Monday, September 28, 2009

eating Melaka: boiling pots of lava

If you're thinking Melaka is all Assam curries and laksas you'd be wrong. Of course there's chicken rice balls and other meaty stuff but I was just a voyeur when it came to the meaty stuff.

One eatery a little different that stood out in the travel guide was a satay restaurant* in the back streets and a couple of days into our stay we figured it was time we ventured beyond the old quarter for sustenance. On our first trip I navigated us expertly to the slightly obscure location only to find it was shut. Warning, after the excitement of the weekend Melaka turns into a sleepy town. On Mondays and Tuesdays much of the town is shut and even most of the Tri-shaw drivers have a day off.

Mid-week we rocked up at Capitol Satay for an early dinner. The place has seen better days but it is well patronized, especially by those in their teens and early 20’s. On the wall a tired picture of a by gone Neighbours cast is scrawled with greetings. It’d be hard to imagine those stick figured females actually eating anything here. Much like fondue parties, the satay restaurants are all about novelty value. You are seated at a round metal table with a hole in the centre. There’s a burner in the middle and a big pot, much like a large camping billy is slotted into the centre and bought to the boil. A waitress throws in extra palm sugar and other brown stuff to add to the peanut-y brew and when it starts to bubble, lava-like, you grab a selection of skewered goodies from the chiller and start cooking.

The peanut sauce was sweet and chunky but it seemed to deliver an even larger MSG hit than normal (asthmatics beware, this is not a great country to eat in if that ubiquitous white powder triggers your allergies).

For a non-meat eater there was assorted fish cakes and tofu. Vegetables were rather thin on the ground. In fact throughout our stay in Melaka all I can say is thank the goddess I like kangkung as it was the staple green in the city. The next popular vegetable being okra (fortunately I don’t mind it), with eggplant coming in at third place.

I grazed enjoyably at Capitol Satay but had room left in my stomach for something a little more nutritious to finish off. Instead of cendol, we headed back to one of our regular haunts, the Geographer Café in the heart of Jonker’s. A cool little bar and eatery, who’s owner has a fetish for multiple flat screen televisions and loud music. However it’s a pleasant open-sided bar in which to sit and watch the passing parade of people. In a land of white rice, Geographer’s bucks the trend and serves a couple of vegetarian dishes with brown rice. After the satay I craved their vego nasi lamek, not a fatty dish at all. It comes with a great sambal, peanuts, cucumber, some crispy fried tempeh, egg and kangkung surrounding a nice mound of wholemeal rice. Just what I needed. There's a picture of it on their sight, sans the tempeh.


Geographer cafe

Speaking of bars, Melaka is not a wild town. There are a few haunts like this that stay open late but are not particularly raucous. Perhaps it’s because while not expensive by Australian standards, the Muslim influence means that alcohol is taxed heavily. Unlike other popular Asian tourist haunts a beer costs about AU$3-5 depending on the venue. Wine is notoriously expensive for 3rd rate Australian wines. But who goes to Asia to drink sauv blanc? With 80-90% humidity most days, it’s a cooling beer or a coconut juice.

Next – off to the Indian quarter to eat with the locals.


* later we discovered a much better looking satay joint way out of the tourist zone, though sadly we’d already eaten. Directions – head right up Heeren St away from the river. A couple of blocks out of the old quarter you hit a major intersection with traffic lights. Turn right and it is about two blocks down on your right.

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