It has been centuries since people first fought over the town of Melaka. Flash forward to present day and not much has changed; well maybe some things have changed. Instead of fighting over the beneficial trading port, people are fighting for a seat at the Satay Celup restaurant, And for all that I cared, food is the commodity I always sought here.My recent visit to Melaka has inspired me to dig deeper into my father’s homeland and to understand the root of Melaka’s unique cuisine. From the time when Cheng Ho’s Armada set foot on Melaka’s docks, to when Portuguese conqueror Alfonso de Albuquerque built his fortress, each have brought their culinary culture from their native land.The inevitable blends of local and exotic flavors come together to form fusion food at it’s best and the combinations of foods can become as complicated as identifying one’s heritage in this town.
Thankfully, in 2008,UNESCO has named this small town one of the world’s heritage, preserving my memories of the authentic fusion food as fresh as ever.I spent an afternoon admiring the deep red Portuguese church, the colonial styled houses and the Chinese lanterns which dotted the roofs of houses on the famous Jonker street. Following these lanterns, I ended up right in front of one of my childhood favorites, Hoe Kee’s famous chicken rice balls.
The antiquity of Ho Kee’s transcends me to another time, until the smell of tangy, spicy ginger sauce hits me and forces me to look at what lies in front of me. My eyes bounce from the plate of juicy broiled chicken to the bowl of black bean soup with the bobbing chicken foot, but my eyes land on the tasty rice balls.These unique rice balls are just a twist on your typical Hainan Chicken rice. The same rice is used and then rolled by hand with a little water to form golf-sized balls. The texture is stickier and more moist but the flavor remains the same. The combination of fragrant rice, juicy chicken meat and tasty chilly sauce makes me live another flash back moment.
After Hoe Kee’s, I set off to quench one of my other cravings: the best Satay in Melaka. Satay has always been just a casual snack to me and never had I seen a shop dedicated to skewering meats and unusual organs before. I needed someone to guide me through my first intestine and liver Satay, enter Ming, owner and chef of Ming Satay Hut. After getting back stage access to this one-man show, I watched as he placed turmeric-marinated meats onto the charcoal grill and vigorously fanned away. Within minutes he served them on a plate accompanied with cucumber, red onions and Ketupat (compressed rice.) The timely matter that the Satay was prepared in results in it’s crunchy and juiciness. The liver had an irony taste, slightly chewy and grainy while the intestine was rubbery yet soft, but what made them easy to swallow was the sweet peanut sauce. The combination of peanuts, dried chili, shallots and onions are what also make the typical Satay sauce, but Ming’s secret ingredient is pineapple.
Is Satay too ordinary for you? How about Satay Celup? Just like a boiling pot of cultures, Satay Celup would be Melaka’s version of a hot pot. Here is a short guide to Satay Celup for first timers. First,pick from a selection of fish balls, liver, vegetables, mushrooms, tofu, fried bread and more then dip the skewers into the boiling pot and wait for it to cook. It’s as simple as that! The peanut sauce is slightly spicy with a strong peanut taste, serves as a marinade as well as a sauce.Can’t get enough? They sell Satay Celup sauce to go in a dry paste, so it’s great to enjoy with friends at home.
Even on a busy day there is always room for dessert, I head over to Lao Qian Ice Café inside San Shu Gong for a dessert with a local flare.Durian Cendol, a strange combination I first thought. This pandan flavored jelly is also a popular dessert in Thai cuisine but paired with Malaysia’s deadliest fruit made it hard for me to not give it a try.The waiter returned holding a cardboard cut out of a durian, in the middle of it was a bowl with crushed ice, jelly pandan, creamy coconut cream and the concentrated Durian puree. The Durian was too strong for me and I had to order the regular to get rid of the after taste, but looking around at other tables, I found that everyone else seemed to be enjoying it.
If Cheng Ho and Alfonso de Albuquerque were to fight in a food competition, I think I would have a hard time judging. But lets just say that I have conquered some of the best Melaka has to offer, and you should too if you’re ever in Malaysia!
Ming Satay Hut
G-33, Jalan PM4,Plaza Mahkota,75000
Restoran Ban Lee Siang Satay Celup @ Jalan Ong Kim Wee
45E, Jalan Ong Kim Wee
No. 4, 6 & 8 Jalan Hang Jebat,75200
San Shu Gong
33, Jalan Hang Jebat, 75200