, Florence says. There's no need for packet tapioca here.
Florence Tan and Amy Koh
<< Go back to the first Malaysia 2011 post (food tour with Fried Chillies)
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Malaysia 2010 - feasting with food bloggers
Congratulations to Ringo-Chan who has won a $100 gourmet food hamper. Missed out this time? You still have time to enter to win 1 of 3 copies of Voracious and two tickets to a Taste Food Tour of Bankstown.
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6/08/2011 03:32:00 am