Melaka is a delight. Nestled on the southwest coast of peninsular Malaysia it has a strong history, with successive waves of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialism leaving their mark. But surprisingly its real heyday was barely a century ago, and the legacy of Chinese prosperity – the well-maintained streets of shophouses in the centre of town – is what gives Melaka its charm.
Tourists from Malaysia and afar throng here, and while tourism is a big industry this is still a living city with its own rhythm. Wandering the streets of Chinatown is the best pastime for me, though there are plenty of museums (even a stamp museum!) to keep you distracted if you wish. And then there’s food… Melaka is famous for Nonya cuisine, a blend of Chinese and Malay styles that is mostly Chinese but gentler and less fiery than its mainland origins. But there are plenty of authentic Malay and Chinese options, plus superb Indian and Portuguese-Malay fusion food can also be found.
All of my meals so far have been at least good, sometimes excellent, and include amazing satay chicken at Geographer Café (twice already and will try again today) and a Nonya meal at Restoran Peranakan of fish cooked in curry, chicken rendang and sautéed chinese greens. Today’s lunch was chicken curry with rice at a jam-packed no-frills Indian eatery, where all the food is served on a banana leaf and you mix and match as you like. Most people here were eating with their fingers and I was about to do the same, however when a tub of cutlery was placed beside me it took all of second to pick up a fork. It really is a much more sensible way to eat. And the food was brilliant: clear spicy flavours that reeked of freshness, and a bargain at just RM6 (A$2). Tonight I will probably search out some more Chinese food, perhaps fish ball soup or teow chow which is considered a local delicacy.
I had originally intended to stay here just two days but I’ve extended to a third, because I really like it here. After wandering during the day, there’s nothing better than plonking yourself at an outside table at the Geographer Café and watching people at the Jonkers Street night markets set up every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I’ve had some good random meetings too:
– on a local bus a Bangladeshi man who is in Melaka studying for his doctorate, who for six years was the HR manager at Grameen Bank (the micro-bank that won its founder the Nobel Peace prize several years ago). He has a Swiss wife but they cannot bring themselves to live in each other’s country, so they are going to Nepal to set up an NGO. As you do.
– at the Geographer Café last night: Todd, a 41-year-old Canadian who is living the dream by yachting his way around the world – very slowly. He’s nine years into it and has only made it as far as Malaysia, though he did spend a year or two in Australia. His partner Catherine is a 29-year-old French-Canadian and also an adventurer, having travelled the world in her previous life working for an aid organisation. We ended up going to Me and Mrs Jones, a piano bar of sorts where Catherine jammed with the band and Todd sang, before heading back to the Geographer for (too many) more drinks. Great people, a top night.
Today’s hangover is currently being nursed at the Discovery Café, at a shaded outdoor table close to a busy road where I’ve just watched a minor traffic bingle between a car and a bus. It’s the first genuinely nice day (the last two have been cloudy and often rainy), and I will head out this evening to take some photos in decent light. Tomorrow: a long bus journey to the Cameron Highlands, a tea and wilderness area where I plan to go bushwalking and chill out (literally) in the mild climate for a few days…