Eat! And eat at hole-in-the-wall joints, no less. So of course that’s what we did when we took a short overnight trip to Melaka, Malaysia.
Melaka (Malacca) is a state of Malaysia on the western coast, and it’s been occupied by nearly everyone (now it’s just part of Malaysia)—the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Japanese, and the British. The Portuguese came in the 1500s, so the historical sites go back really far.
And others just feel like anachronisms, like this windmill in honor of the Dutch occupation, which is opposite an old Dutch church (still extant) and the former home of the Dutch Governors (now a museum full of creepy human figurines).
The area is dominated by Peranakan people, the Chinese Malay, with their own particular cuisine. Laksa has been top of my list ever since that episode of Top Chef when Anthony Bourdain was the guest judge and Lisa made a too-smoky laksa hated by everyone. If Tony Bourdain says real laksa is one of his favorites, well, I had to give it a go.
I was not disappointed. This tiny Peranakan restaurant, Restoran Nancy’s Kitchen, with its unflattering fluorescent lights and dated Christmas decorations on the walls, seemed the perfect place to try laksa. It’s essentially a curry soup—great coconut flavor but a smoky spicy kick that had my nose running (I love spicy food). It has noodles, small shimp, some cucumber, and other vegetables. It also had a mystery substance (thin, kinda spongy sheets), which I hope is a vegetable (it’s always weird to me when I can’t identify a food, as I am pretty knowledgeable), and rice balls, which are like pounded rice formed into a rubbery little ball. They don’t absorb the flavor so they serve to put out the fire in your mouth a bit. I plan on trying more laksa—I hear it’s one of those local foods where there are a zillion variations—and there are plenty of places to get it in Singapore, too.
The Portuguese influence has created a “local Portuguese cuisine,” but it seemed to be the same as the food everywhere else. In the Portuguese Square (nothing more than a structure with restaurants), Restoran Lisbon, essentially a kitchen with some tables and plastic chairs outside, was advertised as, you know, Portuguese food, but it really seemed just like other Peranakan spots.
This fish dish, ikan bakar, was noted as a traditional food, and it was amazing. Those two green things on top are limes—the tiny kinds are common here. The red sauce was spicy and smoky—“warm” was the first word that came to mind when I took a bite—and it mushed up nicely with the perfectly cooked fish. In the lower left-hand corner are lightly pickled onions, which contrasted with the warmth of the fish. This was my favorite entree of our meal.
Chicken curry debal and ginger squid were our other two meat dishes from Restoran Lisbon (we also got greens). The chicken was a bit dry, but the sauce was tasty over rice. The squid was tender and flavorful—I didn’t think the ginger flavor was strong enough, though.
Another curry soup I got, at the Geographer Cafe (not as fancy as the name might imply), featured lontong, compressed rice cut into small pieces.
Not as spicy as laksa, but gosh-darn tasty.
The rest of Melaka was okay—there’s some pretty temples, which I’ll show some pictures of soon. There was shopping, but there’s only so much plastic crap I need, and the antiques aren’t my style. The night market was pretty good—with food and shopping and karaoke and line dancing!–but jet lag hit me so hard before we headed out that I was in a total fog and didn’t take a single picture; I actually hit a point where I just stopped and stood to the side while my parents are our family friend walked the rest of it. I’m sure my mom will blog about that, so I’ll link to her post.
The Singapore Food Festival is going on all month (yay!) so we have plans to check it out this afternoon.