Friday, February 28, 2014

What to eat in Malacca?

Penang may be Malaysia’s unofficial food capital but Malacca’s cuisine isn’t particularly unknown. Home to a thriving Baba Nyonya culture (descendents of 15th and 16th-century Straits Chinese settlers who married local Malays), Malacca’s food scene has been thoroughly saturated by the Peranakan culture. Curries are lighter than Indian ones, vegetables are flavoursome and meats are neither spicy nor bland making Nyonya cuisine perfect for first-time visitors.

If you are planning to visit Malacca, you may also want to check our where to stay in Malacca post.

Nyonya Food 
Malacca’s Nyonya fare is the original and most authentic of the country’s Peranakan cuisine. Heavily influenced by Chinese and Malay ingredients, some of the most common ingredients in Nyonya cuisine are coconut milk, lemon grass, turmeric, screw pine leaves, chillies and sambal. Besides main meals, Malacca’s Nyonya pineapple tarts are uniquely popular – sinfully delicious, there are many stores scattered across Malacca’s landscape selling these pastries and locals will happily point you in the direction of their favourite stores if you ask them. Try San Shu Gong Food Industries’ (Jonker Street) heavenly double-buttered tarts.

Satay Celup 
A Malaccan institution, satay celup is a fondue-style meal with skewered raw and semi-cooked meats (such as chicken, beef, pork and seafood) that are cooked in a communal pot of scalding hot, thick peanut-based gravy. Besides the meats, there’s also a variety of vegetables including tofu, kangkung and more for customers to choose from. The restaurant prepares the skewered meats and vegetables and stores them in huge refrigerators – customers select their satay and then dip it into the boiling sauces to stew. The best places (Restoran Capitol, Restoran Ban Lee Siang) feature thicker, nuttier sauce than that of other places.

Chicken Rice Ball 
The state’s unofficial signature dish, this meal comprises rice, cooked in chicken stock, and moulded into golf ball-sized balls and served with delicious steamed chicken in soy sauce. It’s a simple dish yet it receives rave reviews, in large part due to its relative non-spiciness as well as subtle-yet-strong flavours. The best chicken rice ball restaurants are usually busy during lunchtime and dinner (the queues are well worth it though), so you’ll have to arrive early if you want to grab a table. Try Kedai Kopi Chung Wah and Hoe Kee (Jalan Hang Jebat) – they serve up some of the best chicken rice balls in the state.

Nyonya Food
Nyonya Food
Ikan Bakar 
Don’t leave Malacca without trying the ikan bakar (literally burnt fish in Malay). This grilled seafood dish has roots in Indonesia but the smoky flavour remains the same wherever you go. The fish (stingray) is marinated for hours with spices and sambal belacan (anchovy and chilli paste) and then grilled to perfection with banana leaves over a charcoal fire; a variation of this dish uses sotong (squid). It’s topped with healthy lashings of sambal sauce and sliced shallots; though it’s said to be a street snack (usually found with hawker stalls), in Malacca there are a few restaurants that specialize in it.

Fried Oysters
Best eaten piping hot, fried oysters are a favourite Chinese dish with Teochew/ Fujian origins and you’ll see this dish sold in almost all seafood restaurants, hawker centres and pasar malams in Malacca. Shucked oysters are stir fried with scrambled eggs, sliced onions, diced garlic, chives, chilli paste and soy sauce – the result is a soft, sticky and flavoursome dish. The best place to grab a plate is the Jonker Walk night market – the cook who stir-fries the oysters in a large wok (on the spot) will take requests – so you can tell him if you don’t want the dish too spicy and he’ll be more than willing to oblige.

Durian Cendol
The sinfully-sweet cendol is a quintessential part of Malacca’s street food culture. Made from coconut milk, lots of gula Melaka (palm sugar) and served with red beans, glutinous rice, grass jelly, creamed corn and pandan-flavoured worm-like ‘jellies’ (made from rice flour and dyed with green food colouring), cendol’s relative popularity makes it easy to find. You’ll come across an array of variants, the most popular one in Malacca being durian cendol. You would think that the durian-flavoured shaved ice drink would be an acquired taste but visitors say that after their first bowl, they’re left craving more.

Roti John
Essentially an omelette sandwich, Roti John is a popular street side snack (Malays are especially partial to it) in Malacca. Minced chicken, diced onions, eggs and diced red and green chillies are fried, then spread on a baguette loaf with tomato and chilli sauce and then grilled. Variations of this dish use beef, mutton and sardines. The seaside strip of Pantai Kundur plays host to more than a few hawker stalls that are Malacca’s roti john specialists.

Nasi Lemak
Malaysia’s official national dish, nasi lemak is so popular even the Chinese and Indians serve their own versions. At its very basic, nasi lemak comprises a plate of white rice cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves. Accompanying it is sambal (anchovy, onion and chilli paste), an egg (boiled or fried), salted anchovies, cucumber slices and peanuts; popular complementary side orders include fried, curry or rendang chicken or beef. Locals say that this dish can be eaten no matter the time of day but tourists should be careful as the sambal can be rather spicy – keep a glass of ice water nearby when you dig in.

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