Malacca, June 2013
(After I wrote this article, it was reported that the Malaysian Government has plans to shut down Jonker Street.)
In Chinese mythology, when a statue has been standing in the open for too long, the dew, rain and other natural elements may give the statue a soul and bring it to life.
(Put that back in your house, it’s only a myth)
Like the statue, Malacca seems to be a town that has been standing in nature for so long, it has a soul of its own. Each brick on the wall, each wooden pillar in the shophouse, each lamp post and each plant – seems to each have a life of its own. When the afternoon wind blows, the leaves in the trees whisper little tales. Little tales of being witness to the ageing of an ancient sea town.
What makes Malacca, Malacca – is the very strong presence of Pernakans. These are the mixed-race descendants, part Chinese and part Malay of recent South East Asian history. When these two cultures intertwine, the result of which is an explosion of colourful architecture, foods and language to match.
It was birthday time for me and a bunch of us planned a trip to Malacca. This was strictly a food and don’t-you-dare-talk-about-work type of short trip.
I have driven the route Singapore-Malacca a hundred million times. But this round, it was surreal. These are the days of intense Indonesia fires and foul smelling haze. The atmosphere in Singapore had turned a nasty 400 PSI. The drive from Johore, Malaysia was weird. The visible distance ahead of you was about 500 meters and the rear view mirror looked like your vision when you have just woken up in the morning. All around was shrouded in smog and it felt more like flying low, than driving fast.
When I first arrived and parked my car, the attendant walked up to me and gave me two face masks. “Put this on, bad weather”, she said. This was not the last friendly gesture from the Malaccans. When we sat for drinks at a small juice shop, we were also offered masks. “Why you never put on (your masks)? Very bad you know! I have some, you want?” offered the young man minding the shop.
Part II – The Food
If you think this town is all about chicken rice balls and egg tarts, you should take a walk around further. Let me give you a quick clue-in on what’s good around town!
Charcoal Roast Pork Rice (and chicken wings)
(Sorry forgot to take photo of the roast pork, too busy eating. Please use imagination)
Whilst it is a bit ironic to be eating smoked food when PSI in the region averages 300, this was a delight. They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but here, it is also in the looking. To say this place was sparsely decorated is an understatement. The shop… (well, actually it is more than a shop. The back of the shop doubled up as the business owner’s home) was probably last renovated during the Chinese New Year… of 1979.
It was old.
But old also meant it exuded a romantic charm. You would eat your food in a dim, dusty shop-house whilst traffic blasted past outside. But the food! Oh, how good it tasted!
Each hunk of meat is handsomely cut. This is after being given a generous roasting over thick slabs of charcoal.
The result – a deliciousness so sexy it makes you dance to the tunes of Maxwell.
I don’t know how to identify this place. You’ll have to hunt for it as you walk down Jalan Tengkera. This is the type of mystery that makes your food trips more fun 😉
Back at Jonker, there’s this little shop called eHa. It’s all juices, yam paste desserts and durian cream.
Wait. Did I say durian?
Oh yes I did. And look at it:
If there was one dish that could negotiate world peace… this would probably be it. Slap this on the plates of world leaders and there are only two things that could happen:
a.) They eat it, and weep tears of shame and forgiveness, or
b.) Freak out and run away.
Carrot Cake on the Food Street
(Again, sorry, no photo. Was really too busy eating it)
This is not your boring, sanitary, please-eat-healthy-cause-the-government-says-so Singapore variety.
This is the stuff that real men eat. It is fried with finely diced pork lard and fried in a wok so old and seasoned, it was probably bartered with banana notes during the Japanese Occupation.
It was crispy. It was sufficiently oily. And according to my friends, it had the “flavour of old wok”. Whatever that meant.
Pie Tee from Amy’s
We hunted an hour for this stupid pie tee, so you better appreciate this photo.
(look at it)
(now look at it again)
When you bite this little creature, the crust goes “crunch, crunch, crunch” as you savour the burst of strong nuttiness and beautiful goldenness of juicy vegetables explode in your mouth.
I’m not going to tell you where it is, but I’ll leave you a clue to start your hunt:
So yeah. Malacca. Beautiful place. Beautiful food. Beautiful people.
A lovely town to get away to if you’re in need to run away from city life once in a while.