I arrived in Melaka in the early evening, after a long trip on the train. The first thing I noticed was the obnoxious rickshaws peddling around the city and blasting their music. They were elaborately appointed with brightly coloured banners and images of cartoon characters. I guess no UNESCO World Heritage site is complete without a few concessions for tourists and holiday makers. I mostly tried to ignore them, and they mostly tried to ignore me, being much more inclined to hunt teenagers and groups of Chinese rather than a stubbly westerner hunting for the cheapest meals in town.
In Melaka I sampled many of the rich Malay cuisines. The historic streets were lined with small Malay and Chinese restaurants, or Little India was just a short stroll away, for Malay inspired Indian Thali’s. For several of my evenings in the town I visited the night markets: a busy food market through the historic Jonker Street. Here I savoured the local delights: coconut drinks, pastry puffs stuffed with sweet Asian fillings, chendol, and tea eggs. Most of the food stuffs could be had in small quantities for cheap. They were fun and delicious evenings. On one of the nights it was raining heavily and so I had the markets mostly to myself. It was lovely to wonder through the dimly lit streets in the pouring rain people watching with a coconut in hand, it gave a very tropical and South East Asian feel.
On my final morning in Melaka I met with a local man and he took me to a small restaurant around the corner to what he guaranteed wass the best place to have chendol. The walls of the tiny restaurant were lined with newspaper clippings of when the prime minister and other dignitaries visited. He was very proud of the restaurant, less so of the dignitaries who were known to be corrupt. Chendol is a shaved ice dessert, mixed with hand made jelly and palm sugar. It is a dessert which you can find all through Malaysia, but for which Melaka is particularly famous. So I was happy to be able to try such a good example of the dish. In this tiny shop my Malay friend also encouraged me to try Rojak. I had tried Rojak previously in Singapore and didn’t like it. In fact it was possibly the only Singaporean dish which I didn’t like. The older man exclaimed in a heavy Malaysian accent that the Singaporeans don’t make it properly; you have to eat it the Malay way! He ensured me that I would like it. So, we ordered two servings and ate it with our desserts. And voila, it was good! Well, much better than the Singaporean counterpart. Rojak is a dish of raw vegetables covered in a thick peanut sauce.
Melaka is well known for its Portuguese, Dutch, and English heritage. It was controlled by each of these colonial powers for the fantastic trade opportunities Melaka presented. Many people travel to Melaka to see this heritage, and certainly it is a beautiful place to visit. There are many streets in Singapore of a similar vintage, however the Singaporean shop fronts have a lack of character and authenticity. The buildings here are imperfect as they haven’t undergone decades of restoration work. The buildings are as they always were: imperfect. They are crumbling, yet lovely. Wondering through the old canals you can really transport yourself to an earlier time.
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Melaka to Tioman Island
In the next article I cross the Malaysian peninsular to visit the serene Tioman Island. Read about it here.