Baba-Nyonya Surprise in Melaka

Melaka, Malaysia — November 5, 2011

A three day weekend is coming up as Malaysia celebrates Hari Raya Haji. We hear that Melaka makes a great weekend outing. We are curious about its multicultural history, distinctive architecture, and food that is a fusion of its heritage. So off we go, on the cheap of course traveling by taxi, light rail, commuter rail, and bus to get there.

Flor De La Mar - Melaka - Malaysia
This boat was not our transportion to Melaka. It’s a replica of the sunken Portuguese ship, Flor De La Mar.

Melaka was founded by a Sumatran prince in the 14th century. The city is situated at the mouth of the Strait of Melaka shipping route and over its 600 years has attracted merchants from China, India, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Europe. After the time of the sultanates, Melaka was taken over by the Portuguese in 1511, followed by the Dutch in 1641, and then the British in 1824 who ruled until Malaysian independence in 1957.

A Place to Stay

We get there late in the afternoon. We pick up a tourist pamphlet (more like a newspaper) with a map at the bus station. We decide to find lodging first. We haggle with a taxi and are on our way to the backpacker guesthouses for 20 ringgit (a little more than $6). Taxis here don’t run meters like they do in Kuala Lumpur so you have to agree on a price before getting in.

Baba-Nyonya Dessert - Melaka - Malaysia
Smiles over Baba-Nyonya Dessert. Bring on the green beans, kidney beans, corn, and sweetened rice.

We check out a few. Some are pretty funky. We settle on Samudera Backpackers Hotel at about 18 ringgit per night per person (about $6 each). Our posh accommodations are typical of backpacker dorm style lodging. There are five beds crammed in a small room that should comfortably hold three beds, two fans, and a bathroom and shower down the hall.

Evening Out

We use our map to find our way to the old town and restaurants. We walk past a shopping mall, through a park and garden, and there we are. We check out historic sites including a portion of the restored fortress wall originally built by the Portuguese in 1511.

We find our way on to Jonker Street. Crowded. The street is blocked off to vehicle traffic and a mass of people are jostling about tables piled with stuff to buy. We find the Bistro Year 1673,a restaurant located in a building constructed by the Dutch in 1673. We sit outside, under the fans, and enjoy the live music.

We order the Nyonya set meal. Nyonya (or Baba-Nyonya) is a centuries old blend of Malaysian and Chinese cultures and cuisine. The Nyonya set meal isn’t on the menu, but we have a coupon for it from our pamphlet and map. The waiter says yes, we can order it, and are getting quite a deal. Usually they only have four courses in their set meals. Ours comes with five.

The Nyonya food is quite good – a bit sweeter than typical Chinese fare and a lot less hot than typical Malaysian. Natalie tries the traditional Nyonya dessert. Out comes a bowl with green beans, kidney beans, and corn kernels over sweetened rice. This is a surprise. She still eats it. Lori and I opt for an ice cream sundae, which goes quickly in the heat of the evening.

We deviate from our earlier route and walk through a shopping mall on the trek back to our backpackers’ dorm. The mall has air conditioning. It’s a busy place this evening. Probably because of the air conditioning.

Brett in formal wear in Lombok!

Thanks for reading. Have you been to Melaka? How did you get there? Where did you stay? Tell us about this or any other thoughts you have on this post in the comments section below.

Happy wanderings!

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