Navigating the historical city’s smorgasbord of flavours
As one of Malaysia’s best-known historical states and a proud UNESCO World Heritage Site, Melaka has emerged as a favoured tourism destination in recent years, a strong pull being its beautifully preserved heritage hotspots as well as its vivid culinary offerings.
Navigating around Melaka is fun but bound to work up an appetite, so here are our top recommendations of its amazing cuisine to keep you satiated!
There are numerous versions of laksa in Malaysia but the Nyonya Laksa is synonymous with Melaka’s cuisine. Oodles of noodles are submerged in a creamy coconut milk broth aromatic with spices and topped with tofu puffs, shrimp, beansprouts and egg. The garnishing of laksa leaf, also known in Malay as daun kesum, is a prerequisite for the overall aroma and flavour. Need more heat? Just dunk more sambal into the soup.
Chicken Rice Balls
An iconic Melaka dish, Chicken Rice Balls are similar to the classic chicken rice but with rice formed into bite-sized orbs. This dish is enjoyed with roast or poached chicken, plus condiments of soy and chilli sauce. Some say the rice was originally shaped as such because it kept warm longer when stored until mealtime, making it convenient for labourers working on plantations to transport from home. Another theory was that rice balls were more portable and easier to consume. Today, rice balls are appreciated more as a curiosity, and Melaka has become the hotspot to enjoy it!
Cendol is popular nationwide, but in Melaka, this rich, sweet dessert had attained an almost revered status. A typical bowl incorporates finely shaved ice, rich coconut milk, soft red beans and green jellies known as cendol strips. The strips, customarily handmade with pandan (screwpine) leaves, should be firm with a nice, springy chew. Sweetened with the distinct smoky, caramel-ish gula melaka (palm sugar), a key ingredient for an excellent cendol, it offers an incredible reprieve from the scorching heat.
A popular variation is topped with fresh durian pulp, but that is best reserved for serious fans of the King of Fruits. One of the best cendols we’ve had in Melaka is at Nyonyalicious, where each bowl carries the perfect balance of creaminess, sweetness and generous servings of ingredients. If you fancy yours with durian, head to Justberry’s. Feeling adventurous? Bulldog Café offers an alcoholic version with Baileys!
If you love bold, spicy and sour food, then asam pedas is a must on your list. There are several interpretations and there are endless adaptations; but suffice to say, it tastes extraordinarily satisfying. The seafood that forms the foundation for this stew is almost secondary to the gravy, which aficionados are known to drench on rice, with second helpings of rice being the norm. In Melaka, the rice is served with vegetables, a dollop of sambal (chilli paste) and a halved salted egg.
No visit to Melaka is complete without a feast of ayam pongteh (braised chicken in sweet bean paste), pie tee (pastry shells filled with sliced vegetables and prawns) and ikan goreng cili garam (fried fish with chilli paste). These are the few central dishes with Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese) roots. A Peranakan meal at many restaurants in Melaka goes beyond the delectable food, with traditional décor and exquisite furniture completing the experience so you can be immersed in culture.
Satay celup is another signature food of Melaka. Skewers of raw or semi-cooked meat, seafood and vegetables are dipped into a pot of thick, spicy peanut sauce for an interactive, social meal as everyone gets to enjoy their choice of ingredients, cooked in a communal pot.
Another popular skewered food in Melaka is pork satay. One can savour innards like intestines and liver with as much gusto as the meat itself. Each stick holds alternating chunks of lean meat and fat, grilled over charcoal embers until juicy and lightly charred. The peanut gravy also sets it apart from other satays nationwide. The recipe calls for pineapples (some with starfruit, too) that impart a zesty flavor, not to mention fibre that gives it extra texture. Many stalls also offer chicken satay as an alternative.
Kuih refers to a range of local desserts, possibly sweet or savoury and usually in a kaleidoscope of colours. With its varying textures, flavours and appearances that captivate all the senses, identifying a favourite can be a tough call. Yet when push comes to shove, the onde onde would be your best bet. This bite-sized kuih is made with glutinous rice flour infused with pandan juice. Rolled into little orbs, filled with molten gula melaka, poached and rolled in freshly grated coconut, the toffee-ish gula melaka within literally bursts in your mouth as you take a bite! Dapur Cho Cho makes the perfect onde onde, so be sure to get some when you’re in town!