Food is something that can immensely enrich your journey; it not only gives you energy to stroll around the country, but a plate of a traditional dish is also able to candidly tell you what’s hiding deep within its secret ingredients and its unique mixture. To put it into plain English, you can learn about someone’s culture through their cuisine!
Of course, I don't have such deep contemplations every time I devour what is put in front of me on the table. What I mostly do is 'lick my plate' clean or invite my husband or friend to share the food with me. That’s all!
Sampling a traditional dish every time I'm off on a journey is a must. There are several advantages if you are not a hard-to-please person in terms of food. First, local dishes are much cheaper than the western ones if you're in Asia. Second, what’s in the adventure if you are abroad and only eat your own food in other people’s country? (It’s forgivable if you have a weak tummy, surely.) Third, in some regions, it’s quite difficult to find European dining.
Laksa in Jonker 88
You might confuse ‘Laksa’ with ‘Lhasa' - the capital city of Tibet, but I can guarantee that this ‘Laksa’ is 100% edible. So, to begin our brief food exploration, Laksa is a spicy noodle soup popular in Peranakan cuisine. It consists of rice noodles or vermicelli, and chicken, prawn, or fish, served in a spicy soup with coconut milk as a base. Different from Malaysian Laksa, Indonesian Laksa tends to be less spicy and the color of the soup is brighter than the Malaysian one. Yet, undoubtedly, both are sensational and will cure your hunger pangs.
We found this small traditional restaurant accidentally when we wandered around Jonker Street. It was almost one in the afternoon and our tummies had just started to squeal, looking for attention, reminding us that we had not had lunch yet.
Driven by curiosity from witnessing so many people standing in front of the menu board, we decided to get one step ahead of the ‘competition’ - we made a beeline for one big bowl of Laksa and one bowl of mouth-watering dessert, which I saw on the menu. I called it competition because the restaurant was full of visitors; it was quite difficult to find an empty place to sit down happily, chomping our lunch.
Every time we asked someone whether those wooden stools were empty or not, we got the same answer, “No, sorry, it belongs to my friend," “No, it is my cousin’s stool,” “No, we’ve reserved it previously.” Right before we surrendered and were ready to look for a cozy corner on the floor, a family with an amiable mom offered to let us sit at their table. Thank God! There are still millions of friendly people out here.
Finally, we ate our lunch after offering a family consisting of a father and two daughters to sit with us and have lunch together. Laksa in Malaysia tastes like curry for Indonesians. The broth was thick but mild with a tasty smell that made my tummy rumble even louder. And what was inside? You can find a piece of chicken, two tofu, eggs, and a generous portion of vermicelli. We ate for two as usual.
How about the dessert? I got a homemade, impossibly rich dessert consisting of shaved ice, syrup, mango, and some other fruits, which actually took a long time for us to finish eating. Nothing was more refreshing on that hot sunny day than some tropical fruits. (I took Mango Ice Kacang. Kacang means peanut in Malay.)
The price is also something to shout about! For Nyonya Assam Laksa you only pay 10.50 RM and for the dessert, around 5 RM.
Another thing that is interesting to see in this restaurant is the collection of traditional items. This Peranakan building doesn’t only function as a restaurant but also as a museum; a mini-museum that displays ‘wang kertas’ (banknotes), paintings, old clocks, and all that jazz.
Restoran Mohamedia (Halal Food): The ABC Tragedy
I like ice: ice cream or just ice. In Asia, what we call ‘ice’ is a block of ice shaved by special tools and then we pour some syrup on top of it along with peanuts and fruits. We don’t use milk much as an ingredient, not only because we don’t like it, but also because it’s hard to find good milk here.
Mango Ice Kacang in Jonker 88 had not completely satisfied my sweet tooth. It might be because Malacca is such an incredibly hot city, where you can’t survive without something cold to eat. So, when I ate in a restaurant close to our hotel, I decided to try ABC; I assumed that it would be a glorious dessert with lots of syrup included. Sorry to say, but anytime I see the title ‘ABC’, I always thought that it would be syrup. That’s because ABC in Indonesia is one of the most well-known brands of syrup.
The owner of the restaurant, who already knew us, greeted us politely and asked what we wanted to order. Confidence is good, but being overconfident is, of course, not so good. After glancing at the menu hanging on the wall, I told him that we wanted a portion of Mee Goreng and ABC (in Indonesia, we pronounce as A (with open mouth), B (be), C (Che) as in Spanish, if you learned Spanish or Russian as well, or even Bahasa Indonesia).
He just frowned deeply and shook his head, saying that they didn’t have that on the menu. Since I am a tenacious person, I preferred not to give up and tried to explain one more time that we needed “ABC”. This time we pronounced the sound of “Che” as “Se”. He shook his head in frustration while offering us other types of available beverages and maybe also begging us to stop being stubborn.
But, no, I had made my mind up to try ABC that afternoon. I would try it. After about 5 minutes struggling with those three letters in one “ABC”, the owner suggested the best solution ever: “Ok, show it to me on the menu.”
Then, with a big smile on his face, he nodded, “Oh, ABC (like we say in English)!”
So, for anyone who still thinks that Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia are the same should try it immediately. They are slightly different, which can sometimes cause frustration, especially because we have different accents and pronunciations.
Back to our main focus. ABC is an ordinary shaved ice, with syrup and red beans as toppings. Despite its simple appearance, it tasted very good, especially when we were in the 'dog days of summer'. So, my effort to get this dessert definitely paid off…