When we booked for a flight for Kuala Lumpur, Malacca (or Melaka in Malay) was originally not in the itinerary. Friends, however, insisted that it is the best place to visit especially if we are planning to go to Singapore from Malaysia. They raved about the 3Cs : Colors, Cuisine and Culture. It got me thinking – might as well go to another heritage site on my birthday since I love history.
Like any town surrounded by water, Malacca is one of the trading spots in the spice route. Chinese, Indians, Arabs and Europeans have passed by this seaside city that faces its own Strait and the Indian Ocean. Wares have been traded. Intermarriages happened. Influence of other cultures are very much evident in this side of Malaysia. Conquered by Portuguese and Dutch, the imposing Church by the hill, the water wheel by the river and the “red” square shout European. Yes, red is everywhere – from the Melaka Church to the scaffoldings at A Fomosa. Due to its Chinese origins, the lanterns, signages and the large Jonker Street stage are coloured crimson. There are yellows and greens and oranges yet the colour of life and love is everywhere.
Hot, Cold and Sweet
My first travel abroad 10 years ago introduced me to Malaysian cuisine — or the mixed of Malay, Indian and Chinese influences on the food. It didn’t leave a bitter (or spicy) taste in my tongue then and it is still on my eat list after tasting the good eats in this side of Malaysia. The noodles kept me breathless with all the spice and fish cakes. The simplicity of the dumpling noodle paired up with a strong kopi c kept me energized for a morning of walking.
The story of noodles continued until lunch with the Nyonya laksa that is best eaten with a tissue on hand—or a crunchy and sweet rojak on the side. To counter all the soups, an ice cendol or ice kachang made of shaved iced and flavoured beans and sweet nothings drizzled with coconut syrup, is the answer. A dessert that looks like a meal by itself. It was an attack to the senses when I first tasted the syrup that I decided to get a solid form of the sugar.
Since it was relatively warm in the city, cold treats came in between walks : iced pops with red or green beans, cendol, cold durian puffed and iced kopi o. Eating iced pops reminded me of younger days – days you buy iced buko straight from the styro box. I think I never forgot how to eat ice pops real fast – bite the ice!
Night cap was composed of a gula malacca cake (since it was my birthday), a dare to stuff one’s mouth with durian puff (the tastiest since I tried it in Singapore too!), sweet potato pie since I am so impartial with this root crop, a bit of egg tart (hey, this was a former Portuguese colony) and the list goes on.
The Place the Baba dan Nyonya Built
There might have been strong presence of the Europeans in the city but nothing can compare to the intertwined cultures of Chinese and Malay. There are areas that Malay culture is very eminent as shown in their architecture. Yet, shophouses that dot the area shout Chinese. The Baba dan Nyonya Heritage Museum is one of the best places to dropby to learn about this great combo. There are no shots of the interiors of the house but photos can’t put justice to the affluence and the strong attachment they have for their married culture. It was like a bahay na bato with a whole lot of Chinese stuff.
My favourite parts of the tour? Holding on to the marble (to cool you off) and admiring the yellow paint interiors of the hallways. It is so admirable that the 4th generation were able to preserve the original house.
It cannot be discounted that Peranakans love their history so much. Admittedly, developments can be seen from the outskirts (or shall I say the city center) but preservation of their culture is still on top of the list. From the shophouses to the food to the lively shows on weekend nights, these speak volume of how the people in Malacca treat their history.
Thirty-six hours in Malacca is not enough. I would love to go back and explore all the churches and visit all the museums. Take a cruise in Sungai Malacca during the day to see the arts by the river. Eat the chicken rice balls and go biking afterwards.
Malacca had me when I saw the light illuminating the river.