You haven't really visited a city until you've seen its market. On our second day in Melaka, we woke early for a morning visit to Melaka Central Wet Market, hosted by the bright and bubbly Malaysian chef, Florence Tan.
Melaka Central Market
Florence Tan with Adam Liaw
The markets are lively with activity, vendors cajoling their wares, and locals patiently inspecting each item of produce. We're shopping for some ingredients for a cooking demonstration Florence will be conducting later on with Adam Liaw, and Florence -- just like any self-respecting Malaysian -- will only be happy with the best.
There's no denying we have a celebrity in our midst as market stall holders, shoppers and passersby all stop for a wide-eyed chat with Florence. She's as well known as any celebrity chef in Malaysia, loved across the country for her enthusiastic and knowledgeable approach to food, as well as her work in promoting and preserving authentic Nyonya food.
Blue swimmer crabs
- so fresh and green, unlike the battered ones we often get in Sydney!
Fish ball stall
Florence explaining the workings of a rempah stall
The rempah stall is one the best finds in the market. Rempah is the spice paste that forms the foundation of many Malaysian curries. A good rempah is always made fresh, pounding aromatics, herbs and spices together using a mortar and pestle.
Individual aromatics to create your own rempah blend
Here you can easily pick up ready-pounded tumeric, ginger, galangal and more to take home for your own custom-made rempah.
Otherwise you can simply purchase ready-made rempahs, stored in giant plastic bins under the counter.
Belacan dried shrimp paste
"Belacan - it's Malaysian cheese!" says the stallholder with a laugh. The smell of this dried shrimp paste is not for the faint of heart, but it's loved with as much conviction as Australians have for Vegemite.
"It stinks", Florence says apologetically, "but then you cook it and oh my god!" She clutches her heart and looks to the heavens with joy.
Fish crackers galore
Nyonya Peranakan stall
We're browsing deep within the bowels of the market, when Florence's cousin, Chef Amy Koh, pops her head up out of nowhere. "Do you want to try a Nyonya spring roll?" she asks, and drags us upstairs to the food court where she helps out at a stall specialising in Nyonya or Peranakan food.
Apam berkuah pancake with rich banana sauce
We feel like little kids visiting Grandma, as Aunty Amy plies us with treats. "Try this!" she says, and we nod obligingly as she foists another plate of food toward us.
Nyonya spring rolls or popiah
The Nyonya spring rolls are popiah, rolled to order and filled with grated and cooked jicama, and thin shreds of bean curd, omelette and vegetables.
Nyonya curry puffs
There are parcels of crunchy curry puffs and for sweets, soft and fluffy apam berkuah griddle cakes, tinted blue from peaflowers and served with a caramelised coconut jam.
Cooking demonstration with Adam Liaw and Florence Tan
We return to the Majestic Hotel where Adam and Florence treat us to a live cooking demonstration of several Malaysian dishes.
Cooking is fun
They make a great tag team, and Florence has nothing but praise for Adam - even commending the way he pours the oil into the wok around the edges, so the oil slowly drips down and coats the entire surface.
There is never a dull moment with Florence and she regales us with stories of her childhood. She talks about always having to go back home for celebrations, and having to peel fifty kilos of jicama for a family feast. "I had to peel five pineapples for tarts! Can you imagine! Five pineapples! But ahh.... food brings us together!" and she smiles broadly.
Cooking the Ayam Pongteh chicken stew with preserved soy bean paste
Nyonya have a lot of superstitions, she reveals, and says that when she was growing up, she was forbidden from knocking the sauce-covered wooden spoon against the side of the pot. "Otherwise you will knock away all the good looking men!" she reveals. "And then my Mum would come and pinch my ear like this!"
Making kuih pie tee cups by dipping the mould in batter and deep-frying
Making kuih pie tee cups is a chance for some hands-on participation. The molds are dipped into a light batter made from flour, rice flour, eggs and water, then plunged into a simmering pan of oil. There's an art to making the "brim" of the top hat, created by submerging the battered mold for three seconds, then bobbing it just above the surface for a split second, so the top section peels back.
Everyone having a go making kuih pie tee
Florence Tan and her sister Koh Kim Lian cooking in synchronicity
The Chinese influence in Nyonya cuisine can be seen in the use of soy sauce and bean pastes. Florence also says the secret to Nyonya cuisine is frying the spices for about half an hour on low heat until fragrant before adding the water or stock to make the curry sauce.
Florence Tan and Amy Koh making the banana flower salad
Even Adam Liaw is a fan boy of Florence Tan
Sambal jantung pisang spicy banana flower salad
We lunch on the dishes demonstrated by Florence, Adam, Amy and Kim, a feast that includes spicy banana flower salad, kuih pie tee, chicken stew and a bowl of Nyonya laksa -- or laksa lemak -- that is rich with coconut milk and fragrantly spicy.
Kuih pie tee top hat and
ayam pongteh chicken stew with preserved soy bean paste
Laksa lemak (Nyonya laksa)
Blue pea flowers
Kuih Rempah Udang blue pea flower glutinous rice filled with dried shrimp and coconut
Dessert is a selection of kuih, and a chance to see the dried blue pea flowers which are used to tint the glutinous rice blue. We soon realise that blue pea flowers are growing in the front gardens of the Majestic Hotel.
Restoran Famosa, roast pork, Hainan chicken and rice balls
Can you visit Melaka without eating chicken rice balls? Of course not! We hit Jonker Street for an afternoon of shopping, but not before a quick feed of Hainan chicken and rice balls at Restoran Famosa.
The chicken rice balls are unique to Melaka - theories abound that these balls of chicken rice were initially created to enable portable meals for workers. I'm not a huge fan of these, as the rice is always a little soggy and squashed from the rolling process, but it would be wrong not to visit Melaka and have one anyway.
Nyonya cendol with palm sugar syrup
And a bowl of cendol is essential - the Nyonya way which means kidney beans, pandan rice flour noodles, shaved ice and lashings of dark brown and caramelly gula melaka palm sugar syrup. Forget the rose syrup, I say. Give me more of that palm sugar narcotic - unadulterated please.
Jonker Street Hawker Centre
Clockwise from top left: Bak kut teh, Jonker Street Hawker Centre, frying lettuce, satay stall
Shopping can make you hungry. Really. After a good two hours we're ready for dinner, stopping at the Jonker Street Hawker Centre for a pick-and-mix feast.
We perch on plastic stools and create a multi-stage banquet of dishes. Each dish only takes about five minutes to arrive, served on thick plastic plates in bright red, orange and blue.
Chicken satay RM0.60 each (AU$0.19 each)
Bak kut teh pork rib bone tea RM15 (AU$4.70)
with crunchy fried lettuce
We dunk our freshly barbecued skewers of satay chicken into a thick peanut sauce, alternating mouthfuls with chunks of cucumber and red onion.
Bak kut teh, a pork rib bone soup, is medicinally soothing, packed with mushroom, bean curd sheets, wood ear fungus, wombok Chinese cabbage and deliciously chewy lengths of pork intestines.
Duck egg oyster omelette RM12 (AU$3.75)
I'd been keen to order the duck egg oyster omelette, but this is a little disappointingly gluey in texture, missing the tapioca starch crunch I'd been craving.
Laksa RM4.00 (AU$1.25)
And because we like to be thorough, we share a bowl of laksa lemak too - for research purposes.
"Should we meet for a drink later on?" Adam had asked the group. "Let's meet for supper," I countered.
Hokkien Mee and Mee Goreng
We've become eating machines by now, and plough our way through huge plates of noodles. Hokkien Mee is a saucy muddle of yellow noodles cooked with dark soy, pork, fish cakes and cabbage. Mee Goreng is a simpler presentation of fried yellow noodles tossed with garlic, onion, prawn and cucumber.
Ayam Goreng fried chicken
But nothing says supper like a plate of Ayam Goreng fried chicken. These were unbelievably good - blistering hot from the fryer and a celebration of amazingly crunchy batter.
Hidden food stalls down dark alleyways
Night crowds eating clams
< Go back to the first Malaysia 2011 post (food tour with Fried Chillies)
Congratulations to Jennifer, Alison L and Cathy L. You have each won a copy of Voracious: The Best New Australian Food Writing.
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Grab Your Fork visited Malaysia as a guest of Malaysia Kitchen Australia and Tourism Malaysia.
> Read the next Malaysia 2011 post (Lot 10, Jalan Alor and 1m-tall roti tisu)
< Go back to the first Malaysia 2011 post (food tour with Fried Chillies)
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Melaka chicken rice balls (Malaysia 2010)
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6/16/2011 02:49:00 a.m.