The alliteration of ‘M’ words is by no means coincidental. Put together the ‘M’s and it spells ‘Mmmmm’ – which is exactly how one would feel after a trip to our friendly neighbours Malaysia.
Food in Malaysia tends to be identified with a particular area or town – Ipoh hor fun, Penang laksa, KL hokkien mee, Klang ba ku teh. All these individual locations deserve a post on their own, given the true gastronomical excellence that they provide: in each locality, almost every outlet selling the said dishes are of decent, if not top notch, quality. I shall attempt, in this post, to offer a glimpse into the spectrum of Malaysian fare available using the town of Malacca as an example.
In a recent trip to Malaysia, I was in Malacca and made a trip down to the famed Jonker Street – which , at night, turns into a pedestrianised street (aptly called Jonker Walk) night market selling foodstuff, mobile phone and fashion accessories and much more. Being a food blog, we will of course focus on the food; however, the history of the street should not be neglected. Back in the old days, Jonker Street was where rich Chinese merchants – trading in the port of Malacca – congregated and settled, making the street the centre of the Chinese community. If you look around, old buildings of Chinese clan associations and temples still exist in their original incarnations.
The street market offers fare ranging from the sweet to the savoury, snacks to wholesome meals. Here are some highlights.
Muah Chee – glutinous rice snack coated in peanuts
The muah chee here was really smooth and I liked how the peanuts actually are able to fully coat the rice chunks . Also, the peanut coating was not overly sweet and you could taste the roasted flavour of the peanuts – which is something most muah chee stalls aren’t able to boast.
We get this almost everywhere in Singapore and given a choice, I’d opt for the Singaporean version more often than not. However, note that the fried carrot cake in Jonker Street (and the wider Malaysian food scene) is different from what we’re used to in Singapore. Vendors tend to add bean sprouts into the frying mix and this, I feel, makes a huge difference to how it tastes – perhaps a little too healthy hence my deference to the Singaporean version. Also, often there isn’t a choice between the black and white versions that we are familiar with in Singapore. I guess that’s a good thing because you only need to order one plate, unlike in Singapore where it’s too tempting to just order both!
This is interesting. Basically it is a deep fried whole potato cut into small slices. After which you can choose your flavouring ranging from mayonnaise, chilli, black pepper to cheese. Essentially this is like your packet potato crisps, just that its freshly made on the spot.
Just look at the durian cream oozing out of the puff! This was really good, especially since it’s served chilled. The pastry was thin and light, which complemented the durian cream inside. If you’re looking at this and expecting it to taste like the S$7 for 2 durian puffs sold at Goodwood Park Hotel, Singapore, you’re missing the point. The puffs here are not stuffed with a thick durian filling; rather it’s a watered down version which is surprisingly refreshing – a unique description of anything durian-related. Moreover, at RM5 for 3 (that’s S$2) it is well worth the money spent
Coconut JellyThis is my personal favourite. It is basically gelatinised coconut water. This means that the natural coconut taste is preserved and not artificially enhanced and, once again, an extremely refreshing option on a hot, humid day.
This was not anything particularly special, aside from the fact that the variety was pleasantly abundant and that the ingredients were fresh and served piping hot. No need to queue for hours (*ahem* Tim Ho Wan) or pay sky high prices (*ahem* Yan Ting) if all you want is to satisfy a craving for a couple of prawn dumplings or siew mais.
Takoyaki – Japanese Dumpling Balls
I have always felt takoyaki should be a staple in street markets, given how light a snack and how universally palatable they are. I mean if you don’t take the original octopus fillings, go for cheese! Or if you’re allergic to prawns, have the sausage option! In fact, to me at least, takoyaki balls actually whet up one’s appetite so its presence should benefit the other stallholders as well. The ones here aren’t exceptional as they are too floury for my liking. But, as I mentioned, a must have in every street market.
As a dish, this is one I always look out for anywhere I go. The thing about Malaccan fried oysters is that they fry the oysters for a rather more substantial amount of time than Singaporean hawkers. Hence you get a oysters that are more cooked. Somewhat similar to the oysters you get in Penang. I personally prefer this style because the oysters become less watery and, texture-wise, goes better with the fried flour. If you are Hepatitis-paranoid, perhaps this version will set your mind at ease (if only by a little).
There are also sweet snacks available along Jonker Walk. Here is kueh dadar, a nonya pancake role filled with grated coconut. The one I bought was pretty mediocre but at only RM1? Always worth a punt.
We adjourned to a nearby zi char restaurant for dinner after roaming the streets for snacks. Well everyone deserves a proper meal after walking so much!
We elected to come to this eatery just metres away from the main food street. The waiting time for the food was more than half an hour but I tell you when the food arrived it, it was thoroughly worth it.
The curry fish head was delightful, the fragrant curry taste and generous servings of veggies. It also wasn’t too oil unlike most other curry dishes. The fish was fresh and cooked to perfection – usually most curry fish head would be pre-prepared, and hence likely to be overcooked; this one had no such problems.
Salted egg yolk fried chickenBasically this was fried chicken coated with a salted egg yolk paste. It could be ordered with pork ribs, prawns or chicken and we opted for the latter. This was quite a unique take on a common zi char dish. The salted egg yolk paste was not too thick, yet it was ultra creamy in texture. No way did it taste like a heart attack waiting to happen as you’d expect with such a rich dish. I also found it a nice touch that the chicken pieces were filleted for our convenience and I was happy to devour each piece whole.
Claypot pork cooked with sesame oil and salted fish
This was nice, especially when eaten with plain rice. The pork was very soft and the salted fish bits added a panache to the overall taste of the dish.
Tofu with seafood topped with dried scallops
This was another enjoyable dish. The seafood, comprising prawn and squid, was fresh. What impressed me was the generous toppings of dried scalloped – which was fried till crispy, so much so I almost mistook them for shallot bits! That, of course, would not have done the dish any justice as the scallops – in the way they were fried – definitely enhanced the taste of the dish by miles.
For the sake of a wholesome meal, we also ordered spinach fried with garlic and long beans with dried shrimp. The long beans were especially good, in fact it was so good that it was long gone before I could even snap a close up picture of it. I guess it was due to the fragrance of the dried shrimp; again I suspect that they had pre-fried the dried shrimp before putting in the beans.
Restaurant Chong Sek
20,Jalan Portugis,75200 Melaka
75200 Melaka, Malaysia
Malacca, and indeed Malaysia as a whole, is certainly a good place to visit for food – the peranakan food scene here is famous but sadly overly commercialised. But try your luck and visit any independently-run eateries or stalls and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. More Malaysian posts to come – watch this space!