What better way to spend a long weekend than to go for a short overseas trip? And being the nearest and quite possibly the most value-for-money, Malaysia would be the best bet for most Singaporeans! That is of course assuming you’re willing to suffer severe traffic congestion across the causeway and long, snaking queues at the customs area just to get there in one piece.
So against the well-intended advice of my parents, my husband and I decided to risk a three-day sojourn at Malacca – the place where the history of Malaysia first began – leaving our dear little canine friend in the care of mum and dad.
The real tourist draw in this little town was Jonker Street or in their local term of reference, Jalan Hang Jebat, where you can find rows upon rows of quaint little shops selling crafts, antique dating back to the days of the original straits chinese, and a diverse range of local produce. Malacca is of course known for their cuisine as well, influenced by a hotchpotch of various cultures including the Dutch, Portugese, British, Chinese immigrants, and of course, the cultural legacies left behind by Parameswara, a Srivijayan prince of Palembang who fled from his Sumatran enclaves.
Think of Malacca and you’ll think of its famous chicken rice balls, chendol lavished with generous dollops of gula melaka, and asam dishes. So for us, the true intent of this trip was a gastronomical one. And all thanks to our favorable exchange rates, I got to enjoy a really lovely bowl of authentic asam laksa at this place called Jonker 88, at only half of what you’ll pay here in Singapore! By the way, did you know that real chendol are pale green in colour?
Of course, things being relatively cheaper doesn’t translate to indiscriminate spending. That said, Singaporeans often find themselves buying excessively because it’s cheaper here (in Malaysia) than it is back home or simply because the things here (like the gula melaka) are perceived to be a whole lot more authentic. I found myself resisting the urge to spend but ended up with quite a few new items for my wardrobe, including a beautiful Nonya kebaya from the Nonya Heritage shop.
The locals have responded to tourist demands with a vibrant ecosystem that panders to our every want, complete with a pasar malam (night market) to end the weekend nights. What we noticed was the growth of shops that carried mass-produced local crafts, some of which looked like antiques but were in fact not by strict definition. A word with a shopkeeper who sold antique crockery and brick-a-brack left behind by generations of Straits Chinese revealed that even the items she carried were not always authentic. We were told that “the real plates can cost you few thousands while the cheaper imitations were only $200 on average”.
Fancy eating out of a $5,000 bowl left behind by generations of Straits Chinese? We decided to settle for a bowl of local wonton soup at a roadside coffeeshop instead, and that, even after we’ve had our fill of chicken rice balls. Think I put on at least 2-3kg from a three day sojourn. On the topic of chicken rice balls, there are at least 4 such shops within the Jonker Street area. Well, which is better? I guess it’s a matter of personal preference and perceived value; most of the shops are quite packed to the brim if that’s any indication at all of quality. Although I’m not a big fan of chicken rice to begin with, I can’t deny that the rice balls were really quite yummy. I didn’t like the chicken though. They were a tad tough compared to those we have in Singapore. I was to understand a little later on that the chicken served here in Singapore are tender because of hormone injections. Hmm.
Nonya food is a definite must-try when you’re in Malacca. Apart from Jonker 88 which serves fairly decent meals at hawker prices, one might also wish to pay a visit to the several Nonya restaurants located along Jalan Merdeka: Ole Sayang, Indah Sayang and several others. My husband and I have tried both Ole and Indah, and found the food fresh, the rustic ambience complete with marble table tops delightful.
Overall, the trip to Malacca was a memorable one. After all, it’s not everyday you get to spend alone time with your spouse, and that alone was more valuable to me than all the chendols, chicken rice balls, and asam laksas in the world!