Food Adventures Melaka Style
The bliss of my quiet, uneventful bus ride is quickly shattered by my taxi driver. At the Melaka bus station I make my way to the taxi stand where I am directed to the first driver in line.
A cheerful, friendly fellow, my 10 minute ride with him proves… interesting. “Malaysian girls very pretty! Maybe you find Malaysian wife! The Chinese girls like you! Look! She very pretty! Helloooo!! Pretty lady!” I try to redirect his conversation. Since he is a muslim, I ask about Islam in Malaysia. That’s going nicely until we drive behind two young western women. “Helloooooo! Ladies! Do not be sad! You are very pretty! Be happy!” I ignore his behavior, hoping it will go away. They ignore him, which only seems to encourage him. He thinks he is complimenting them. I am ashamed that I say nothing.
This outgoing man, who in his way is only trying to be friendly and fun, is in the end, simply a creep.
Welcome to Melaka.
I’m grateful when he pulls up in front of my hotel just a minute later. I spend hours aimlessly wandering, mostly in the Chinatown district. Not looking like a typical Chinatown, get rid of the Chinese signs and it wouldn’t be out of place in a south American colonial town. Antique shops, souvenir junk, knockoff American clothing. Enjoyable river walk. Across the river, a historic Portugese area with Disneyish re-creations of colonial era boats, and young Malays in traditional garb hawking for their afternoon performance on the boats. I almost expect to hear “It’s a small world after all…” Still, the girls are beautiful and I’m entranced. I’m a guy after all.
Bicycles taxis everywhere. The most garish, outrageously fabulous and ridiculous things I’ve ever seen. Hello Kitty, Disney, and superhero themes seem to be the most popular. It’s amusing to see humorless Malaysian men smoking cigarettes sitting on their pink Hello Kitty taxi while waiting for customers.
Vendors start setting up for the weekend night market. I try a few snacks. I choose poorly. Two muslim girls encourage me to try their halal “sausages” with chili sauce. One bite confirms that they are in fact, cheap hot dogs. Disgusting. I’m glad it only cost me about one dollar. I try another stand. Crab cakes and pork sausage. Crab cakes are excellent. First bite of sausage is outstanding. Second bite? Oh shit, it’s nearly raw. So far I’m batting 33%. Not doing too well.
Fresh durian. Durian cream puffs. Fried squid on a stick. Grilled meats of all kinds. Fried ice cream, made to order. Lots of vegetables. What’s your pleasure?
Deciding it’s time to man up, I try a piece of durian. Instantly I’m hit with an overwhelming confusion of flavors and scents. Custardy texture. Almond. Vanilla. Freshness. Vomit. Sewage. Almost delicious…. and yet, far and away the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten.
After dinner, after much water, after brushing my teeth, after mouthwash, I still can’t get the taste of durian out of my mouth.
I sleep in. I decide to call it vacation and stay in my hotel bed until 11am. Bliss. I walk for a few hours. Exploring aimlessly. Dehydrated – not drinking enough. I get lost. I eat a few handfuls of nuts. It’s enough in the heat.
I try a massage. At $15 for one hour. why not? She speaks no English, so I can’t tell her what I want. She digs deeply and painfully into my neck and shoulders. How can a 100lb, 5 foot tall girl be so damn strong?
I search for purchases. Need to find something handmade. Chopsticks are beautiful but I don’t use them. Bowls are beautiful but too expensive. Other items are simply too large to take home. My hotel suggests batik paintings, made by an artist just a block away. Perfect. Batik perfectly represents Malaysia. I purchase two. Not great art, but I like them. I wander into another store and start talking to Khalid. From Kashmir, he sells only Kashmir products. All of them gorgeous. I want half the store. I want Malaysia-made products, but a pillow is too beautiful to resist. I trade shy smiles with a beautiful woman in the store, but assume she is his wife. She turns out to be simply another customer. She flirts. But, as is usually the case with me, I leave without going further. Story of my life.
Dinner. I try a Nyonya meal. Nyonya is the local name for the people of mixed Malay and Chinese heritage. Chicken Rendang. “Spicy” according the the owner. Very good – chicken thighs and rice in a curried tomato sauce – but fairly mild. I hit another place and try Mee Memak – stir fried veggies and noodles in a delicious sauce. Oh my. Easily my best meal in Malaysia.
Morning. Another breakfast of noodles. But also toast with a local spread called “kaya.” Delicious. Made of sugar, coconut milk, and eggs, it’s love at first taste.
I rent a bike from my hotel. I intend to explore for just 1 hour, it turns into 3. My intention was to cycle out of town to a nearby village, but with no map available, I’m riding a bit blind and end up doing circles around Melaka. No matter; I’m just happy to be on a bike. Pouring sweat, I stop at a random roadside cafe. The women are amused. I don’t think they get many western tourists this far out of the town center. More exploring. I somehow end up on the campus of a madrasah. The students look confused. I’m confused. I turn around.
Dinner. I decide to try the Indian place Khalid recommended, half expecting it to be a crappy place owned by his uncle or something. The tables spill out into the parking lot. In fact, there is more seating in the parking lot than there is in the restaurant. Two tandoors are fired up, cooking chicken and naan. I shoot a couple of photos, and the owner comes over and walks me through the tandoor cooking process which I have heard about but never seen. The heat at the tandoors is ferocious.
The food is fantastic. A fitting final meal in Malaysia.
I didn’t make it to the islands, as I had hoped when this trip was in the early planning stages. I just have to come back.