Saturday, June 16, 2012

My Top 10 Food Experiences: Malacca

So I acknowledge that my blog has been severely lacking any real signs of life for the past 6 months or so due to a variety of lame excuses. But over the last couple of weeks, for some reason, I have continuously been finding myself in conversations with people about food. I'm starting to think that this whole food thing for me is not just a phase I'm going through, like skateboards or collecting keyrings or Benjamin McKenzie. My love for food is something that always has and always will be a part of me. Much of that can be attributed towards one thing that I often overlook: family. 

In December last year, I went back to my home town in Malaysia to spend time with family for a week. And in the Teh family, "spending time together" means "eating together". I always return from visits to Malacca at least 3 kilos heavier and with that poignant feeling that all of my relatives were so, so happy to have me back home. And because my family's not so great at saying they love each other, the way they show it is with food.

Here were my top 10 favourite food experiences from that week in Malacca. 


10. Dragonfruit

Figure 1: Fresh organic dragonfruit

If dragonfruit wasn't that psychadelic colour, it wouldn't be anywhere near as fun to eat. By the time you've scored the halves into cubes and finished tucking in, it looks like you've just slaughtered a purple people eater with your bare hands, and then eaten him. Dragonfruit is probably my favourite fruit in the whole wide world. The flesh is soft, sweet, and incredibly refreshing. I had one of these almost every day while I was in Malacca. 

9. Organic fruit and vegetable stalls

Figure 2: Red okra, coconuts

Literally 30 seconds walk away from where my aunty lives, there's a road between two rows of shops where the pasa malam (night market) goes on every weekend. Some of the fruit sellers set up early, and on this day we happened to be driving past while they were setting up, and got first dibs everything. The farmer was selling guava, passionfruit, starfruit, bananas, papaya, coconut and okra - all fresh from an organic countryside farm. We got a bit of everything. And my aunty knows how to barter like a boss, so it was all dirt cheap. 

Figure 3: Real people, real food

Figure 4: Passionfruit and starfruit

8. Nadeje

Figure 5: Mango and yoghurt 'Mille Crepe' 

One of my cousins who knows how much I love cake took me out for the day, and this was the first place she brought me. Nadeje is a cake shop that looks out over the main shopping strip and specialises in a type of cake called "Mille Crepe". They basically get lots and lots of paper-thin crepes and put a thin layer of flavoured cream between each layer. The result is this incredibly light yet creamy consistency, and when cut into it with your fork it just gives way, like clouds. Mango and yoghurt for me, jaffa flavour for her. I loved it. 

Figure 6: Light as a feather

7. Deep fried sesame balls 

Figure 7: Heaven in deep-fried form

I don't know how many calories are in these things but I don't care - they're freaking delicious. Jian dui is a type of Chinese deep-fried pastry made from glutinous rice flour, coated with sesame seeds and are hollow with different types of fillings. My favourite is the lotus bean paste, but they also come in red and black bean flavour. You may have seen them at dim sum, but nothing beats the taste of fresh jian dui, cooked in the open air by a little old chinese lady who has sold nothing else for decades. My family also has a huge thing for you tiao, pictured below. On this day my aunty decided to buy 10 sticks and bring them home, just because.

Figure 8: You tiao

6. Going back to my roots

Figure 9: Perfect siu mai 

Growing up in Australia, I would often go to friends' houses when I was in primary school, and then complain to my mum that we never got to eat steak and fish and chips and casserole for dinner like my other Aussie friends. But now that I'm less of an ungrateful little brat, I realise just how spoilt I am that my mum cooks delicious Chinese meals for me most days of the week. And being in a town where they do authentic Chinese food, and do it well, really made me rediscover my appreciation for Chinese food the way it should be. My relatives took me to some awesome hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and as always, the best food was always found in a local shop you wouldn't look twice at, in a small suburb somewhere, with awful customer service and no air conditioning. 

Figure 10: Stir fried lotus roots with hazelnuts, black fungus and sugarsnap peas

Figure 11: Chicken rice balls, a local specialty

5. Calanthe Art Cafe

Figure 12: Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Jonker Street

The last time I came home I was only 15, and had to be ferried around by my relatives if I wanted to go anywhere. But this time I was confident I could get into town on my own, so I left the house one afternoon for a food adventure. I came across this café in a little rickety alleyway. It's just one of the quirky little places that you can find around Malacca, which has a pretty lively art scene. There's all kinds of creative pieces on the wall and even hanging from the ceiling, and I really liked the fun interior design. The Calanthe Art Cafe do 13 different types of coffee, with a different flavour for each state of Malaysia. I had an iced Johor coffee with cream, and spent the afternoon sipping on my indulgent treat and reading my South America Lonely Planet. 

Figure 13: Johor iced coffee

4. Nyonya desserts

Figure 14: Pineapple tarts

You can find Nyonya pineapple tarts pretty much anywhere in Malacca, but you will not find better pineapple tarts anywhere in the world than the ones sold at the Jonker Street night market. Look for the people selling them freshly made, still warm, in large silver trays stacked on top of one another - these are always the best. The intense pineapple filling is encased in this buttery pastry that just crumbles away and melts in your mouth. That night, I think I ate about 8 or 9 in a row before I stopped and decided to save the rest for later. 

Figure 15: Cendol 

All your biological survival instincts will tell you not to eat it, but trust me, this stuff is amazing. Cendol, one of the dishes that Malacca is famous for, is made up of red beans, palm sugar, shaved ice, coconut milk, grass jelly and sometimes creamed corn, Don't be creeped out by the worms though - they're actually jelly made from rice flour and coloured with pandan flavouring. And don't be a bloody ang mo and eat it from top to bottom: you've got to get your spoon and mash up the whole thing until it looks absolutely disgusting, and then proceed to slurp it up quickly before it melts. Me and my cousin got this in the afternoon when it was swelteringly hot, and I still remember the icy, musty sweetness of it as we gobbled it down. 

3. Flaming Lamborghinis

Figure 16: Galliano with a twist

So maybe it's not authentic Malaysian cuisine, but it sure was a lot of fun. And yes, the bottle is on fire. And yes, it is illegal in Australia. I love travelling. 

2. Snack runs on Aunty's motorbike

Figure 17: Front porch of my aunt's house

The first thing I can ever remember in my whole life is being on my aunty's motorbike. We rode to the local fish market, through the busy streets and past the row of shops that I can recognise today, and I remember feeling safe, happy, and looking forward to dinner. She always let me sit in front of her, so when she drove past, you'd see her sitting on the motorcycle with a big red helmet bobbing around under her chin and little arms poking out, grabbing onto the front handles. 

My aunty still has that same red motorbike, and while I was staying at her place, she took me out sometimes up to three times a day to go and get some food. Sometimes it was to get fresh green vegetables for tonight's dinner, sometimes it was to get lunch from a particular food vendor she knew personally, and sometimes it was just to drive me around so we could stop at any place I wanted for a snack. When I'm sitting on that motorbike it always takes me back to that first memory, and I can't help but smile like an idiot all the way to wherever we're going. 

1. Midnight Malay Feast 

Figure 18: Don't judge a book by its cover!

My number one food experience was on my last night in Malacca. My cousins picked me up at 11pm for no reason in particular, just to spend time with me, and we found ourselves at a roti canai shack that was literally in the middle of nowhere, on a completely random bit of vacant plot of overgrown grass, but still buzzing with locals and laughter. 

Figure 19: Roti canai

Figure 20: Chicken satay with diced onion, cucumber and peanut sauce

They wasted no time in ordering five different things: roti canai, roti tisu, mi goreng, teh tarik and satay ayam. The roti tisu was the best: beautifully flaky, greasy and crispy and came with three types of curry. I was sitting there sweating with the spiciness and the humidity, being eaten by mosquitoes, and was so full I thought I might pass out any second. But I had three months of freedom and travel ahead of me, I was with people I love, eating amazing food, and enjoying life. 

Figure 21: Roti tisu

During my travels, I got to experience new cultures and cuisines that absolutely blew my mind. But the result was that I truly came to appreciate my own background. Before, when I thought of Malacca, I didn't think it was really anything special compared to cities like Rio de Janeiro, or Paris, or Melbourne, or London. But somewhere along the way, something clicked, and I realised that although I'd been dreaming of going to amazing places around the world for so long, the little town where I was born is one of those amazing places. 

1 comment:

Carla said...

I believe food experiences not only have to do with food, though it sounds stupid, but when you go some place to eat, you look for many things. Of course, the first is food, but then you want a nice and calm atmosphere, good music, polite waiters, etc. I found the best place to eat in Argentina. I rented an apartment in buenos aires  and next to it there was a restaurante called Reencuentro that had all that! It is located in Palermo, and even though it is really fancy, waiters are not arrogant!