While the streets of the Indian quarter are not as old or charming as Jonkers, there are still pleasures for the visitor who takes a detour through the area. Men sit outside shops making wreaths of bright yellow flowers, gaudy saris and over-saccharined toothpaste are displayed side by side in mini-supermarkets and then there is the food.
Depending on the time of day there is dosai and roti for sale. However when we hit a packed Southern Indian diner at lunchtime these treats were reserved for breakfast and later in the day. Undeterred we sat down at one of the long tables and waited to see what happened.
First a large rectangular banana leaf was plonked down in front of us. Next another server dumped a portion of rice. Then a man came by with three pots welded together and slopped a serving of each on the leaf, fortunately each of the curries was vegetarian. Then sauce appeared on the rice. There was a salad too. I was beginning to loose track of what came from where in some neat orchestrated waiters dance, when a young man deposited a pappadam.
At this point we began to tuck in.But wait there is more !
We’d yet to receive the main course, usually a meat curry but fortunately I stopped that in the nick of time. Being vegetarian was not a problem and I was given a dish of soy “chicken” mildly spiced but tasty. We tucked back in. But wait there’s more. Two small metal cups appeared beside me, one a dhal soup, the other a lassi (dairy alas but that was the only offering to come from a cow, how I love Southern Indian food!). When we thought our banana leaf could take no more, a slice of watermelon was offered.
While the lunchtime crowd was almost exclusively Indian, sitting next to us was a Chinese Malay man who owned a shop nearby. Like most people we’d met in Melaka, he was friendly and happy to chat but not in that intrusive kind of way you sometimes encounter in other Asian cities. Eating lunch here was his weekly treat, certainly a great recommendation for the place.
The meal cost a grand total of RM7 (about AU$2.30) and we’d have happily gone back if we’d been in the neighbourhood with an empty tummy.
Melaka’s “little India” is centred around Jln Bendahara. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of the eatery but can give you clear directions. From near the river where the street begins, walk up the right side of the street. It is within the first block and “South Indian” is included in the sign. If you get to the Indian Hawker market you have gone to far (by about twice the distance).
We didn’t get much of a look at the hawker market on Jln Bendahara. By comparison to the glitz of Jonkers it is decidedly third world. But it was more timing and location that deterred us from eating there, never getting there at night.
We came across Southern Indian food on the other side of the old city to Little India. In fact Indian food is jotted around the old and new town (though largely absent in the heart of the tourist district), as you’d expect in a city where approximately a third of the population are originally from all parts of India.
Near the end of our stay a local told us about the food markets and small restaurants frequented by the residents, behind Hereen Street away from Jonkers. We stumbled through a hole in the wall off the busy street, jumped over puddles left by the previous night’s downpour, zig zagged through a few side streets and landed at an Indian tandoori eatery with chairs and tables set up on the street. Mangy cats came begging for food, the service was haphazard but the food ok. Given my preference for cuisine from the South of the continent, I’d recommend sticking to little India.
I wish I’d had more time for dosai, roti and the other Indian treats on offer. One of the delights of Malaysia is its multiculturalism, especially when it comes to food.
We’d only just got a handle on the edible offerings in the old town when on our last night we headed off the map so to speak. The most recent Lonely Planet guide was published in early 2007 but most of the research appears to have been done in 2005, resulting in many inaccuracies. Sadly the Melaka chapter lacked any sense of adventure. It ignores the modern city encircling the old town and I suspect that is where some of the most interesting food is on offer.
Heading away from the river we walked up Hereen Street passing a large service station and a couple of big intersections with traffic lights. The street was dotted with small eateries, Mum and Dad shopfronts offering home style cooking. A fabled mee stall is amongst them. I have no idea if we found it but we did eat a passable seafood mee at a bustling family run eatery. As we wandered back to our hotel in the dark we saw a different side to the city than the one offered by the Lonely Planet. This section of Melaka may not be World Heritage Listed but I’d certainly spend more time exploring on a future visit.