One of the most important things to do in Malacca (Melaka) is to taste the delicious Malaysian cuisine found in abundance in this tiny state. Malaccan (Melaka) food has a special place in the “tummy“ of Malaysians, You can see the evidence in the mushrooming of food stalls, eatery places and restaurants that feed their hungry customers around Melaka.
Apart from the normal or basic Malaysian cuisine like Malay food, Chinese food and Indian food that you could find in the other states of Malaysia, Malacca offers a slighlyt different fusion of food like Portuguese cuisine and Baba Nyonya cuisine which add a new frontier of flavour to our local Malaccan cuisine.
In Malacca, one can find food from the different cultures and races. The most common one is the Peranakan food. One can often see a Baba and Nyonya restaurant while walking on the example, a Peranakan food consists of Chendol, Ice Kacang, Laksa and Gau Ding Kuih. This is partly due to the birth place of the Peranakan culture.
However, one can also find food from the Chinese race. One can find a famous Chicken Rice Ball stall in Malacca. This is because a large number of Chinese live in Malacca. Singapore food such as Kway Chap can also be found in Malacca. Malay food such as Nasi Lemak can also be found there. This is because Malacca was once a Malay kingdom. Due to globalisation and historical factor, one can find food from the western part of the world, such as Chicken Chop and Beef Steak. Japanese and Korean cuisine can also be eaten at shops and shopping centres.
Lets start with a video about Malaysian Street Food – Malacca (Melaka) to give you all a better idea with what we’re dealing with here when it comes to the food in this tiny state.
The Malaysian city of Malacca is synonymous with Baba Nyonyas, descendants of 15th-century Fujianese traders who took local Malays as wives. But outside the historic center lies another community whose roots in the storied port run just as deep: the Cristang, Eurasian Catholics descended from marriages between 16th-century Portuguese colonists and local Malaccans.
The Cristang (Kristang) many of whom reside in the Portuguese Settlement, a former fishing village about three kilometers west of Malacca’s old town, speak their own language — a mix of mostly Portuguese and Malay — and maintain a unique culture and cuisine that blends Portuguese, Malay, Chinese and Indian elements. This Eurasian fusion fare is embodied in the dish curry debal, or devil’s curry, a vinegar-soured spicy stew of meat and potatoes that is beloved by Cristang (also spelled Kristang) and non-Cristang Malaccans alike.
Curry Debal probably originated in Goa. For it was from there that the Portuguese, lured by the lucrative Malay spice trade, launched the fleet that conquered Malacca in 1511. After securing the port city, the colonizers set out to build relationships with members of the local community, which at the time included Malays, Chinese and Baba Nyonyas, as well as the Chitty (Indian merchants). The Portuguese underpinned these efforts with an official policy that endorsed mixed marriage. The union of casados (as Portuguese men who married local women were known) and Malay, Chinese and Indian Malaccans gave birth to both a new race and a new cuisine.
Celine J. Marbeck, a Malacca-born Cristang and author of “Cuzinhia Cristang,” a book on Malaccan-Portuguese cuisine, notes that the dish has many ingredients in common with the sour and fiery Goan curry called vindaloo including vinegar, dried chilies, garlic and turmeric. As they did in Malacca, the Portuguese encouraged mixed marriage in Goa, and vindaloo, from the Portuguese vinho d’alho, for a pork stew simmered with garlic (alhos) and wine (vinho) vinegar, was just one of many dishes resulting from the union of Portuguese and Goan ingredients.
How to make Debal Curry or “Devil Curry”
Ms. Marbeck speculates that after the Portuguese introduced vindaloo to Malacca, locals added familiar, home-grown ingredients such as soy sauce (introduced to Malacca by the Chinese), candlenuts (a macadamia-like nut), galangal (a rhizome) and lemongrass. (Mustard seeds were already a part of the Malaccan culinary vernacular when the Portuguese arrived.) The dish’s Malaccan name is presumably a reference to its devilishly hot taste.
Curry debal, which is eaten with rice, is a “celebration kind of dish,” says Ms. Marbeck. Cristang Malaccans traditionally served it on Boxing Day when, Ms. Marbeck remembers, “all the leftover meats from Christmas Day were boiled in a cauldron of spicy curry” that scented the entire house.
For Non-Cristang Malaccans, the dish is everyday fare. “Real Malaccan home-style food,” is how many describe curry debal, but these days it also resides on restaurant menus. Many Malaccan Baba-Nyonya eateries offer it alongside their Chinese-Malay specialties. And at casual outdoor spots in Malacca’s Portuguese settlement, it shares table space with barbecued seafood.
Curry Debal is cooked and eaten not only by Cristang, but by Malaccans of all races, so estimations of what constitutes a proper version vary widely.
Some like it hot. “Devil’s curry should be as red as possible, red like fire, from the chilies,” says Cristang Maggie de Costa, a former professional cook. Tracy Ng, manager of the Hotel Puri Melaka in Malacca, on the other hand, prefers hers on the mild side. “Different hands, different tastes,” she explains. “I’m from a Teochew Chinese Malaccan family, and we don’t like it so spicy.”
Though Cristang food authority Ms. Marbeck’s personal preference runs to tongue-tingling, she uses fewer chilies when preparing the dish for her Chinese-Malaysian husband.
Debal made with pork is best, while others prefer a combination of pork, chicken, beef and sausage. Hindu and Muslim cooks typically prepare the dish with chicken, and it is this version that is usually served in restaurants. Potatoes are a must, but some cooks add cabbage and French beans, which many believe were introduced to the dish during the British colonial period.
One thing that aficionados agree on is that a debal that lacks a pronounced tartness is just another curry. Says Indian-Malaysian chef Saravanan, who prepares the dish at Hotel Puri’s Galeri Cafe, Malacca.
“You must be able to taste the vinegar. Absolutely.”
3. Malaccan Nyonya Laksa
Laksa Nyonya Melaka is influenced by Peranakan cuisine. Peranakan people are the descendants of a Chinese princess who married the Sultan of Malacca in the 15th century. They have their own unique tradition and recipes which are the fusion of these two cultures – Malay and Chinese. Generous amount of chillies used reflects this tradition.
This is how to prepare and cook this!
“Spicy paste (grind to a fine paste):
50g fresh turmeric
2 lemon grass
5 candle nuts
30 stalks of dried chillies
60g dried shrimps”
“2 tbs cooking oil
1/2 chicken (cut into small pieces)
10 medium prawns
1 litre coconut milk
6 pcs tamarind apple slices (asam keping)
3 stalks of ginger bud
Salt and sugar to taste”
- Cucumber, deseeded and sliced thinly
- Red chillies
- Spring onion
- Boiled eggs
- Heat oil and sautee spicy paste until fragrant and oil separates.
- Add in chicken and prawns, cook.
- Add in coconut milk and a little water.
- Add in ginger bud.
- Throw in salt and sugar to taste.
- Serve with yellow noodles or rice vermicilli and garnish accordingly
4. Malaccan Baked Fish/Grilled Fish – *Portuguese* style the most popular
Malaccan Grilled fish or Baked fish can be cooked several different ways but in Melaka its mainly either baked or grilled covered with foil like the above photo or backed or grilled wrapped up in a banana leaf as the video below demonstrates. What the most popular is the Portuguese baked/grilled fish and can be found at the Portuguese Settlement square.
When people think of Portuguese cuisine, baked fish will almost always spring to mind. It’s an absolute must-try with every visit to Malacca, though, featuring prominently in all the stalls’ menus. At one place, J’ Splash 5, their Portuguese baked fish (RM33) features a fresh whole tilapia flooded with a thick, tongue-numbingly spicy sauce that went really well with rice.
No trip to Melaka would be complete without a visit to the Portuguese Settlement for fresh seafood prepared in an authentic Portuguese style. The row of shoplots facing the open waters right by the Portuguese Square is where you want to head to try out dishes so famous in this historical city.
Melakan Grilled or Baked Fish – How to prepare and cook this delicious dish, probably second in popularity to the Portuguese Debal Curry!!
“2 onions, chopped
2 stalks celery
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. tomato juice
2 tbsp. lemon juice or white wine
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
Salt & pepper
1-1 1/2 lb. fish fillets”
“Saute onions, celery and tomatoes in butter until tender. Add juices, garlic and bay leaf. Cook over medium high heat 3 minutes. Place fillets in greased baking dish. Season. Pour sauce over fish. Bake at 350 degrees about 20 minutes, until fish is opaque. Serves 4”
“So, it’s a must to relish every bit of everything, when in Malacca!”