#navbar-iframe { display: none; }

« Home | Sabbaba, Newtown » | Narooma Oyster Festival » | Freebie Friday: Win a 12 month subscription to the... » | Amy Heritage Nyonya Cuisine, Melaka » | Omerta, Darlinghurst » | Freebie Friday: Win two tickets to a Taste Food To... » | Imbi Market, Yut Kee and Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur » | Malaysia food tour with Adam Liaw: Nasi lemak, rot... » | Kambozza, Parramatta » | Marco Pierre White masterclass »

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Melaka Central Market and cooking with Florence Tan and Adam Liaw

You haven't really visited a city until you've seen its market. On our second day in Melaka, we woke early for a morning visit to Melaka Central Wet Market, hosted by the bright and bubbly Malaysian chef, Florence Tan.

Melaka Central Market

Florence Tan with Adam Liaw

The markets are lively with activity, vendors cajoling their wares, and locals patiently inspecting each item of produce. We're shopping for some ingredients for a cooking demonstration Florence will be conducting later on with Adam Liaw, and Florence -- just like any self-respecting Malaysian -- will only be happy with the best.

There's no denying we have a celebrity in our midst as market stall holders, shoppers and passersby all stop for a wide-eyed chat with Florence. She's as well known as any celebrity chef in Malaysia, loved across the country for her enthusiastic and knowledgeable approach to food, as well as her work in promoting and preserving authentic Nyonya food.

Fresh seafood

Blue swimmer crabs


Torch ginger

Snake beans
- so fresh and green, unlike the battered ones we often get in Sydney!

Fish ball stall

Fish balls galore

Florence explaining the workings of a rempah stall

The rempah stall is one the best finds in the market. Rempah is the spice paste that forms the foundation of many Malaysian curries. A good rempah is always made fresh, pounding aromatics, herbs and spices together using a mortar and pestle.

Individual aromatics to create your own rempah blend

Here you can easily pick up ready-pounded tumeric, ginger, galangal and more to take home for your own custom-made rempah.

Ready-made rempah

Otherwise you can simply purchase ready-made rempahs, stored in giant plastic bins under the counter.

Belacan dried shrimp paste

"Belacan - it's Malaysian cheese!" says the stallholder with a laugh. The smell of this dried shrimp paste is not for the faint of heart, but it's loved with as much conviction as Australians have for Vegemite.

"It stinks", Florence says apologetically, "but then you cook it and oh my god!" She clutches her heart and looks to the heavens with joy.

Dried fish

Fish crackers galore

Dried chillies

Poultry section

Fresh chicken

Nyonya Peranakan stall

We're browsing deep within the bowels of the market, when Florence's cousin, Chef Amy Koh, pops her head up out of nowhere. "Do you want to try a Nyonya spring roll?" she asks, and drags us upstairs to the food court where she helps out at a stall specialising in Nyonya or Peranakan food.

Apam berkuah pancake with rich banana sauce

We feel like little kids visiting Grandma, as Aunty Amy plies us with treats. "Try this!" she says, and we nod obligingly as she foists another plate of food toward us.

Nyonya spring rolls or popiah

The Nyonya spring rolls are popiah, rolled to order and filled with grated and cooked jicama, and thin shreds of bean curd, omelette and vegetables.

Nyonya curry puffs

There are parcels of crunchy curry puffs and for sweets, soft and fluffy apam berkuah griddle cakes, tinted blue from peaflowers and served with a caramelised coconut jam.

Cooking demonstration with Adam Liaw and Florence Tan

We return to the Majestic Hotel where Adam and Florence treat us to a live cooking demonstration of several Malaysian dishes.

Cooking is fun

They make a great tag team, and Florence has nothing but praise for Adam - even commending the way he pours the oil into the wok around the edges, so the oil slowly drips down and coats the entire surface.

There is never a dull moment with Florence and she regales us with stories of her childhood. She talks about always having to go back home for celebrations, and having to peel fifty kilos of jicama for a family feast. "I had to peel five pineapples for tarts! Can you imagine! Five pineapples! But ahh.... food brings us together!" and she smiles broadly.

Cooking the Ayam Pongteh chicken stew with preserved soy bean paste

Nyonya have a lot of superstitions, she reveals, and says that when she was growing up, she was forbidden from knocking the sauce-covered wooden spoon against the side of the pot. "Otherwise you will knock away all the good looking men!" she reveals. "And then my Mum would come and pinch my ear like this!"

Making kuih pie tee cups by dipping the mould in batter and deep-frying

Making kuih pie tee cups is a chance for some hands-on participation. The molds are dipped into a light batter made from flour, rice flour, eggs and water, then plunged into a simmering pan of oil. There's an art to making the "brim" of the top hat, created by submerging the battered mold for three seconds, then bobbing it just above the surface for a split second, so the top section peels back.   

Everyone having a go making kuih pie tee

Florence Tan and her sister Koh Kim Lian cooking in synchronicity

The Chinese influence in Nyonya cuisine can be seen in the use of soy sauce and bean pastes. Florence also says the secret to Nyonya cuisine is frying the spices for about half an hour on low heat until fragrant before adding the water or stock to make the curry sauce.

Florence Tan and Amy Koh making the banana flower salad

Even Adam Liaw is a fan boy of Florence Tan

Sambal jantung pisang spicy banana flower salad

We lunch on the dishes demonstrated by Florence, Adam, Amy and Kim, a feast that includes spicy banana flower salad, kuih pie tee, chicken stew and a bowl of Nyonya laksa -- or laksa lemak -- that is rich with coconut milk and fragrantly spicy.

Kuih pie tee top hat and 
ayam pongteh chicken stew with preserved soy bean paste

Laksa lemak (Nyonya laksa)

Blue pea flowers

Kuih Rempah Udang blue pea flower glutinous rice filled with dried shrimp and coconut

Dessert is a selection of kuih, and a chance to see the dried blue pea flowers which are used to tint the glutinous rice blue. We soon realise that blue pea flowers are growing in the front gardens of the Majestic Hotel.

Sisters are doin' it for themselves
- Kim, Amy and Florence ham it up for the cameras

Restoran Famosa, roast pork, Hainan chicken and rice balls

Can you visit Melaka without eating chicken rice balls? Of course not! We hit Jonker Street for an afternoon of shopping, but not before a quick feed of Hainan chicken and rice balls at Restoran Famosa.

The chicken rice balls are unique to Melaka - theories abound that these balls of chicken rice were initially created to enable portable meals for workers. I'm not a huge fan of these, as the rice is always a little soggy and squashed from the rolling process, but it would be wrong not to visit Melaka and have one anyway.

Nyonya cendol with palm sugar syrup

And a bowl of cendol is essential - the Nyonya way which means kidney beans, pandan rice flour noodles, shaved ice and lashings of dark brown and caramelly gula melaka palm sugar syrup. Forget the rose syrup, I say. Give me more of that palm sugar narcotic - unadulterated please.

Jonker Street Hawker Centre

Clockwise from top left: Bak kut teh, Jonker Street Hawker Centre, frying lettuce, satay stall

Shopping can make you hungry. Really. After a good two hours we're ready for dinner, stopping at the Jonker Street Hawker Centre for a pick-and-mix feast.

We perch on plastic stools and create a multi-stage banquet of dishes. Each dish only takes about five minutes to arrive, served on thick plastic plates in bright red, orange and blue.

Chicken satay RM0.60 each (AU$0.19 each)

Bak kut teh pork rib bone tea RM15 (AU$4.70)
with crunchy fried lettuce

We dunk our freshly barbecued skewers of satay chicken into a thick peanut sauce, alternating mouthfuls with chunks of cucumber and red onion.

Bak kut teh, a pork rib bone soup, is medicinally soothing, packed with mushroom, bean curd sheets, wood ear fungus, wombok Chinese cabbage and deliciously chewy lengths of pork intestines.

Duck egg oyster omelette RM12 (AU$3.75)

I'd been keen to order the duck egg oyster omelette, but this is a little disappointingly gluey in texture, missing the tapioca starch crunch I'd been craving.

Laksa RM4.00 (AU$1.25)

And because we like to be thorough, we share a bowl of laksa lemak too - for research purposes.


"Should we meet for a drink later on?" Adam had asked the group. "Let's meet for supper," I countered.

Hokkien Mee and Mee Goreng

We've become eating machines by now, and plough our way through huge plates of noodles. Hokkien Mee is a saucy muddle of yellow noodles cooked with dark soy, pork, fish cakes and cabbage. Mee Goreng is a simpler presentation of fried yellow noodles tossed with garlic, onion, prawn and cucumber.

Ayam Goreng fried chicken

But nothing says supper like a plate of Ayam Goreng fried chicken. These were unbelievably good - blistering hot from the fryer and a celebration of amazingly crunchy batter.

Hidden food stalls down dark alleyways

Night crowds eating clams

Dried cuttlefish

< Go back to the first Malaysia 2011 post (food tour with Fried Chillies)

Melaka Pasar Besar (Melaka Central Wet Market)
Jalan Melaka Sentral, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia

Nyonya Peranakan
Melaka Central Market
Stall No. MB34
Jalan Melaka Sentral, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia

21 Jalan Hang Jebat (Jonker Street)
75200 Melaka, Malaysia
Tel: +60 (06) 286 0120

Jonker Street Hawker Centre
Jalan Kota Laksamana, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia

Restoran Sin Yin Hoe
135 Lorong Hang Jebat, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia


Congratulations to Jennifer, Alison L and Cathy L. You have each won a copy of Voracious: The Best New Australian Food Writing.

Missed out this time? Don't forget to enter to win a Taste Food Tour in Bankstown and a 12-month subscription to the Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School. Enter now!

Grab Your Fork visited Malaysia as a guest of Malaysia Kitchen Australia and Tourism Malaysia.

> Read the next Malaysia 2011 post (Lot 10, Jalan Alor and 1m-tall roti tisu)
< Go back to the first Malaysia 2011 post (food tour with Fried Chillies)

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Melaka chicken rice balls (Malaysia 2010)
25 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/16/2011 02:49:00 am


  • At 6/16/2011 8:27 am, Blogger muppy said…

    that market looks incredible. its kinda weird seeing the feet on the chicken. and i love that mix your own paste store!

  • At 6/16/2011 8:32 am, Blogger Shanks said…

    Oooh those Ayam Goreng chicken wings look soooo good!! and I love that they've left the wing tips - extra nibbly bits :)

  • At 6/16/2011 9:08 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    The blue hues in the food are just amazing! And torch ginger is so apt.
    Missing the hawker stalls desperately.... :(

  • At 6/16/2011 10:14 am, Anonymous Apple @Polkadotsandchopsticks said…

    Wow so much amazing food! I'm so jealous of your experience :) And the cute Kuih pie tee top hat!

  • At 6/16/2011 10:16 am, Blogger Michelle Chin said…

    sigh i miss melaka. the last time i've been there was ages ago!

  • At 6/16/2011 10:20 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    Phew! So many delicacies in one post! I agree with you about the snake beans we get in Sydney and I do love that multi chook shot! What a wonderful opportunity to see Adam and Florence cook. I personally love nyonya food.

  • At 6/16/2011 12:11 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    rofl malaysian cheese haha i heart belachan!

  • At 6/16/2011 12:53 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great markets, especially the seafood and those beautiful snake beans.

  • At 6/16/2011 2:12 pm, Anonymous Julia said…

    I loved Malaka and the chicken rice balls, I went to a restaurant that served just those and they were so tasty healthy and delicate!

  • At 6/16/2011 2:43 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh heavens, those snake beans absolutely put the ones we get in Australia to shame! And cendol... you will be mine. One day, you will be mine...

  • At 6/16/2011 3:09 pm, Anonymous chopinandmysaucepan said…


    Your photos and commentary really transport me back to Malaysia where I can truly relate to and connect with a place so familiar albeit through your eyes.

    This is the ultimate challenge for a blogger and you are doing just that.

  • At 6/16/2011 3:35 pm, Anonymous chopinandmysaucepan said…

    Also, snake beans may be one ingredient that looks more attractive but do remember the huge array of other ingredients that we can put into our cooking pots and take for granted that Malaysians can only dream about - fresh herbs, seasonal fruits and vegetables,variety of cheeses, cured meats, wine, cooking vinegars, olive oils, fresh pasta, organic meats, artisan jams, chocolates let alone a melting pot of different cuisines all vying for the best. Did I mention the variety of fresh seafood in Sydney??

    We are indeed a lucky lot!!

  • At 6/16/2011 5:06 pm, Blogger Two fit and fun gals said…

    EVERY POST U HAVE on malaysia gets me more n more excited about going there thanks Helen

  • At 6/16/2011 5:23 pm, Anonymous J2Kfm said…

    Great post, Helen. Enjoyed the shots, candid ones and the sisters in sync.

  • At 6/16/2011 7:42 pm, Blogger aline said…

    Hey, nice site you have here! Keep up the excellent work!
    Hotels in Thanjavur

  • At 6/16/2011 10:18 pm, Blogger Sheena said…

    So true about the snake beans, I've never seen ones that fresh and green here. I love ally our shots Helen, everything looks so vivid and enticing. The blue pea flowers are beautiful!

  • At 6/17/2011 6:15 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I really like the pictures here...really showes the human side of trading. Lovely writing style...hope I see more of that.

  • At 6/17/2011 10:05 pm, Anonymous sara (Belly Rumbles) said…

    Awesome experience. I really want to get my hands on a pie tee cup mould.

  • At 6/17/2011 10:46 pm, Anonymous emm said…

    What beautiful photos! I have just moved next door to an elderly Chinese Malaysian couple... I've already hinted at them teaching me a few recipes ;-) It's the closest I'm going to get to the real thing right now.

  • At 6/18/2011 8:28 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Florence Tan - what a legend. Yet again I can only say what a brilliant trip, love the markets.

  • At 6/18/2011 9:51 pm, Blogger Sydney Shop Girl said…

    Wow! What an amazing tour.

    I had eyes only for my favourite foods - the nyonya curry puffs, the fish crackers and the noodles. I'm so predictable.

    SSG xxx

    Sydney Shop Girl blog

  • At 6/18/2011 10:32 pm, Anonymous JasmyneTea said…

    Life looks so vibrant there - and your post intrigues me, because my knowledge of Malaysian food is limited to Chinta Ria and Mee Goreng (the wok style, not packet, lol!).
    Beautiful photography as well.

  • At 6/19/2011 9:18 am, Anonymous GourmetGetaways said…

    Oh My GOD!!! So much yummy food!

    The curry puffs made my mouth water!!!


  • At 6/19/2011 5:25 pm, Blogger sugarpuffi said…

    that apam berkuah pancake looks amazing!! never seen it before D:

  • At 6/22/2011 5:07 am, Anonymous Jenn Brigole said…

    There's so much life in this post, I love it! But that Hainan chicken stands out for me and it looks soft and tender and oh so good! I'm definitely hungry now. lol


Post a Comment

<< Home

      << Read Older Posts       |       >> Read Newer Posts