Renowned as much for its culinary cultural diversity as its history, Melaka draws busloads of foodies from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur just to get a taste, and most famously dished up here is Peranakan cuisine (also known as “Nyonya”), born from a mix of Malay and Chinese traditions, but like most children, it has it own distinctive personality and flavours. Stir in Indian, Portuguese, Malay, Chinese and even British and get set to feast on some diverse and mouth-watering fare.
Previously most Peranakan restaurants were found around Chinatown, but several became so popular they moved from their charming origins to less charming but larger premises in the suburbs. It’s worth jumping in a cab to indulge, but you’d be wise to book in advance to avoid a wasted trip.
Busy Nancy’s Kitchen is housed in a nondescript block of modern shophouses about one and a half kilometres from the centre of town. This is one of Melaka’s most famous and popular Peranakan restaurants, and rightly so: The menu covers a broad range of Peranakan dishes, and it’s worth trying a couple of meals to sample the diverse flavours. Dishes come in small, medium or large for sharing. We tried a handful, and recommend ayam buah keluak (chicken with black nut), also available in a pork version, and an iconic Peranakan dish. Buah keluak, the black nut that gives this dish its distinctive truffle-like flavour, originates from a tree grown in the mangrove swamps of Southeast Asia. They are poisonous unless prepared properly, as they contain hydrogen cyanide; traditionally the seeds are boiled then buried in ash, banana leaves and earth for 40 days. Who discovers these methods? The results are delish. (This same seed is used in the popular Indonesian beef dish, rawon.) With Nancy’s version, you request how many nuts you would like with your order, then scoop out the fragrant black paste (15 to 25 ringgit; extra nuts 2 ringgit each).
We also tried tasty bite-sized pai tee or top hats (6 ringgit for 5), filled with turnip, herbs, eggs and other veggies (also try the popiah with the same filling in a fresh spring roll-like wrapping, for 4 ringgit). Not for the faint hearted, but worth trying is cincalok ulam (fermented shrimp salad), a pungent side dish served with chilli onion and petai (stinky beans) (5 ringgit). Servings are mostly large (don’t listen to the staff, who will tell you otherwise). Leave room to try the Nyonya desserts and cakes. As well as a range of traditional drinks, Nancy’s Kitchen serves alcoholic mead and apple cider. try to get a table on the ground floor. Ask about their occasional Peranakan cooking classes (180 ringgit per person).
Also out of the centre of town, Donald and Lilly has a less extensive, but no less authentic menu. This simple lunchtime joint has slightly different offerings Friday to Sunday than other days. We tried nasi ketuk ayam rendang (10.50 ringgit) which came with rice coloured blue from pea flowers and taukua rojak (7 ringgit), vegetables with a sticky palm sugar and tamarind sauce. Their Nyonya laksa (6.90 ringgit) is the most popular dish on the menu. Cendol gula Melaka (3.80 ringgit) is a refreshing way to end a meal; here they add shaved ice to the traditional sago, palm sugar and coconut dish. Wander into the open kitchen to see the vats of pea flowers soaking to give colour to the traditional cakes and rice. No reservations.
A little further out in the Tengkera area, Baba Charlie Nyonya Cakes offers a huge variety of colourful, glutinous treats made from rice flour, palm sugar and coconut. Most have only a short shelf life and need to be eaten on the day of purchase. It’s not all cakes: Try the sticky rice Nyonya dumplings (bak chang) wrapped in bamboo leaves with chicken (5 ringgit) or have a fresh popiah (3.50 ringgit) or pai tee (4 ringgit for 4) made while you wait (there’s nowhere to sit down to enjoy them). If you’d like to try some Peranakan cooking yourself, take home a container of dried pea flowers for the authentic blue colouring; you’ll see the pretty flowers growing along the lane as you enter the shop. Stop by the historic Tengkera Mosque when you go.
Back in the downtown area, Kocik Kitchen on Heeren Street offer delightful authentic surroundings in a traditional shophouse and is handy for lunch (and dinner on weekends) if you’re sightseeing in the heritage area. Their extensive menu includes good value set lunches Monday to Friday, and set banquets for groups of five to ten. We enjoyed the spicy sambal petai prawns (prawns with stinky beans) (20 ringgit) and pucuk paku belacan (fern tips with shrimp paste)(12 ringgit). A few vegetarian versions of famous Nyonya dishes are on offer too, and you can wash your meal down with a beer.
If you’re after a quick bite after visiting the Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum, pop in next door to Cafe 1511 for an assam laksa (7.90 ringgit). Wander around to Jonker 88 at, you guessed it, 88 Jonker Street, where this busy cafe dishes up several versions of their famous laksa and coloured mountains of icy cendol. Head to the back of the restaurant past the somewhat odd collections of currency to the self-service counter (two separate queues for mains or dessert). We tried the special jumbo baba laksa (10.50 ringgit), and it was one of the tastiest in town, however we’d suggest going for a smaller serving—we were too full to try the cendol. This is a quick in-and-out joint.
At the other end of the street, Kuih Nyonya on the corner of Lorong Hang Jebat make a lip-smacking Nyonya cendol with fresh coconut milk, home-cooked red beans and al dente green worms (made from mung bean flour) piled onto a pyramid of shaved ice and drizzled with palm sugar syrup (4.90 ringgit). Or try one of their warm melt-in-the-mouth Portuguese egg tarts. Meanwhile, East West Rendezvous on Lorong Hang Jebat are known for their pork and glutinous (blue) rice dumplings—you’ll see them hanging up wrapped in bamboo leaves along with another Nyonya favourite, buttery pineapple tarts.
Wild Coriander was newly opened when we visited in March 2017, and is set in a delightful riverside location in a beautiful old shophouse, and offers some Nyonya tastes. Staff here are particularly friendly and chatty too. On the other side of town near the malls around Jalan Merdeka, three equally well known Peranakan restaurants, Amy Heritage Nyonya Cuisine, Cottage Spices and Restoran Nyonya Makko, fight it out for supremacy. Locals we asked all cited different ones as their favourite or most authentic.
For a five-star Peranakan treat, indulge in high tea at the beautifully restored Majestic Hotel, daily 15:00 to 18:00 for 50 ringgit. Or slightly more casual, try the daily changing six-course tiffin lunch at riverside River Cafe at Casa Del Rio, 12:00 to 16:00 (38 ringgit).
Amy Heritage Nonya Cuisine 75 Jalan Melaka Raya 24, Melaka; T: (06) 286 8819; Tu-Su: 11:30–14:30, 18:00–20:00.
Baba Charlie Nyonya Cakes 72 Jalan Tengkera Pantai 2C, Melaka; T: (06) 2864 7209; https://www.facebook.com/Baba-Charlie-Nyonya-Cake-254730721245098/ Fr-We: 10:30–17:00.
Cafe 1511 52 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Melaka.; T: (062) 860 150; https://www.facebook.com/Cafe1511/ We–Mo: 08:30–20:00.
Cottage Spices 171 Taman Melaka Raya, Melaka; T: (0628) 35 040; http://www.cottagespices.com.my/ We–Mo: 12:00–16:00, 18:00–20:30.
Donald and Lilly 16 Jalan KSB 1, Melaka.; https://www.facebook.com/donaldandlily/ Tu–Su: 09:00–16:00.
East West Rendezvous 60, Lorong Hang Jebat, Melaka; T: (0166) 346 283; Mo–Su: 09:30–17:30.
Jonker 88 88 Jalan Hang Jebat, Melaka; https://www.facebook.com/jonker88 Su–Th: 09:30–17:30 Fr–Sa: 09:30–20:30.
Kocik Kitchen 100 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Melaka; T: (0169) 296 605; https://www.facebook.com/kocikkitchen/ Mo.Tu,Th: 11:00–18:30 Fr–Sa: 11:00–22:00 Su: 11:00–19:30.
Kuih Nyonya 27 Jalan Hang Jebat, Melaka; T: (0166) 485 795; Mo–Fr: 09:00–19:00 Sa–Su: 09:00–23:00.
Majestic Hotel 188 Jalan Bunga Raya, Melaka; T: (0628) 98 000; http://www.majesticmalacca.com Mo–Su: 15:00–18:00.
Nancy’s Kitchen 13 Jalan Kota Laksaman 3/8, Melaka; T: (0628) 36 099; http://eatatnancyskit.com/ Su–Th: 11:00–17:00 Fr–Sa: 11:00–21:00.
Restoran Nyona Makko 123 Jalan Merdeka, Melaka; T: (06) 284 0737; https://www.facebook.com/Makko-Nyonya-Restaurant-112844195407675/ We–Mo: 11:30–14:30, 18:00–21:15.
Wild Coriander 40 Jalan Kampung Pantai, Melaka; T: (0123) 807 211; https://www.facebook.com/wildcoriandermelaka/ Th–Tu: 12:00–23:00.
Two of Melaka’s not to be missed local joints are Pak Putra and Capitol Satay. Pak Putra (apparently “Pak” for Pakistani, not just the Malay “Mr”) is particularly known for its succulent tandoori served with a tangy mint dipping sauce (9 ringgit) and fluffy nan (2.50 ringgit), and can be found in a row of modern shophouses 500 metres behind Casa Del Rio—you know you’ve arrived when you see the hundreds of people spilling out onto tables up and down the street (you may have to share a table). Despite the numbers, service was brisk when we visited. The taste? Possibly the most moist and tender tandoori chicken we’ve ever tried (really). They do sell out, although there are plenty of other great choices too.
Capitol Satay on Lorong Bukit Cina likely attracts as many punters, but as the place is rather less spacious, you’ll have to join the queue. The fare here is Melaka’s own spin on satay, satay celup. Like Chinese steamboat, it’s a do-it-yourself meal: select skewers of seafood, meat and veggies from the chilled display (colour coded sticks for pricing, but most are 1.20 ringgit) and then cook them in a boiling pot of spicy peanut sauce at your table. It’s every bit as rich and indulgent as it sounds. It’s a slow and social meal, so round up a group and go. The cast of the famed Australian TV series Neighbours have their pictures plastered on the (rather grimy) walls.
Another of Melaka’s signature dishes is chicken rice balls. Except for the roundness of the rice shaped into pingpong-sized balls, it’s identical to the simple dish of nasi ayam, steamed or roast chicken rice you’ll find elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Queues are longest at Kedai Kopi Chung Wah, where the minimum order is half a chicken (steamed only), suitable for two people (22.30 ringgit); rice balls are 40 ringgit each, and you can add a serve of innards for 2 ringgit. Scoop on a spoonful of ginger and chill sauce from the jar on the table. Up the road, Nasi Ayam Hoe Kee offers the option of roast chicken, as does popular Famosa Chicken Rice Ball.
For Southern Indian banana leaf meals, head to Restoran Saravanna or nearby Selvam, both in Melaka’s Little India. A scoop of rice and veggie dishes can be topped up with a curry or fried fish or chicken. Eat with your hand (right only) and request more rice and veggies until you’re full. Fold the banana leaf towards you when you’ve had sufficient. Restoran Saravanna also sells a range of tempting Indian sweets.
In a lane off Jalan Bunga Raya known as Longkang Siham, push through the crowds and grab a stool at one of the stalls for plates of steamed cockles (siham) and clams (lala) for two ringgit per plate. Cockles were a little on the bloody side for our taste and we asked for a bit more cooking, but the steamed clams were fresh and delicious.
If a few seashells are not sufficient, wander up the road to Lu Yeh Yen—the sign with the giant red crab caught our attention. This fairly low key Chinese seafood joint is popular with local families, and obviously their speciality is crab. Don’t be put off by most of the signage in Chinese, as they will offer you a menu in English. We tried black pepper crab—small but sweet local crabs coated with gingery and peppery sauce. It was a little pricey at 70 ringgit, but the plate could have fed more than one greedy person and was finger licking good.
If you’re in Melaka for the weekend, don’t miss the Jonker Street night markets held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday when Jalan Hang Jebat (aka Jonker Street) and surrounding streets are closed to traffic from 18:00 to about midnight. As well as shopping and all-night karaoke, you can graze for hours. Watch the fun antics of the coconut sellers as they skilfully husk the coconuts and turn them into flying balls of coconut water. Try the subtle flavours of barbecue scallops with vermicelli (10 ringgit each or 28 ringgit for 3) or sambal lala—fresh clams with a sweet spicy sambal. Sample simple hawker fare, fried up in giant woks, such as “carrot cake” (a radish and egg dish) or oyster omelette. For a snack while you walk, try a cup of fish balls drowned in curry sauce or skewers of tiny fried quails eggs. Watch out for pickpockets.
Capitol Satay 41 Lorong Bukit Cina, Melaka.; T: (06) 283 5508; Mo–Su: 16:00–24:00.
Fomosa Chicken Rice Ball 28-30 Jalan Hang Kasturi, Melaka; T: (0628) 60 121; http://melaka.net/famosa/index.htm Mo–Su: 09:30–21:30.
Kedai Kopi Chung Wah 18 Jalan Hang Jebat, Melaka; Mo–Fr: 08:30–15:00 Sa–Su: 08:30–16:00.
Longkang Siham Off Jalan Bunga Raya, Melaka; Mo–Su: 06:00–24:00.
Lu Yeh Yen 154A Jalan Bunga Raya; T: (0628) 17 282; Mo–Su: 18:00–02:00.
Nasi Ayam Hoe Kee 4-8 Jalan Hang Jebat, Melaka; T: (06) 283 4751; https://www.facebook.com/HoeKeeChickenRice/ Mo–Fr: 09:30–16:00 Sa–Su: 09:30–16:30.
Pak Putra Jalan Kota Laksmana 4; Melaka; T: (0126) 015 876; Tu–Su: 17:30–01:00 (closed alternative Mondays).
Restoran Saravanna 18 Jalan Bendahara, Melaka; T: (06) 283 0295, (0193) 616 087; Mo–Su: 07:00–20:00.
Selvam 2 Lorong Bukit Cina, Melaka; T: (0628) 19 223, (0122) 243 223; https://www.facebook.com/selvamrestaurant/ Mo–Su: 06:30–21:30.
For something a little healthier than most of Melaka’s calorie-filled (but delicious) offerings try Seeds Garden for Asian-inspired vegetarian with salads, pizza, noodle and rice dishes plus a low carb selection. Mori Vegetarian Tea House and Residence is a calm spot to chill over a cup of herbal tea or a plate of mock pork or fish (small 18 ringgit). Tofu Street dishes up warm bowls of silky soy curd in a comfortable (but rundown) ex-secondhand bookshop, fresh and fragrant.
If you’re wandering around town and after a refreshing snack, Bikini Toppings serves all kinds of coconut drinks and ice creams. For a taste-burst sensation, bite-sized profiteroles filled with cool fresh durian are available at Taste Better Durian Puff, in a few locations around Chinatown. A fun and unusual snack/drink that is ubiquitous among the street stalls is a whole watermelon, with a small hole cut in the top in which a cake beater is placed to turn the flesh to liquid — pop in a straw and off you go. If you can’t find one along Jonker Street, head to Cendol Jam Besar in front of the clock tower in the Dutch Square.
For a caffeine fix, Calanthe Art Cafe offers unique coffee blends from each of Malaysia’s 13 states, available hot or in ice blended versions. They also have a range of food, juices and beers. Their flavoursome laksa has a distinctive smoked chilli flavour and isn’t too spicy. Boxes of the 13 assorted coffees and their signature laksa paste are for sale, and make good souvenirs.
As the sun sets, the river’s edge is an excellent spot to enjoy a bevvy. Sid’s Pub has an ideal location near the bridge from Jonker Street to The Stadhuys. Gaze across the river at the old Dutch area while you sip on a draught coldie. This British-style pub has live music, football on telly, pub grub including ploughman’s lunch (from 25 ringgit), pies (26-32 ringgit), a Sunday roast (52 ringgit) and happy hours that last longer than 60 minutes. The Hard Rock Cafe also bags a winning riverside spot and does what Hard Rock Cafes do. Alternatively, wander along the riverside path, and pull up a cane chair at one of the many cafes; food options tend to be overpriced and underwhelming, but these are delightful breezy spots for a beverage. We were entertained by the cheerful and friendly banter of the staff at Riverview Cafe while enjoying a beer.
Along Jonker Street, step into the Geographer Cafe in a beautifully restored shophouse for cocktails, mocktails, beers and music, plus some healthy food. Popular with both travellers and locals, it’s good for chilling and people watching. And if your tastes are a little more European, Salud around the corner offer traditional Spanish tapas and drinks in a sophisticated setting. Or you can always head over to Melaka’s Portuguese settlement for terrific fresh seafood and drinks by the sea.
Several high-rise hotels have bars that enjoy a view, but the most stunning backdrop for a tipple is at the Alto Sky Lounge on the 22nd floor of Hatten Hotel. You’ll have to dress up a bit as their smart casual dress code means no flip flops, shorts or singlets.
Alto Sky Lounge 22nd Floor Hatten Hotel, Hatten Square, Jalan Merdeka, Melaka; T: (06) 286 9696; http://www.hattenhotel.com/dine/alto-sky-lounge Su-Th: 16:00-24:00 Fr-Sa: 16:00-01:00.
Bikini Toppings 46 Lorong Hang Jebat, Melaka; T: (0123) 166 426; https://www.facebook.com/BikiniToppings/ Th–Su: 10:00–17:00.
Calanthe Art Cafe 11 Jalan Hang Kasturi, Melaka; T: (06) 292 2960; https://www.facebook.com/calanthe.melaka/ Su–Th: 09:00–23:00 Fr–Sa: 09:00–24:00.
Cendol Jam Besar Opposite Dutch Square, Melaka.; Mo–Su: 10:00–18:00.
Geographer Cafe 83, Jalan Hang Jebat, Melaka; T: (0628) 16 813; http://www.geographer.com.my Mo–Fr: 10:00–01:00 Sa–Su: 09:00–01:00.
Hard Rock Cafe 28 Lorong Hang Jebat, Melaka; T: (0629) 25 188; http://www.hardrock.com/cafes/melaka/ Mo–Th: 11:30–01:00 Fr–Su: 11:30–02:00.
Mori Vegetarian Tea House and Residence 3 Jalan Kampung Kuli, Melaka.; T: (0629) 22 822, (0629) 22 722; https://www.facebook.com/moriteahouse/ We–Mo: 11:00–21:00.
River Cafe at Casa Del Rio 88 Jalan Kota Laksamana, Melaka; T: (0628) 96 888; http://www.casadelrio-melaka.com/restaurant/river-cafe Mo–Su: 11:00–23:00.
Riverview Cafe 82 Jalan Kampung Pantai, Melaka; T: (0123) 807 211; https://www.facebook.com/River-View-Cafe-Melaka-591086837688334/ We–Mo: 10:00–22:00.
Salud 94 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Melaka; T: (0628) 29 881, (0176) 319 823; https://www.facebook.com/SALUDTAPAS/ Mo–Su: 13:00–23:00.
Seeds Garden 60 Jalan Tokong, Melaka; T: (0173) 639 626; http://seedsgarden.com.my Th–Tu: 11:30–15:30, 18:00–21:00.
Sid’s Pub 2 Lorong Hang Jebat, Melaka; T: (0628) 37 437; http://www.sidspubs.com/ Mo–Su: 10:00–24:00.
Taste Better Durian Puff 96 Jalan Hang Jebat; Melaka; T: (0128) 626 575; http://www.taste-better.com/shop/ Mo–Th: 10:00–20:00 Sa–Su: 09:00–20:00.
The Fat Bee The Jetty, No12A Jalan Syed Abdul Aziz, Melaka; T: (0628) 33 696; https://www.facebook.com/thefatbee/ Mo–Su: 11:00–24:00.
Tofu Street 45 Jalan Kampung Pantai, Melaka.; We–Mo: 10:00–18:00.
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.