Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The joys of Melaka…tea, roti and nyonya food!

19-Oct-2009, by Jason

Well Swiss managed to survive our bus ride to Melaka (as did I) and we were quickly deposited at Melaka Sentral, the bus station about 5km outside of the central town area. We were headed to a guest house recommended to us by someone we met on the beach on Tioman. While waiting for city bus #17 to arrive we were suddenly joined by Fred, our instant new acquaintance from Montreal, Canada. Now the person that gave us the recommendation assumed (as did I) that it’s address/details would be listed in our Lonely Planet guidebook. Of course it wasn’t listed in there and we only had a name to go off of and nothing else. Needless to day, Fred knew (kind of) where he was headed and so we followed him to his place, the Voyager Guest House. The place was centrally located in Chinatown, clean and only RM 12 per night (less than USD 3.5), we were sold (and had no interest in walking around any further) While waiting for Fred’s friend to arrive we walked over to the “Honky Tony Cafe & Bar” for a drink and appetizers before grabbing dinner as a large group. Yes, you read the name of the bar correctly, and the music was pretty bad (as was the beer selection) but I will say that the basket of chicken nuggets and fries we split as an appetizer were quite impressive! [On a side note, Swiss and I were very surprised at the price of a beer here. It was about RM 7.50-9 for a beer, not horrible but much higher than we were used to on the island. We later found out that our first stop in Malaysia, Tioman Island, is a duty free zone and alcohol is not taxed there as it is in the rest of Malaysia.]

So Jeremy (affectionately referred to as “Big Head” by Fred) arrived (with a young couple from Guangzhou he met on the bus from KL) and all 6 of us headed out for dinner. It was a tasty feast of soy oyster noodles (apparently a local Melaka specialty), a grilled fish, some spicy greens and deep fried fish cake…all served with diced garlic and sambal paste on the side, yum!

Chinese Dinner in Melaka

Now during this meal, Fred decided that he really liked sambal paste and put it on everything! To the point that when they were cleaning the rest of the restaurant (it was a late meal) they took our sambal paste off the table while still eating! Fred was looking for more and when the staff brought out a tub of it for him, the owner/manager jokingly asked if he wanted bread to make a sambal sandwich. When Fred said yes, the owner hopped on his scooter, drove to 7/11 and a little while later 2 slices of white bread were placed in front of him. He did the only sensible thing and rose to the challenge.

Our new friend Fred making a sambal sandwich

He finished…eventually, but not without the sandwich putting up a fight! Afterwards we were pretty tired, we grabbed a few beers at the local 7/11 and were just hanging out in the common area of the guest house when two Germans on bicycles came riding up to the front door and stole Fred (he strikes me as the type unwilling to follow a young woman ;-) They came back about 30 minutes later with a basket of more beer. Swiss had already gone off to bed but I was curious to see where this was headed, so we headed to the guest house about a block down and enjoyed a beer while getting to know 4 Germans, my new Canadian friends and a young Korean guy who’s also a commercial diver. At this point it was 4.30am and I was exhausted so I left Fred and Jeremy behind and went home to bed.

So you hangout at the mall in the middle of the day?!?

Saturday morning I was up fairly early (only a few hours after I went to bed) and was STARVING…so Jeremy took us to a local place that served chicken laksa for breakfast. Not your mother’s traditional American breakfast, but it was spicy, salty and delicious!
Individual bowls of chicken laksa to accompany the communal salad

At this point it was getting a bit warm, so Jeremy suggested we go to the mall. Apparently, it’s the thing to do in the middle of the day (say, between 11am – 1.30pm) and sure enough the mall was packed! We relaxed in the nice air-conditioning and promptly lost Fred and Swiss.  They then apparently went to the info desk hoping to be able to page us, but instead were asked to write down our descriptions so the CCTV guys could track us down.  Below is a pic of their description (including Drew Carey reference), although I managed to find them before the search escalated mall-wide:

Where to begin...

Later in the afternoon we headed to the Zheng He Tea House for a Chinese tea tasting. We met Pak, one of the owners of the place who gave us a FANTASTIC tasting!! We started with a nice green tea that was from Jeremy’s relatives home area in China then we had a pot of a very mellow and aged black tea…along with some general tea information and a healthy dose of our jokes mixed with Pak’s fantastic sense of humor! It was a great experience made even better since she only charged was for one pot of tea (although, at only RM20 for a pot of tea, it’s also a great deal!) If you’re even in Chinatown, Melaka, please stop by and see her!

Pak and Jeremy, tea ceremony at Pak's wonderful tea house!Chinese Tea Ceremony

After that much tea we headed back to the hostel to relax, where we met Christina (from Manhattan) and Winston (from LA). This was significant because a.) they’re pretty cool people and b.) they’re only the second and third American backpackers we’ve met on this trip (excluding American students studying abroad and folks just out on vacation!) Now Swiss, having heard that Jeremy is a whiskey drinker, wanted something other than beer and so they set off looking for a bottle…only to return with something called “Crazy Horse Whiskey” apparently a local offering. Let’s just say it was a little closer to diesel in my opinion - and trust me, I only tried a VERY small sample :(. 

The start of a bad idea by Swiss and Jeremy

Even more amusingly, Christina was the only person that could take a shot of Crazy Horse without a chaser, hehe :) Beer would therefore continue to be the beverage of choice for the evening.  The bottle remained at the hostel, where it miraculously was consumed by somebody, somehow. 

So after a little of that we headed off to the Jonker St Night Market (Friday and Saturday nights in Chinatown) It’s a fantastic array of vendors selling jewelry, cheap plastic toys, food and drinks…and a popular draw for tourists and locals alike…it was packed! We stopped by a stand to sample what I can only call various types of Shaomai (also known as shu mai back home) followed by a stop for oyster omelette and beer

Yum, oyster omelette!

Then it was off to another location along the night market for grilled squid and sea shells, also very tasty when dipped in spicy sauce (the order of the day here in Malaysia and I suspect in much of SE Asia!) We stopped at this location for quite a while to enjoy the locally brewed Carlsberg.

Grilled sea shells and grilled octopus

Well a beer and seafood turned into a few rounds of beer. No one from the shop came to remove our cans after delivering fresh beer (that’s right, this corner shop at the market was classy and delivered to our table!) and so the cans left on our table accumulated and got in our way. In order to conserve space, we went vertical (again, the staff was welcome to take them away at anytime, we just did what we needed to do to in order to conserve table space in cramped conditions!) Let’s just say that it was a sight most locals were not used to (a few children’s eyes were shielded) and our Malaysian local was slightly embarrassed. (But in the grand scheme of life, I’d say we’re much more polite, quiet and respectful than quite a few of the backpackers we’ve met!)

Tower Stage 4 may have made some locals cover their children's eyes

From there we stopped by a proper bar for a few more drinks where we were joined by Deutsche Mannschaft (Team Germany) and our American friends Christina and Winston.

More international relations

From there it was back to the hostel for some late night soccer on TV…and Christina and Winston stayed up until 4am to watch the NLCS Game 2 live on satellite TV…I on the other hand went to bed a few hours before that.

Recovery and some online catch-up

Saturday morning I awoke bright and early (and super chipper for some reason too!) and ready to take on the day. The rest of the gang not so much (in fact Fred did not even join us for breakfast) so we stopped by a local place for some curry chicken mee (delicious!) and I had soy bean drink [Hey SF friends, can I get this or something similar when I come back next summer? I very much enjoy it as a morning drink!] [Side note 2: Check out the Flickr album for a picture of Swiss’s breakfast, spot the cultural faux pas! :)]

Yum! Chicken Curry Mee and Soy Bean Drink...breakfast of champions!

From there I stopped by the “Orangutan House” the store of local artist Charles Cham to pick up a few t-shirts with his designs on them and Jeremy bought some paintings that were gifts for his parents. Now I forgot to mention that I bought a cheap (USD 6) watch the day prior at the mall to hold me over until I got to the Swatch store in Kuala Lumpur to get my watch fixed. The watch I’d bought the day prior was already not working, further proving the adage that you get what you pay for! :)

The watch I'd bought the day prior, already with the incorrect time!

We went to the mall again (hot mid-day) and to use the free wifi @ McDonald’s. Of course the wifi was not working, but we’d already ordered lunch…so check “tried McDonald’s in Malaysia”, now we don’t have to do that again here. Note, their menu is very similar to the US, their additions are fried chicken served with rice and chicken burgers. We then wandered around town, walked along the river and stopped for photos…

Swiss taking a picture of Jeremy taking a picture of the photo shot sign in front of the actual object

including a stop at the “concrete windmill” of Melaka. :)

All smiles in front of the concrete windmill

We headed to a Nyonya Restaurant for dinner (check out the wikipedia link) [Beef Rendang, more spicy greens, random veggies and sambal sauce squid for dinner] and then to the night market because I wanted some Ice Kachang with grass jelly and red beans. A light and tasty sweet dessert!

Dessert yum!! Shaved ice with condensed milk, dark syrup, grass jelly and beans

A random shot of me on the walk to the cafe owned by our guest house for some live music. We don’t know what it means but everyone else was stopping for a picture so I couldn’t help myself :)

Everyone else was getting a picture here

We then went to Voyager Cafe, owned by our guest house, for some live music. It was about 2 hours of live music and I had a tasty cinnamon tea. I don’t have a picture but Fred even jumped in for two songs! It was a very nice, relaxing evening!

Some travelers get in on the performance also

Who wants IHOP?

So sunday morning we were all leaving for different destinations (myself and Swiss, Fred and Jeremy and Team Germany) so we got together for breakfast about 10am. I was told by Jeremy that they (Team Germany) wanted banana pancakes and we were going to a “tourist friendly” place for breakfast, which I quickly labeled “IHOP” and was less than enthused. The Germans led us to a local Indian restaurant that served Roti Canai and Teh Tarik (a sweet hot “pulled” tea) and made for a very delicious breakfast of dipping fried dough in various curries! Rightly so, the Germans are exonerated from what I thought was going to be a huge mistake :)

Roti Canai for breakfast...yum!!

We stopped back at the hostel to pick up our bags, only to find that Game 2 of the 2009 ALCS had gone into extra innings so we all settled into watch the Yankees eventually beat the Angels.

Game 2 of the 2009 ALCS, about noon on Oct. 18th (about the 12th inning!)

Swiss and I, joined by Johnny, a cool guy from Canada we’d met at the guest house, headed north from Melaka on a 2.5 hour bus ride (FYI, the going rate is about RM 12) to Kuala Lumpur with. We’ll be spending a few days in KL then up north to Penang (to eat more! and also get our Thai Visa)


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