Five months on, the only thing I still remember vividly about Malacca is how exceedingly good the food was. All I have to do is think about the meals and I feel the impulse to book a coach right away, to bring along with me L, my family, friends, anybody, because it is extremely selfish to not share such great eats with the people I care about. The word ‘Malacca’ is now synonymous with ‘delicious’ in my dictionary. Which is why I feel the need to write about it even though I have no decent photos to show (only realised after the trip). Must have been too preoccupied with eating.
I visited for the first time when I went with the department for a workshop and team-building trip last October. Having been to a few other cities in Malaysia, I did not expect much out of this trip. It was something I had to do for work. Little did I know that this this sleepy town would completely blow my taste buds away, thanks to my food-loving bosses.
Malacca has one of the largest communities of Peranakans in Malaysia so no visit can be complete without venturing a taste of their Peranakan cuisine.
Our first meal (after an afternoon of team-building and average hotel food) was a lavish Peranakan spread at Restoran Ole Sayang. Since we were there in a large group, we managed to sample a bit of everything on the menu. I thought the best dish was their otak-otak because it’s drier than usual and packed with taste.
Our second Peranakan meal was at Restoran Nyonya Makko, a popular restaurant with Nyona outfits on display and lovely stained-glass windows. We stumbled upon this gem while searching for a place to lunch at on our second day. There was a queue but it was well worthed the wait. I can’t recall exactly what we ordered but do try their ayam buah keluak and udang lemak nenas if you do visit.
(If you only have time for one Peranakan meal, go for the second one.)
The meal that completely sealed the experience was Teo Soon Loong Chan Teochew Seafood Restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall Teochew restaurant off Jonker Walk. It is started and run by a proud patriarch of nine children – they call him Mr. Tan – who is even more proud of his culinary creations. Rightly so, seeing how he single-handedly steered his humble restaurant to fame and success. A simple Google search on this resturant will return thousands of forum posts, blogs and reviews, all raving about his signature dishes.
The interior of the restaurant is so traditional it’s sure to bring back memories of Singapore in the 1950s. Don’t expect pretentious décor or a fancy menu because we were seated right next to the vegetables and seafood!
My colleagues have been there so no work was required on my part. I just sat and waited for the food to arrive. Normally, you’ll be required to select your choice of vegetables and seafood on display and if that boggles you, go with Mr. Tan’s recommendations. He is incredibly hospitable and fatherly but I must mention that he adopts quite an authoritarian approach when it comes to his food and recommendations so don’t attempt to challenge him in this aspect.
We had a variety of dishes – oyster noodles, steamed pomfret, braised duck, tofu with minced meat, prawn role with ngoh hiang skin, stewed bitter gourd with spare ribs in tau cheo, all of which can be taken with their special Teochew chilli sauce. And as with all meals Teochew, you’ll end off with their signature orh ni (yam paste) which will be complemented with steamed pumpkin and ginko. Make sure you try their yam paste, it’s the best yam paste I’ve had so far. (The last time I had one so good was when my grandfather was alive and still running his catering business.)
I LOVE, CRAVE, YEARN for the oyster noodles and would order a second plate that day if not for the fact that Mr. Tan will not allow that. No, he won’t. He does not want you to over-order and be surfeited by an excess of his dishes such that you will not remember them to be as delightful as they are. Oh, and they don’t entertain walk-ins so do remember to make reservations if you’re planning to visit.
Then there’s chendol – a traditional dessert that is made of shaved ice and green bean flour jelly, flavoured with pandan and drenched in palm sugar and coconut milk. We ate chendol at all sorts of places (even gathered by the roadside while sharing it in takeaway cartons one night). I slurped it, enjoyed it, went back for more, and I don’t even eat chendol in Singapore. Everything just tastes better when you’re having a good time.
Lastly, if you need to bring a piece of Malacca back for your friends and family, San Shu Gong (on Jonker Street) is THE place to go. They have a dizzying array of Nyonya pastries and biscuits so take your time to absorb and sample. I bought back lots of snacks and the richest, creamiest instant coffee from this place. We finished it so quickly I can only kick myself for not getting more.
Apart from the food, there is also the historical/cultural aspect to visit Malacca for.
Our team-building comprised of an ‘Amazing Race’ activity in the winding streets of the famous Jonker Walk. As part of the race, we had to complete tasks and questions in our workbook. In one morning, we had to try our hand at spinning tops (I could get mine to spin on second try!), calligraphy, fabric painting, take a picture with the largest pineapple tart, remember the year the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple was built, find out Christ Church’s architechtural style, and taste the chendol at Jonker 88. I thought it was an excellent idea incorporating such activities as part of the team-building program (instead of playing awkward games within the confines of a conference room). We got to learn a little about the history and culture while having fun as a team.
Weather wise, let’s just say it was nothing a Singaporean can’t get used to – hot and balmy.
There, you just got a glimpse of Malacca without having to jostle or perspire :)