I’ve been in Malaysia for just about a week now, mostly lounging about. Just before I head down to Singapore we decided to take a day trip to historical Malacca. The historical colonial part of town has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site and has accordingly become quite touristy as the past industry of the port disappears.
Our first stop was to get the Hainan chicken rice balls the city is famous for at Chung Wah. I mistook being told this as chicken rice with the addition of meatballs. No it entails chicken rice with the rice rolled into balls for convenience. A namesake of the country, chicken rice entails boiling a chicken until perfectly tender, then taking the stock from the chicken to cook the rice in. The result is a greasy, tender mess you eat with cucumbers and spicy dipping sauce. While I could eat chicken rice all day, I found eating the rice in ball form more a novelty than a delicious evolution. The rice itself was too dry for my tastes as I prefer it much moister in this preparation.
Lunch stop two was a hole in the wall known as Long Fatt, which is what I’d be if I lived near this place. It was run by an adorable family who earnestly told me the few dishes they had left after the lunch rush were all individually delicious. I barely recognized it as we wandered by in a blog post I had spotted earlier, but the old family puttering around behind the counter looked identical to the picture I saw. The younger generation proprietress stopped to ask us where we were from, we were unlike her other customers, much younger and speaking English. The food was not fancy, but it was home cooked style fare with salted fish curries and stewed vegetables to go along rustic chunky rice porridge.
After two lunches we did a bit of walking until sweaty, which is about five minutes in. A quick jaunt in the air conditioned gallery and museum did no good so we stopped for some cendol. This is a dessert of rice noodles, jellies, red beans and other goodies in coconut milk and palm sugar. Here we got ours with durian, which I was told was better than the Thai durian I disliked. Alas, I still do not like durian. The strong Malacca style palm sugar is delightful though. As with most businesses in town, you could see where the back of the store was set up for family use and stairs leading upstairs to where they lived.
After two meals and dessert we could no longer eat, so we went for an early drink on 5 Java Lane (Javan Jawa in Malay). We walked along the river to an old bar near where the port used to be, in an area where the ghosts of opium dens and brothels linger. The streets are full of original colonial style Chinese housing with open drains and guard dogs afoot. My Malaysian friend amusingly noted “This alley smells like my Grandma’s house”. These days the neighborhood is full of a few storefronts and guesthouses on the edge of the tourist area. The two fifth-generation owners of the bar don’t drink but they happily invited us in to rest on their ancient wooden bar and enjoy some rather strong mango and lychee flavored liquors. I’m not really a whiskey or rice wine fan but I greatly enjoyed the old couple. I almost kept drinking just because I want this bar to last forever. The other foreigners who wandered in right after us cautiously sipped at some Chinese herbal liquors before quickly switching to beer. They told us they didn’t go out the night before because the area is quite dark and overrun with rats. I guess a few things from the more colorful port days remain.
We ended the day with satay celup. It is a fondue like set up with a boiling, bubbling pot of peanut based satay sauce, chopped peanuts and spicy sambal. In one corner of the store is an open refrigerated case full of things on sticks. Meats, fish cakes, tofu, veggies, veggies and tofu things stuffed with fishcake, and you tiao line the large area. The attentive staff come by every few minutes to mix up your separating sauce, add more if necessary, and check the temperature as you eat to your heart’s content. At the end they count the number of sticks to get the bill. It’s certainly the most interesting hot pot set up I’ve seen of the many I’ve been to while I’ve been in Asia. This also goes very well with beer or as a late night snack.
Malaysia is a mix of cultures, and Malacca embodies that past in the form of buildings and a mixed people. It uncharacteristically did not rain all week, leaving a permanent haze of the burning from neighboring Indonesia. Just our luck, it poured on our way back making our time on the bus just as long as the time we had in town as we got stopped by a flooded freeway. I wish that meant we had more time in Malacca, absorbing a fading former port town and the friendly families who still toil generation after generation at the same crafts.