Kiwi food YouTubers Thomas and Sheena Southam are on an eternal quest to find the most delicious local food the world has to offer. This week, they check out the best cheap eats in Melaka.
Prepare to fall in love with Melaka. The vestiges of the city's Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial past are apparent in the architecture of its historic centre, its rich cultural history evident in her people and her food.
There is so much to discover here - from Dutch churches and ornate Chinese temples to heritage museums and the city's famous night market. The historic centre is cleaved in half by the Melaka River and ideal for navigating on foot, perfect really as you'll need to walk off a lot of mouth-watering food. Melaka is known for a number of local specialties, here are a few of our favourites to get you started.
1. Coconut palm sugar encrusted kuih keria
Malaysia's answer to the afternoon munchies is kuih. These bite-sized snacks (both sweet and savoury) come in all manner of shapes and colours but are commonly made from starches including rice and tapioca flour and flavoured with aromatic pandan (think tropical vanilla), coconut and gula melaka (coconut palm sugar).
Melaka is famous for its kuih keria, a sweet potato donut which, after frying, is drizzled with sticky, thick gula melaka. It's said the sugar may have originated in Melaka hence its name and we can believe it as the coconut palm sugar here is like nowhere else in the country: intense smoky caramel flavours with a hint of bitterness. Eat kuih keria at Keria Antarabangsa Limbongan where you'll find sweet tooths lining up for brown paper bags filled to the brim with warm donuts. Dive in and crunch through the palm sugar glaze to reveal a soft, slightly chewy inner studded with bits of sweet potato.
Eat it at Keria Antarabangsa Limbongan, Jalan Limbongan, Kampung Limbongan, 75250 Melaka, Malaysia. Open 1:30pm-7pm. Closed Friday.
2. Peranakan cuisine: Chinese Malay fusion
You'll see references to Peranakan cuisine when in Melaka and it's something you can't miss. Peranakans are the descendants of Chinese migrants who arrived in what was then British Malaya - in the 15th through 17th centuries - and intermarried with the local Malay. Known also as the Baba Nyonya, their cuisine is a mash-up of both cultures where Chinese ingredients are blended with Malay cooking techniques and key flavours of Malay cuisine including tamarind, coconut, pandan and shrimp paste.
The Nyonya laksa and Nyonya cendol at Jonker 88 are both must-eats. Top tip: order the laksa kahwin - the "married laksa" - the ultimate union between the creamy coconut laksa broth we all know and love with the fishy, sour tanginess of an assam laksa. Loaded with fish cakes, bouncy noodles, tofu puffs and prawns, it's a riot of texture and complementing flavours. End with cendol - the best way to beat the tropical heat. Pandan-flavoured noodles, coconut milk and kidney beans hide beneath a tightly packed ball of shaved ice, which is crowned with a ladle of dark, thick gula melaka.
Eat it at Jonker 88, 88, Jalan Hang Jebat, 75200 Melaka. Open 9:30am-6pm, Sunday to Thursday and 9:30am-9pm, Friday and Saturday.
3. From sea-snails to Portuguese-style fish …
Melaka's position on the south-west coast of Malaysia means there is no shortage of seafood dishes to sample. For a local experience head to "Cockle Lane" and pull up a wooden stool at one of the low communal tables. Plastic coloured bowls are filled with various types of shellfish from lala (clams) to balitong (sea-snails). Just point to what you like the look of and they'll dunk the fish in boiling water to cook before sliding across some sauce for dipping.
You needn't be worried the shellfish isn't fresh: the sea-snails crawling across the table in a getaway attempt should be enough to convince you otherwise. Make sure you order sotong kangkung, the house specialty. It's a vibrant mix of tender boiled squid, water spinach, peanuts and sambal (chilli sauce).
For a taste of Melaka's colonial past head to the Portuguese Settlement where you'll find seafood cooked in a Portuguese Malay style featuring aromatics such as lemongrass, chilli, galangal and ginger. It pays to know which stall you're heading to (there are around 10 stalls) as waiters from each restaurant will approach you as soon as you arrive - the Portuguese Settlement is a bit of a tourist hub. Simply tell them you already have a reservation and they'll move on pretty quick, leaving you to browse. J & J Corner (Stall 10) is excellent: the family catches their own fish to supply the restaurant and the seafood is super fresh.
Eat it at Tong Bee's Stall (the one on the right as you walk in which has low tables and stools), 143, Jalan Bunga Raya, Kampung Jawa, 75100 Melaka, Malaysia. Open 7 days, 6pm-11pm and J & J Corner (Stall 10) 18, Jalan Daranjo, Perkampungan Portugis, 75050 Melaka, Malaysia. Open 7 days, 5pm-11:30pm