'The World's Best Coconut Fingerer'

Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Malaysia  , Melaka State,
Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Melaka. I never expected such a contrast. This is where a lot of the history is, and precisely why it's been such an odd-ball, such a hard place to pigeon-hole. If the British hadn't have kicked the Dutch out, and the Dutch hadn't have kicked the Portuguese out, and the Portuguese hadn't have kicked the Chinese out (not to mention the Japanese invasion during WWII) Melaka probably wouldn't have the charm and calm it has today. It's certainly seen a bit of action.

These last few days have proved it to be a very relaxed and civilised little town, and we couldn't have timed our arrival more perfectly. Each weekend sees Chinatown in full swing. Both exits are blocked off to traffic and the whole strip is lined with villagers standing proud behind their meticulously laid out stalls at the side of the road. It's everything you would imagine and more: endless assortments of hand-made trinkets, housewares carved from coconut palms, glinting souvenirs that catch the eye from afar and a whole feast of street food to die for.

At the opposite end of the strip is a huge stage, ornately decorated and dominating the far end of the square. For the entire evening it's occupied one-at-a-time by karaoke-obsessed villagers, all belting out classical Chinese music from the 1940's through a PA system that would satisfy half of Wembley stadium. I've never seen anything like it. Absolute madness. We must have been there ages flittering about. Even the back roads are exquisitely lit and home to a healthy number of eateries tucked away for more excitable discovery.

Melaka's famous for its history of course, but it's also famous for its food - more importantly the history of it's food, some of which dates back to the days when the Chinese settlers first came over and got flirty with the Malays. Those that 'got it on' fused more than their love and loins, founding a delectable cuisine that would have people dribbling for centuries. Peranakan (or Baba Nonya) was born. And so, as we strolled through the night market this fine weekend sniffing in the knee-weakening aromas we were amazed at the variety: radish cakes, Nyonya tarts, Popiah, dim sum, whole fire-roasted baby crabs, pigs bits and all sorts of unidentifiable nibbles. We didn't get to try the famous 'Devil's Curry' (fused with a delightful spiking of Portuguese fieriness) but did get to try the 'Famosa rice ball' (rice rolled in to balls for a novel and striking variety on a classic theme) with the usual BBQ roast hacked up and fanned out on top. Eventually, I got my hands on a Nyonya asam laksa and groaned for a good hour. Spot on.

Pushing through more of the backstreets saw us witness a timely spectacle. As well as their passion for belting out a bit of karaoke, Malaysians are known for their obsession with records (they have their OWN book of records), and it was at this moment that we saw a lively demonstration of driving ones finger through a coconut by the man who pioneered the fastest and most brutal method. I'll try and upload the the video clip at some point. Again, madness.

And there's more: the dogs here are long, and have huge swinging udders. With rows and rows of teats. Like the underside of a pig. Speaking of pigs, we were walking down some dimly lit street late one night and happened upon a guy pulling dozens of pigs off the back of a truck and hacking them into pieces with an axe. He stopped and looked at us and we stopped and looked at him. No one said anything. Then we walked off into the night.

I've been having the weirdest dreams I've had in a long time.

Oh and I'm loving the way things are written how they're said. Example: to get from A to B over a reasonable distance you could take the 'bas ekspres', otherwise you could just take a 'teksi'. You might want to stop for cup of 'teh' and a 'biskut' though, or even a bite to eat, and maybe you are wanting to spice up your dumpling 'sop' a little bit, in which case you'd just ask for the chilli 'sos'. Of course. Just as natural as going to the 'farmasi' for a toothbrush. And if the conversation starts to thin out over a beer you could always challenge someone to a game of 'sanuka' or 'pul' and if things really get out of hand you just call for the 'Polis'. Nice and simple. That's how it is here.

We're staying at Ringo's Foyer guesthouse, which is actually more of a hostel than a guesthouse. From the outside it looks like it once took a good bombing but it's just the job. Raymond the owner is so helpful and hell-bent on making everyone comfortable it almost hurts. I left Barsie on the roof today and headed over to the Town Square. I wanted to see Stadthuys, the monuments and the museums. Barsie wasn't into it, so I had a good few hours there and took in as much as I could, even ducked in to the Political Museum for a lengthy shot of air-con. It took me about five ice-lollies to walk back. Still persevering with the humidity. Still dripping wet.

All in all, chuffed with Melaka. Me-like-a Melaka, and the final Melakan touch came tonight, down at the Capitol satay restoran. A few of us from the hostel went over. The Capitol is famous for its 'satay celup', a vat of hot bubbling 'mama's secret' satay sauce fixed in to the middle of the table above a chunky gas burner. Available 'only in Melaka', it has been a thriving business for three generations. Once seated you take a stroll over to the cold display and pick your raw skewered goodies - anything from pig lung and cockles to veggies, quails eggs, tofu and prawns.

Back at the table you thrust your sticks into the boiling sauce and lick your lips as it cooks. Each stick costs 60 cents (about 10 pence.) This is good enough of course but the excitement that came from our visit was nigh on overwhelming. Apart from an old couple outside we were the only westerners there and in just a few minutes of leisurely banter we had the owner zipping backwards and forwards from the table showing us his photo collection of Europe and all sorts of trophies and certificates he'd collected over the years in each of our 'home countries' as an international Karate champ. Proper character, proper nice guy. Then the big guns came out. He brought over a full tray of killer prawns - one for each of us - to dunk into the boiling satay. I kid you not they were like steaks. Then he gave us all a cold beer on the house and sat telling us stories. Happy days.

What we didn't know is that during all this, the waitress had nipped off to get the other waitresses from out the back, and wanted pictures of us, which then turned into single pictures, pair-offs, three-ways and more group photos, all accompanied with giggles and squeals - absolute pandemonium considering we were right in the middle of the restaurant while the rest of the place was trying to dine. Again, MADNESS. I can't say I've had many nights like that.

I've been in Malaysia only a week..
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cguzik on

Good Food
Glad to hear you are enjoying the Asian delicatessen. Looking good. The writing is awesome and reminds me of Anthony Bourdain's TV show. :)


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