Melaka is as famous for its food as for its history, and tourists from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur come by the busload just to get a taste. The city's multicultural history means that "local food" could mean Malay, Chinese, Indian, Nyonya or even Portuguese, so plan to enjoy some diverse and yummy meals!
One of Melaka's signature dishes is chicken rice balls. Except for the roundness of the rice, it's identical to the simple dish of steamed chicken and chilli sauce you'll find elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Try it for yourself at Famosa Chicken Rice Ball in an unmissable red building on Jonker Street. The price is nine ringgit for a quarter of a chicken plus 0.30 ringgit per rice ball. You'll also find it being served at Chinese coffee shops during lunch hours.
Many of the beautiful heritage buildings in the Jonker Street area have been converted into restaurants specialising in Peranakan cuisine, a blend of Chinese and Malay cooking that originated in Melaka. Try this unique fusion food at Nancy's Kitchen, Kocik Kitchen or Cafe 1511. All are homey places serving affordable home-cooked food. Signature dishes like ikit tim (duck soup with salted veggies) or ayam buah keluak (chicken simmered with candlenuts) are about 15 ringgit for a portion big enough to share.
Most of the restaurants along the Melaka River are overpriced and underwhelming, but one exception is Riverside Kopitiam. We like the river view, but love the three ringgit breakfast sets (toast and jam, fried rice) and 4.50 ringgit daily special -- on weekends it's yummy laksa (spicy noodle soup). For Western food with your river view, head to the River Cafe at Casa Del Rio for gourmet pizzas and sandwiches starting from 20 ringgit.
If you have a sweet tooth, keep an eye out for the pineapple tart bakeries along Jonker Street. These bite-size pastries are another Peranakan specialty and melt in your mouth. Another must-try dessert is chendol, a colourful concoction of shaved iced, coconut milk, green noodles and fruit (this may mean beans and corn). It looks strange but is the perfect syrupy sweet pick-me-up in the middle of a hot, sticky afternoon. Try a bowl at Clocktower Cendol across from Dutch Square or Jonker 88 Cafe -- it'll only set you back two or three ringgit. The latter also serves mighty good chicken curry and laksa for five ringgit.
Melaka does have hawker centres -- clusters of food stalls and tables in an open-air setting -- they're just not as prevalent as in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. Head to Jonker Street Hawker Centre for a cheap meal of fried noodles, grilled satay and rojak (fruit salad in tamarind sauce). It's actually a few blocks away from the famous street, so not nearly as touristy as you'd expect. Alternatively, try Newton Food Village opposite Taming Sari Tower which offers both Chinese and Halal hawker food like bak kut teh (pork rib soup), roti canai (flatbread with curry sauce) and otak-otak (fish steamed in banana leaves). It's also one of the few places you can reliably get a meal after 22:00.
Melaka also has its own spin on satay called satay celup. Like Korean barbecue or Chinese steamboat, it's a do-it-yourself meal: select skewers of seafood, meat and veggies and then cook them in a boiling pot of spicy peanut sauce at your table. It's a slow and social meal, so round up a group and go. Try it at Capitol Satay which opens its doors at 17:00 and always has a queue of hungry people waiting outside.
For a caffeine fix, Calanthe Art Cafe offers unique coffee blends from each of Malaysia's 13 states. At 3.15 ringgit per cup you can afford to try a few, or they also offer espresso-based bevvies for six to eight ringgit. They also have a diverse food menu, yummy desserts and free WiFi.
If you're looking for Starbucks or other chain restaurants, they've been relegated to Mahkota Parade and Dataran Pahlawan Megamall. Inside their air-con climes you'll find Western fast food, chain restaurants offering everything from sushi to pizza plus a Giant Supermarket for self-catering.
Café 1511: 52 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, T: (06) 286 0150. Open 08:30-20:00, closed alternate Tuesdays.
Calanthe Art Café: 11 Jalan Hang Kasturi, T: (06) 292 2960. Open Mon-Wed 12:00-23:00, Fri 12:00-00:00, Sat 08:30-00:00, Sun 08:30-23:00.
Capitol Satay: 41 Lorong Bukit China, T: (06) 283 5508. Open Tues-Sun 17:00-late.
Clocktower Cendol: Opposite Dutch Square. Open daily 10:00-18:00.
Dataran Pahlawan: Jalan Merdeka. Open daily 10:00-22:00. http://www.dataranpahlawan.com
Kocik Kitchen: 100 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lok, T: (012) 377 4732 / (012) 330 7918. Open Mon-Tues 11:00-18:30, Fri-Sun 11:00-21:00.
Famosa Chicken Rice Ball: 28/30 Jalan Hang Kasturi, T: (06) 286 0121. Open Mon-Thurs 08:00-21:00, Fri-Sat 08:00-22:00.
Jonker 88: 88 Jonker Street, T: (019) 397 5665. Open Sun-Fri 10:00-18:00, Sat 10:00-22:00.
Jonker Street Hawker Centre: Jalan Kota Laksamana. Hours vary by stall 08:00-22:00.
Mahkota Parade: 1 Jalan Merdeka. Open daily 10:00-22:00. http://www.hektargroup.com/mahkotaparade/
Nancy's Kitchen: 7 Jalan Hang Lekir, T: (06) 283 6099. Open Mon-Thurs 11:00-17:30, Fri-Sat 11:00-21:30.
Newton Food Village: Jalan Merdeka, beside Mahkota Parade. Hours vary by stall 12:00-00:00.
River Cafe: Casa Del Rio Hotel, 88 Jalan Kota Laksamana, T: (06) 289 6888. Open daily 12:00-23:00.
Riverside Kopitiam: 22 Jalan Laksamana. Open daily 09:30-23:00.
With the exception of weekends on Jonker Street, the nightlife in Melaka is pretty low-key. The best spot to meet up with other travellers for a drink is usually at a guesthouse. If yours isn't rockin', the Discovery Cafe and Guesthouse is the surest thing. Plus there's pool, darts, occasional live music and the self-proclaimed cheapest beer in town from seven ringgit.
A sure sign that Melaka has become a stop on the backpacker trail, it now has a branch of the infamous Bucket Bar. At 50 ringgit for a bucket of whiskey and coke this sure isn't Ko Pha Ngan prices, but nightly promotions mean the next one (or two) might be free. Expect good music, a fun-loving crowd and, yes, a beer bong.
For something a bit more sophisticated, try The Geographer Cafe in a beautifully restored shophouse along Jonker Street. It attracts a mature crowd with soft jazz, expertly mixed cocktails and healthy cuisine. Prices are about as expensive as it gets in Melaka, but they do take credit cards. This is the place to be on weekends when the funky music from the live bands spills out into the Jonker Night Market.
Another spot for live music is Honky Tonk Haven Cafe run by an expat jazz pianist. The jam sessions are sporadic, but we love the retro decor with records on the wall and generous happy hour from opening until 20:00.
Though they're more restaurant than bar, there are numerous places along the Melaka River to put your feet up and enjoy a cold beer. Lao San Cafe sells beer starting from 12 ringgit for Tiger and serves light meals like fried rice and vegetarian curry right until midnight. They also make a mighty good bowl of chendol. The Riverside Kopitiam has a lower mark-up, with beer from eight ringgit and soft drinks from two ringgit. They usually stay open until the posted time of 23:00 on weekends, but close earlier on weekdays if there aren't any customers.
A riverside Hard Rock Cafe is scheduled to open in December 2012 and will definitely inject some energy into Melaka's nightlife.
Bucket Bar: 14 Jalan Laksamana, T: (06) 286 7866. Open daily 17:00-01:00.
Discovery Cafe &Guesthouse: 3 Jalan Bunga Raya, T: (06) 292 5606. Open daily 12:00-late.
Honky Tonk Haven: 68 Lorang Hang Jebat, Open Wed-Mon 15:00-00:30, T: (06) 281 0763.
Lao San Cafe: 84 Lorang Hang Jebat, T: 06-288 3630. Open daily 12:00-00:00.
Riverside Kopitiam: 22 Jalan Laksamana. Open daily 09:30-23:00.
The Geographer Cafe: 83 Jalan Hang Jebat, T: (06) 281 6813. Open daily 10:00-01:00. http://www.geographer.com.my/
The Malaysian city of Melaka has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its exciting history, but we think it also deserves recognition for its amazing food. Over the 500 years since this port city was founded, people from China, India, the Middle East and Europe have travelled here to do business and many stayed, contributing their favourite recipes to Melaka's food culture. Few... Read our full review of A taste of Melaka.