If you live in Singapore, or even if you are visiting, and you haven’t been to Malacca (Melaka) I suggest you add it to your list pronto. It’s not just that Malacca food is fabulous, but the city is a wonderful place to stroll around and enjoy a unique and interesting culture. We visited because I’d run out of reasonably priced options for the Chinese New Year holiday so I started investigating destinations closer to home. Malacca popped onto my radar and it seemed a good and cheap destination, and famous for its food culture, so I booked us in. I received enthusiastic feedback from some, and less so from others so our expectations were evenly managed.
Malacca Food highlights
I was lucky to have been given several Malacca food tips by people who’d visited recently and had recommended restaurants for us to try. I’d suggest there are five main types of Malacca foods you should sample on a visit; Nyonya cuisine, Laksa, Chicken Rice Balls, Teochew cuisine and Dim Sum, oh, and street food of course, where you’ll find any of the above. I’ve included my food highlights below, along with contact details for you to refer to.
Chicken Rice Balls
You can’t say you’ve had Malacca food until you’ve had a Chicken Rice Ball. I’m not saying it’s the best thing you’ll ever taste, in fact the balls are quite bland and only made palatable by sauces, but it’s one of those things you just have to try.
The meal we had at Restoran Formosa (a very touristy place on Jonker Walk) included Chicken Rice Balls and luckily the quarter of Roast Chicken we ordered alongside included delicious chicken juices to soak up our rice balls with. We also had Kai Lan and Otak Otak (fish pieces mixed with spices) and both were surprisingly good, particularly the Otak which uses much chunkier fish pieces compared to the ones in Singapore. We paid about 40 MYR each ($15 SGD) for dinner. The prices certainly aren’t the cheapest but the food is good and service is quick.Restoran Formosa
28 Jalan Hang Kasturi
phone +60 6286 0121
For Nyonya Cuisine
For Nyonya, our number one choice was fully booked (Restoran Nyonya Amy on the opposite side of the river to Jonker, see address below, we walked past it and it’s a cute little place with good staff, we will definitely go back there next time and reserve in advance) so we settled on Nancy’s Kitchen which is a bit of an institution for Malacca food.
We timed our arrival perfectly, they don’t take reservations and we arrived just before 7pm to the last waiting table, by the time we left there was a queue of about 20 outside! We were only two so we had to limit our choices somewhat. What I love about Nyonya cuisine is the spiciness is usually just how I like it, spicy but not enough to blow your head off.
We started with the Pie Tees (top hats), for some reason they down played the chilli in ours even though we didn’t ask, but the crunchy shells contained a lovely mix of radish and beans and prawn, topped off nicely with egg and crispy shallots. The Chilli Prawns (top) were delicious, probably my favourite and they had quite a kick to them.
Assam Ayam (Tamarind Chicken) tasted much better than it looked with lovely tender chicken in a rich but not too decadent curry. Ngoh Hiang (Pork Rolls wrapped in Beancurd) were not my favourite but the Angle Beans in chilli were a new and good experience for me. We also had a beer each and walked out for 40 MYR (about $15 SGD) each.Nancy’s Kitchen
7 Jalan Hang Lekir
phone +60 6283 6099
For Teochew Cuisine
For Teochew cuisine in a quaint little local joint try Teo Soon Loong Chan. The chefs out front are very jovial and one even posed for this cute photo. Staff inside are less enthusiastic.
I suggest you arrive close to opening time, if not before, to secure a table and you may have to come back for the second sitting. I tried to reserve a table here but phone communication was difficult so I gave up.
There is no menu to speak of, someone will come and tell you the choices available and you can pick what you like. We had Oyster Noodles, Soft Shell Crab and Kai Lan. All were very good, the Oyster Noodles were the best I’ve ever had, tasty oysters and a flavoursome but not overpowering sauce.
We spotted spring rolls delivered to the next table and had to order some ourselves, gorgeous balls of yumminess wrapped in a thin (although slightly oily) coating. Really tasty. We paid 30 MYR (about $12 SGD) each for lunch.Teo Soon Loong Chan
55 Jalan Hang Kasturi
phone +60 6282 2353
The laksa we tried wasn’t worth mentioning and our Dim Sum choice was closed so I guess we have to save them for next time. Here are a couple of places that were recommended from trusted sources but we didn’t get to:
Restoran Nyonya Amy
75 Jalan Melaka Raya 24 (also known as 75 Jalan Syed Abdul Aziz)
phone +60 6286 8819
Low Yong Moh for Dim Sum
32 Jalan Tukang Emas
phone +60 62821235
385 Jalan Ujong Pasir
phone +60 6283 1009
Hoe Kee Chicken Rice Ball (the queue here wound around the corner of the street so it must be good!)
4 – 8 Jalan Hang Kasturi
phone +60 6282 2353
The Jonker Walk is full of street food stalls in the evenings. We tried a few things but were generally full from a previous meal! Check out the video I posted on Facebook
of me trying some local delicacies.
Places to Grab a Drink
Being primarily a Muslim state it’s not a huge drinking culture here, but there are plenty of places to get a beer, and even a few to quench your thirst with a gin and tonic. Situated on a busy juncture of the Jonker Walk The Geographer is generally oozing with tourists enjoying a beer whilst gazing happily at the antics on Jonker Walk. It’s the perfect place for a rest.The Geographer
83 Jalan Hang Jebat
phone +60 6281 6813
Once you’ve wandered around a bit you’ll notice that the Malacca River forms a busy artery ferrying passengers on boat cruises snaking their way throughout the town. Along the banks are various bars and cafes that offer respite from the sun, or just a place to lounge around and watch the world go by. We spent a pleasant evening chatting with travellers at a place with a sign that said ‘Jazz Bar’ but had no music at all. Anywhere along here looks nice enough though.
For somewhere off the beaten track we stumbled upon Shantaram one day as we wandered aimlessly around town. We were going home the same day but I’d definitely put this on the list for next time.Shantaram
River end of Jalan Tukang Emas
You’ll find it by the notice on the door, “Give Piss a Chance”
For half decent coffee either try the cafe at Casa del Rio (details below) or Calanthe Cafe. They do a huge selection of coffee/iced coffee/western style/Malaysian etc. It’s also a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by if you’re lucky enough to get a balcony seat.Calanthe Art Cafe (Malaysia 13 States’ Coffee)
11 Jalan Hang Kasturi
I highly recommend the hotel we stayed in, the Casa del Rio. Online pictures don’t do it justice. Although it’s not the prettiest hotel, it’s bigger than I normally like and it’s a bit of an eyesore to be honest, but even on arrival it had a calm and relaxing aura about it. The staff from the moment we arrived couldn’t do enough to help. Not in an overbearing way but in a genuinely helpful way. Cold towels, a sorbet and many smiles whilst we sat on lounges to check in made us instantly feel as if we were on holidays.
When shown to our room we were more than happy with our choice of the Deluxe Double with Courtyard View. The rooms are furnished well, with small balconies that look out onto the courtyard and river. I suggest booking on the third floor as then you have direct access to the pool and other facilities. Rooms included special touches like a notebook for our particular room where hotel staff had hand written their recommendations for things to do in Malacca, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that anywhere before.
Of course it’s not cheap so you’d expect it to be good, but more often than not I’m disappointed in hotels, especially when they’re expensive. We paid 880 MYR per night ($336 SGD) including breakfast and taxes. Yes it’s expensive, but we really spent very little else over the whole weekend.
The other major plus of Casa del Rio is the location. Right on the edge of the old city and Jonker Walk, you literally have everything you want to see on your doorstep. We spent the whole weekend walking around (aside from our little ride in the local trishaw – photo below) and discovering quaint little doorways, stoops and architecture.
There are loads of really cute little guest houses around this area too, I imagine some of them are quite cheap.Casa del Rio
88 Jalan Kota Laksamana, Melaka, 75200
phone +60 6289 6888
Arriving in Malacca on the Friday of Chinese New Year we were happy to discover a UNESCO World Heritage Listed City that seemed as attractive as it looked in many of the pictures we’d seen online. It’s not picture perfect, but many buildings are well preserved and have a certain charm about them.
Walking is by far the best means of getting around Malacca. The Jonker Walk extends through quite a few streets and is best (well busiest) done at night. After about 6ish there are dozens of street vendors who set up stalls on the main road (Jalan Hang Jebat) to tempt you with their goodies to eat, it’s quite mad and very busy, but lots of fun.
I’d recommend doing the walk during the day as well so that you can veer off route and investigate everything else going on as well as the main thoroughfare. As you’d expect there are lots of touristy restaurants along here, they’re not necessarily bad though, I’ve written up the good ones that we tried above.
The architecture of the town is something that really captured my imagination. The influences of Dutch, Portugese and British can be found around different parts of the town.
The Christ Chruch was somewhat of a surprise to me as I’d visualised it in a more open space, in actual fact it’s smack bang in the middle of the busiest roundabout in the city. A wander around here though is full of colour thanks to the dozens of trishaw drivers that cycle around blaring their boom boxes to attract your attention, it’s totally cheesy but hilarious.
We totally fluked our walk up to St Paul’s Church (a short walk from Christ Church) to coincide with sunset. We sat on the side of the hill and appreciated the beauty of a sunset over water with the city in the foreground.
One of the aspects of Malacca that really struck me was the diverse ethnicities in the city. Not just locals who were of Malay, Chinese or Indian descent, but the travellers who were nearly all non-English speaking. We heard lots of French, Dutch, Spanish and other European accents everywhere we went, with a smattering of American, Australian and English.
The more modern part of the city is worth a look around, although was quiet due to the holiday when we visited. There are lots of restaurants along Jalan Merdeka and the side streets that snake off it between Jalan Parameswara. I wandered around the small streets looking at the ditty little weatherboard shopfronts and homes and snapped away for a couple of hours.
Transport to Malacca
Unfortunately we don’t have a car in Singapore so our only transport option was the bus. It’s around $50 each way and relatively comfortable (try to book the luxury bus, it’s worth the extra $10), although we did have a nightmare return journey (7.5 hours with a broken down bus). I suggest not visiting on a long weekend due to the traffic congestion, and ideally taking an extra day off so you don’t have to travel in peak times.
I booked through Busonlineticket.com and the Luxury Coach Service was fine, but do not choose the Superior Coach service, these are the ones that broke down and from comments by other passengers this is not an uncommon occurrence.
As far as a food weekend that is close to Singapore Malacca is hard to beat. If you choose a quiet time of the week to drive up and back then it’s an easy journey, no flights, no hassle and you still feel like you’ve been on a little adventure. I don’t want to build expectations too high though, there’s not a great deal to do here if you’re not a food lover, but if you like wandering through a city and nosing around the small streets and lanes with no particular aim, then Malacca is a good weekend option.
What are your thoughts about Malacca? Do you have any tips to share with others? Do you have any questions?