Day 3. Cloudy with a chance of chicken rice balls.
After two days of non-stopping eating within a close distance between Kuala Lumpur, Klang and Petaling Jaya, it’s time to leave Selangor state and venture out to look for regional food in other cities. We hop back into the car and set off for a longer day trip to the oldest city in Malaysia – Melaka.
Melaka (or Melacca) is where it all began. This historical city has actually been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site since 2008. It is inevitable that Melaka town has always been a popular holiday destination among tourists and locals who seek a weekend getaway. I still remember when I visited Melaka when I was only 14yo maybe, I was so excited. Reading all about the history in textbook is nothing compare to actually being in the historical site itself. I was fascinated by all the western influenced architecture, churches and long strip of shops were all painted in distinctive deep maroon red colour.
We parked our car at the bottom of the hill not far from Christ Church, and take a stroll around the forecourt, bemused by the highly decorated over-the-top rickshaws with loud pop songs blasting away, spruiking for tourists to take them out for a spin. We have to decline the offer and veer into the side lane to check out the souvenir shops for bargains. But it is the food that we are hoping to find, even the only souvenir I bought here are “chopsticks”. Go figure that.
Kedai Kopi Chung Wah
The best area for lunch will have to be Jonker Street, a stone throw away across the river from Christ Church. I am not quite sure why but Hainanese chicken rice is extremely popular here in Melaka. You’ll find restaurants within 100 meter distance on the same street selling the same dish. Kedai Kopi Chung Wah has long been a popular institution in Melaka for its unusual Hainanese chicken rice ball and also the place that I usually will bring friends who are visiting from overseas along for lunch.
There is already a long queue outside the restaurant by the time we arrive. The sky is also getting darker and threaten to rain, but thank god the queue moves swiftly, and the boss lady also already start taking orders before we’re even seated. We eventually move up to the front of the queue and get ushered into a crowded room, taking over a marble-top table at the far end corner.
No monkey business here, you sit down, you eat, and you leave. Five of us share a whole chicken which is chopped into an unrecognised mess with skin clinging to the flesh. Despite the disappointing presentation, the Hainan chicken is juicy and velvety smooth. The chicken rice balls are less than 20 cents each. The extra mushy “oil rice” is compacted into golf-ball size nuggets by hands, unfortunately the quintessential fluffiness of steamed rice no more. Apart from the novelty value, I find the rice balls are too stodgy and filling. Five chicken rice balls each are more than enough as is sensible to leave space for more food elsewhere later.
We have a stroll along Jonker Street after lunch, checking out some of the shops selling t-shirts designed by local artists. Minh couldn’t resist and get me a cheeky t-shirt with the design of a rubber tree and it says, “Play safe, use Malaysia condom“. Thanks Minh! I will wear it proudly when I have the urge to spread the “love”. It is absolutely pouring down outside when we leave the shops, which does only mean one thing – to look for shelter and get more food.
Famosa Chicken Rice Ball
We stumble upon another restaurant selling chicken rice balls, a bigger space but just as packed with tourists. The Famosa Chicken Rice Ball restaurant is actually a franchise with two restaurants within the distance of 50 meters apart. We are mainly looking for chendol, but couldn’t help and order a few more local specialties to try, the nyonya food in particular. Nyonya is the descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Melaka, intermarrying with local Malays and Nyonya food is the result of blending Chinese ingredients with spices used by the Malay/Indonesian community.
The otak-otak comes unwrapped which I suspect that it is not prepared the traditional way by just steaming them instead of grilling them inside banana leaves for that extra charcoal flavour. Nevertheless, the big chunk of fish cake is light and soft, with bold spicy flavour of lemongrass, chilli and tumeric. A squeeze of the kalamansi lime that comes with the otak-otak to give it the extra soury tang.
The roast pork (Siew Yuk) never fails to satisfy one’s craving for extra crunchy cracklings. It is a luxurious mouth feel biting into the ribbons of fat, the five-spiced salty tender meat and the earth shattering crunchy crackling. This time we give yam rice balls a try, the darker colour yam balls are even stodgier and mushier than the normal chicken rice balls, not really a big fan.
But the nyonya chendol is definitely the highlight during our food trail in Melaka. A mount of fine shaved ice is heavily soaked in gula melaka (palm sugar) and condensed with thick coconut cream. Big fat kidney beans add texture and sweetness while the squiggly green pandan noodles are slippery smooth, I enjoy the sensational feeling of noodles sipping through the gap between my teeth.
No. 1 Kopitiam Famous Authentic Nyonya Cendol
You can never have too much Chendol. Not the most original name for a kopitiam, but this hole-in-the-wall institution seems to be very popular with tourists due to its petite kitsch quirkiness. The No.1 Kopitiam Famous Authentic Nyonya Cendol is no wider than 3 metres wide and the narrow pokey space is pretty much occupied with two bench tops and rows of stools, shelves are stacked with Coca-Cola paraphernalia which are now gathering dusts. It even has a Facebook page!
The lady owner, let’s called her “Cendol Aunty’, was apparent the collector of all the Coca-Cola memorabilia, she told us herself in fluent English. There is also some old toys (Rubiks Cube! Troll! Voltran!) on display that really bring back a lot of my childhood memories.
The cendol here is also smaller in portion just like the shop, a small shaved-iceberg soaked with gula melaka is floating in a pool of weak coconut milk. The cendol is less intense and more appealing to those who don’t like it too sweet, dollop of red beans instead of kidney beans adds texture and something to chew on.
Why stop at two when we can have more? We then head off to Tan Kim Hock for some souvenir shopping of local sweets and snacks including chewy durian dodols, fried banana chips, preserved fruits and cookies. But we are also here to try their own version of the cendol – the durian cendol. Helen, Simon and I are the only contenders for this round, while Minh and The Beardman are more than happy to just sit back, rubbing their bloated stomachs and watch us eat. Despite the durian cendol is served in a plastic bowl with a cute sunflower cardboard holder, the cendol itself is absolutely rubbish, nothing could be worse than tasting one’s vomit.
Newton Culture Food Village
It’s dinner time. Don’t be alarm, we actually did have a few hours break after our cendol marathon and went sightseeing after the rain has stopped. We even waddled up to St John’s Fort which is built right on top of the hill, then veered down to the famous Fort A Famosa for some star jump photo opportunities and checking out tourists with their funny poses on the cannons. A little bit of exercise and laughter did somehow gain our appetite back.
We are so looking forward to a Nyonya dinner during the trip and Simon also has been on the mobile phone googling whole day to look for the best Nyonya restaurant to try. Unfortunately when we arrive at the restaurant that we’ve chosen to find it closed, we have no choice and everyone is also little weary after a long day and decide to have our last meal in Melaka at the Newton Culture Food Village just nearby.
The Newton Culture Food Village seems to be a well looked after food court with clean non-greasy marble-top tables and wooden stools. Two rows of food stalls on each side are mainly focus on local delicacies. Me and Helen take in charge of the ordering and off wandering to check out all the stalls while the others minding the table.
Cuttlefish with KangKung in sweet chilli sauce has to be one of my favourite Malaysia street food. The blanched cuttlefish slices are elastically crunchy, smothered in hot sweet chilli sauce on top of a bed of crunchy blanched kangkung. The deep-fried chicken in paper parcel (紙包雞) is something I haven’t had for a long time and very nostalgic to me. The chicken wings are coated in five spice then sealed inside a paper parcel made from tracing paper before dunking into hot oil and deep fry. It is always a little tricky to open the parcel as the chicken skin tend to stick to the paper and tear the flesh along. The chicken is nicely marinated in five spice, while others find the meat a tad dry, I just think they are too oily to handle. The oyster omelette here is actually quite decent, plump juicy little oysters cooked in a thick omelette that is not too greasy and soft.
I used to hate blood cockles when I was a kid, because of the fishy metallic bitter taste. I guess same with game meat, liver, oyster, you tend to appreciate them as you grow older. Cheap as ‘chaps’, we score a mount of blanched blood cockles for only RM2.00. I love food that needs interaction, from sucking chicken feet, peeling prawn, cracking peanut, to open the cockles shell and dip the soft juicy flesh into a chilli dipping sauce. It is a slow rewarding process that shall be enjoy with pleasure.
Finally we get to try some otak-otak that is done the traditional way. Value for money, buy 10 get 1 free deal for less than AUD$2.00 is simply too hard to resist. A small piece of spicy fish cake is wrapped inside bamboo leaves then grilled until charred on the outside to give the fishcake a nice smokey flavour. The otak-otak is firmer, spicier and everyone is going back for second or third.
We ate so much in Melaka and seriously I thought I am going to be sick, in sitting position with seat belt tightening my stomach while driving for another 2 hours all the way back to Kuala Lumpur. A torturing two hours journey but it was so worth it.
Next, our journey is heading north and up…
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Postcard from Malaysia 2010 – Kuala Lumpur
Kedai Kopi Chung Wah 18, Jalan Hang Jebat 75200 Melaka, Malaysia Opening hours: Open 7 days 7.30am-3pm Famosa Chicken Rice Ball 21 Jalan Hang Jebat (Jonker Street) 75200 Melaka, Malaysia Tel: +60 (06) 286 0120 No 1 Kopitiam Famous Authentic Nyonya Cendol No. 1 Jalan Hang Jebat (Jonker Street) 75200 Melaka, Malaysia Tel: +60 (06) 335 7443 / 013 680 4473 Tan Kim Hock 85, 87 & 89 Jalan Bendahara 75100 Melaka, Malaysia Tel: +60 (06) 281 2763 / 282 6099 Newton Culture Food Village PT 499, Jalan Merdeka Kaw. Bandar XLII, 75000 Melaka, Malaysia Tel: +60 (06) 282 0448