Seafood and history
Melaka’s seaside Kampung Portugis is born of her colonial past, settled by a Eurasian community known as Kristang, descendants of the Portuguese who conquered Melaka in 1511. The village itself is unexceptional, but it's interesting to learn a little about this ethnically blended community—and it offers an opportunity to enjoy a delicious seafood dinner by the coast.
Along with the Malay Kampung Morten on the Melaka River, and Kampung Chetty, home of Hindu Peranakans, this village has been granted a heritage listing, however this has not saved them from nearby rapid development and land reclamation, which has muddied the coastal waters here. Fishing is no longer a viable livelihood and what was once a pretty coastal fishing village has suffered greatly; many residents have now moved on.
Like the Straits Chinese Peranakan and the Tamil-Malay Chetties, Kristang culture is a unique intermingling of customs and beliefs. Some speak a creole of Portuguese and Malay (called Kristang) although this is somewhat of a dying language, but most are devoutly Roman Catholic—the term “Kristang” comes from “Christian”. The village has an active convent and a shrine to San Pedro (Saint Peter), the patron saint of fishermen, looks out to sea. Their cuisine is spice-rich, a blend not only of Malay and Portuguese, but tastes from other Portuguese colonies like Goa in India and Macau. One notable person of Kristang descent is Tony Fernandes, the CEO of Air Asia.
The village was established in the 1930s by two Catholic priests when the British colonial government granted 28 acres of seaside land to the Portuguese descendants. Today, a few wooden houses survive, and you may see fishermen mending their nets or fish drying in the sun. In an attempt to give some background to this historical area, street signs have an explanation of their Portuguese names.
Wander into Medan Portugis (Portuguese Square), where you’ll find a small cultural museum, the Portuguese Settlement Heritage Museum. It was closed at the time of our visit, but peering though the window we saw model ships and cannons. Pinned to the noticeboard outside is a crab with crucifix markings (Charybdis feriata), with an interesting tale attached: the cross on the crab's shell is said to be the result of one of the miracles of Saint Francis Xavier, the Jesuit Saint who spent time in Melaka. The museum is open Tues–Sunday 10:00–12:00, 14:00–17:00. Entry fee is 2 ringgit. T: (0126) 073 754 (Jerry Alcantra); (0173) 430 882 (Christopher De Mello).
For a greater insight into this community, join one of the free monthly guided tours offered by GoHeritage Melaka. Dates are changeable, but usually around the middle of the month. Reservation is essential as numbers are limited; email email@example.com for the schedule and firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations.
Except for the museum, Kampung Portugis is very quiet during the day. It springs to life at night though, when the seafood restaurants open and people flock here for an al fresco dinner. In addition to the fresh crab and fish, the restaurants serve Eurasian specialties like “devil’s curry” (which isn’t nearly as spicy as it sounds).
You may be lucky to visit Kampung Portugis during a festival: Be prepared to get soaked when water fights break out for Intrudo, celebrated the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, the Christian period of penance. Festa San Juan (Saint John), a festival of lights is observed in late June just before the biggest festival of them all, Festa San Pedro, when Portuguese descendants from across Southeast Asia make the trip to Melaka for this religious holiday, and the village comes to life with music, dancing and feasting. Easter and Christmas are marked with processions and decorations.
Kampung Portugis is located along the coast about four kilometres east of downtown Melaka. It’s ideal for a bike ride or you can get here via bus number 17 from Dutch Square.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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