So I’ve heard that Penang is considered as the jewel in Malaysia’s crown for food but if you ask me, particularly for great vegetarian eats, Malacca is its beautiful and surprising colourful little gem.
Travelling across the Singapore-Malaysia border is quite comical; the first thing everyone does as they run off the coach is to buy chewing gum from a little shop stacked with the stuff. Singapore enforced a ban in 1992 for the selling and importing of it due to people sticking it everywhere as vandalism. And I guess this is everyone’s action in reaction to that; filling your pockets with it for ‘personal use’! Funny huh?! I didn’t work out what was going on until I heard everyone chewing loudly around me!!
Melacca is a little town a few hours north of Singapore by coach. It runs along the Malaka River and has a wealth of attraction for tourists because of its interesting history. Dubbed the ‘historical state’ it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its architecture and buildings in 1998. In the past at different points having been taken over by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British but still being very Malaysian it’s full of interesting colonial style streets, history and culture. I was staying in a hostel along the water which felt very special and different from the bustling city centre in Singapore. Finally a place to relax for a few days!
As a brilliant bonus only a few minutes away from the guest house was a cheap, cheerful and friendly vegetarian restaurant Shui Xian Su Shi Yuan. Always busy with locals there were a variety of dishes every day for sale including a daily special. The food in Malaysia is so cheap unless you eat in a very touristy place. Because of the prices and my hunger from eating only nuts on the long journey there I ordered two plates from the owner. The first was Wan Tan Mee, a Cantonese dish popular here. It has noodles in a salty sauce with greens, char sui and although often it comes with dumplings, mine had crispy bits.
I ate at the same place for breakfast the same day and tried the chicken and rice ball which is everywhere in Malaysia. The beancurd chicken here is crazy. The texture, and the flavour. I’ve seen bean curd skin before, dry in packets, and it’s got to be the main ingredient. If anyone knows please enlighten me! When I get home, I’m totally going to try and replicate this simple dish. Before I just had no idea what to do with it, but now, I know!
Whilst staying in my hostel I made friends with a woman from the Netherlands and she joined me for dinner on a couple of nights which was lovely. One night we checked out The Geographers Cafe which was in the middle of Jonker Walk and the prices compared to my other eating adventures here showed this. The food, however despite the expense, was fresh and vibrant and I had no regrets ordering here. My friend ordered a special salad made by the restaurant. It was the first time I’ve seen tempeh being cooked with here.
Veggie Fragrant Rice was the other dish for me (although there was so much to choose from) The menu listed all the ingredients of every dish which is so helpful if you’d have allergies or intolerances. The rice was spiced with ginger, lemongrass and turmeric, served with crispy bean curd skin and a radish and burdock slow-cooked soup. Great stuff.
Unbelievabley I tried another Chinese style restaurant, Man Yuan Fang for lunch one day – for such a small place there was so much choice, and varied choice too serving mostly vegetable or mock meat style dishes but loads of different variations on this. I had some Hong Kong ‘pork’ in a sticky sauce and some greens.
By this point though, I felt a bit mockmeated out and we thought we would try a banana leaf Indian place on our last night. Selvam served meat and fish too but had plenty of veggie options. Unlike any other place I’ve eaten at, after I ordered my meal a large banana leaf was put in front of me. Then the curries came to me and were spooned out onto the leaf, along with my choice of how much rice and dahl. Needless to say it was delicious and supercheap at under 5 dollars. Having different eating experiences is really cool.
Jonker Walk is famed for its night market on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and is really the main reason people come here. The street empties of cars and fills up with lines of people selling their wares, hawker food and there’s a large karaoke stage (mostly occupied by old people!) There are also crazy trishaws that are decorated to the max, light up and pump out loud disco music or eighties classics. Couples and kids all have fun taking these for a spin around the city. There’s also a wealth of street food to try as you can see, unfortunately a lot of it is off limits for us.
However, there were lots of coconut and rice based sweets there I could try. Of course there was fresh coconut and juice. My favourite was Putu Piring, a steamed rice cake filled with brown sugar and topped with coconut. Amazing. I’ve never tried as nothing like that before. I found a recipe here for you.
Malacca really was a fun and great place. Full of local character and a bit mad with tourist stuff, but it did everything well, and really was genuinely interesting. Plus the spiced, flavourful and fresh food was top notch. I keep recommending it to everyone as a day out from Singapore, and now I am recommending it to you too.