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The many influences on Melaka (and its food): 23-25 Jan '14

sunny 28 °C
View The Great South East Asia Adventure on GoonishPython's travel map.

It was with a spring in our step that we left KL for Melaka - hoping it would be more fun. It was. Melaka is awesome. A UNESCO heritage town (yep, another one), its full of amazing architecture reflecting the many influences on the town - a bit like George Town in Penang - except more.

Melaka was originally founded by a Hindu prince from Sumatra in the fourteenth century, "protected" by the Chinese from 1405, conquered by the Portuguese in 1511, then the Dutch captured it in 1641. This is due to its excellent position in the now called Straits of Malacca, which ships had to pass through to get to the lucrative spice islands and to China. The British took control in 1795 during the Napoleonic Wars so it didn't fall into French hands, but gave it back to the Dutch, albeit having destroyed the strategic fort etc. to reduce Dutch influence in the area. It worked. Britain and the Netherlands later negotiated ownership of various places in the Malay peninsular and what is now Indonesia, with Britain gaining Melaka. The let it decline in favour of George Town, situated further North, and Singapore, further South. So Melaka's decline is part of its charm, as it didn't continue to grow as a thriving port like Singapore, so retains a lot of its old buildings and quirky streets.

So Melaka's influences are:-
- colonial powers: Portuguese, Dutch and British;
- distinct peoples: Malay, Straits Chinese (Peranankan or Baba-Nonya - early Chinese immigrants that settled and adopted Malay dress and customs rather than later Chinese settlers), Indian, Chitties (Indian-Malay) and Eurasians (Malay-Portuguese);
- religions: Muslim, Hindu, Chinese Buddhism-Confucianism-Taoism, Catholicism and Protestantism (in two forms).
So its pretty mixed.

Architecture
Pretty wicked. Some excellent temples and churches:
- St Paul's was originally Portuguese, then Dutch, then British;
- Cheng Hoon Teng Chinese temple was very relaxing;
- the Hindu temple where we got fed;
- Masjid Kampung Kling (a mosque) with a pagoda shaped minaret and stained glass.
We also saw remains of Fort Malacca, the Porto de Santiago, and loads of colonial houses in all styles. The bright red Dutch Stadthuys was unfortunately being renovated, so covered in scaffolding, but a real highlight was the restored shophouse - a style first built in Melacca and exported to George Town and Singapore - our hostel was in one of these, which was fascinating to see the changes from the original. Oh, and we walked to Bukit China, a Chinese cemetery, for sunset views over the city. Except there was quite a haze.

Nightlife
Small but relaxed. Chilling by the river in the Reggae Bar (a genre of bar only extant in SE Asia it seems) was great fun. But the highlight - Jonker's Walk famous Night Market (only at weekends) - packed from end to end and very colourful with Chinese New Year coming up. One thing marred it - the man with the supernatural finger of steel - a Chinese doctor who can break through a coconut with just his bare finger. The actual breaking of coconut was impressive but the hour of talk beforehand and more afterwards , together with attempts to sell his miracle oil were infuriating. We left before the second coconut breakage. We couldn't stand anymore talking. Neither could half the front row.

Food
This is one of Melaka's highpoints. Its pretty good (understatement of the year).
- Indian: always a favourite
- Chinese: dim sum for breakfast was epic. The steamed pork bun with ginger was yummy yummy yummy.
- Nonya food: Melaka's speciality (also available in George Town and Singapore, the other two settlements with Straits Chinese communities). Basically a mix of Chinese and Malay, and in Melaka, Portuguese. I had:
*Egg custard tart - it was almost a Portuguese nata but not quite
*Aubergine in a spicy sauce a bit like Indonesian sambal (so Malay stylee)
*Popiah - like a spring roll but with carrots, chili, garlic, pickled turnip and palm sugar among other fillings
*Laksa - well I tried a bit of my friends. It tastes like Penang curry you get in Thailand.
*Cendol - shaved ice covered in palm syrup with green rice worms, red beans and coconut milk
*Nonya rice parcel thing - it was blue rice (apparently from blue ginger flower) stuffed with pork and spices, all cooked in a banana leaf
*Nonya pineapple tarts - pastry filled with chewy pineapple jam like stuff - like a jam tart basically
*Lime juice with sour plums. I love lime juice and I've eaten sour plums, so this was a well-gauged experiment. Tasty, but too sweet and sour for me - I prefer straight lime juice without much sugar.
And I ate lots of other stuff too, including some green rice paste balls covered in coconut served warm with liquid palm sugar in the middle, which were bought for us by a friendly local lady. In Indonesia they're called celepon so probably a pretty similar name in Malay.

So Melaka is pretty cool. Very chilled with pretty buildings and awesome food. And people were friendly, unlike KL. I love Melaka.

Posted by GoonishPython 19:30 Archived in Malaysia

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