When I arrived, Jacky informed me that he would be heading to Malacca, an earlier capital of Malaysia, for a weekend with his friends. He invited me along and of course I accepted. He then warned me that this weekend would mostly revolve around food, as if it might be a bad thing; this excited me, food is the most important part of traveling for me. Little did I realize the ramifications of this statement: Asians, especially Malaysians are particularly passionate about food, so when they say there would be a focus on food, they really mean it.
Our total group was 14 Chinese Malays and me. Our group size would induce fear in US, but in Malaysia, this was apparently normal, except for the random white guy hang out with them. Our first stop was a market's food court about an hour from KL that was famous for it's beef noodles, a common breakfast for the Chinese. It was delicious and does make a quite decent breakfast. In Asia, food courts do not quite have the stigma as in the US. Some of the best food I've eaten on my trip has been in random malls and few countries are as food court obsessed as Malaysia. Most buildings in commercial districts are just lines of food stalls, each featuring a specialty dish that a family has been making in that spot for generations.
Next, we drove for an hour to a pier just South of Melacca to sample some great seafood for lunch. The specialty was prawns cooked in a spicy sauce with a small green bean that is quite bitter. I didn't care for it much. The bean I remember is from a pod that some people in the US hang from their houses as a decoration (at least my grandmother did). The fish and mussels we had were quite delicious.
An hour later, we stopped for a refreshing dessert of Ice Kachang or ABC as the Malaysians like to call it. Now, this is dish that sounds horrible; it looks horrible as well. First, they take shaved ice and squirt some random syrups into it, essentially a snow cone. Then they add cendol, green strips of some sort of bean, sweetened pinto beans, and corn, then top it all off with vanilla ice cream. I initially tried it in Penang, merely because it sounded so strange. Then I realized that it is simply the most amazing, refreshing, tasty thing a person can eat in such a hot/humid climate. From there, we walked around a bit, seeing a few sights, a clock tower, a park, before driving an hour to our hotel in Malacca.
A short rest later, we were back on the street, hitting up the markets in Malacca for some snacks, finally stopping at a Chinese restaurant featuring one of the local specialties of the town, Chicken rice balls. We had these with some excellent chicken, vegetables, and the highlight, a whole steamed fish, drenched in a spicy Thai style sauce, a bit tangy, a bit sour, with a chili kick. I tried my best not to drool or orgasm in the company. The chicken rice balls were used instead of rice; they were basically a ball of rice flour, flavored with chicken stock. They were ok.
We separated after this to do some sightseeing in the dark, but I didn't see too much, just wandering around the markets. Our main stop was the nationally famous Capitol Satay, serving Satay Celup, a specific style of satay where sticks of every variety: seafood, chicken, sausages, mushrooms, bok choy, morning glory, duck embryos...about 100 varieties in all are dipped into a pot of boiling, peanuty satay sauce until cooked. When we walked by the first time in the evening, the line went for about a block and half, representing over two hours of waiting. It was slightly better when we returned hours later; the wait was only 45 minutes. It was worth it! The table had a gas powered pot, in which a the delightful sauce was added. Every few minutes a waiter would arrive to dump more peanuts, tamarind, and other ingredients I could not identify. The owner, seeing I was a foreigner and the size of our group, treated us to huge prawns, scotch for the guys and some coffee liquor for the ladies. By the time we left, we were sweaty, so full would could have rolled, covered in blots of brown sauce and quite jolly. It was one of the most fun dining experiences of my life.
This however was not the end of our ingestion. After an hour digestion time, we went to the jetty, a mall of nighttime entertainment, featuring a nightclub, bar, quiet cafe, pool/snooker hall, and a karaoke emporium. Sadly, the karaoke was closed for the night. We stopped for some chips and beer, finally filling our stomachs past our esophagus to the throat.
The next day was only slightly less gustically insane. The boys all separated for a quick breakfast of ba kut teh the, a rich, robust soup called pork bone tea in English. This Chinese specialty soup really took off in Indonesia and Malaysia. Apparently it is quite complex to make using rare ingredients Jacky assured that I would have trouble compiling back at home. The one we had that morning was acceptable; Jacky took me to an award winning ba kut the the place near his house a couple days before that may have been the best soup I've had in my life, robust, steamy with a bitter, dark broth that seemed simple, but with further tasting, revealed to be ridiculously complex.
Not more than an hour later, we stopped for lunch of Nynoya style Chinese, a mix of Malay and Southern Chinese cooking traditions. It was quite tasty.
The afternoon was spent wandering around the old colonial building of Malacca. Many years ago in 1300-1700, Malacca was the capital of a quite prosperous empire of the same name. In the days of old ships, traders had to wait for the monsoons to change when going between China and India; Malacca was where they waited and conducted some trade. The empire crumbled after the Portuguese, craving the wealth of the busy port invaded, overthrowing the sultan and starting their own company. This occupation was ended by the invading Dutch, who ruled for a while. Then the Brits took over, using their influence in Penang to take over all the straights of Malacca between Malaysia and Sumatra, as well as most of the Malay peninsula. They improved infrastructure and developed much of the country; this being one of the main reasons why Malaysia and Singapore are the most developed of the Asian nations. The architecture of the city was interesting, lacking most of the pomp of many colonial cities, but maintained a pleasant vibe, like much of the country I saw.
After some snacks, we headed back towards KL, stopping for dinner at a crab restaurant that is quite famous and rightfully so. It may have been the greatest crab I ever had, served in two styles, Chinese and Thai. The former was boiled in some salty brine, that did not detract from the delicate flavor of the crab. The latter was simply the best crab I've tasted in my life. Ginger, chili, garlic, lime; I found myself unconsciously saying "mmmm" after every taste. I was so pleasantly stuffed. The sheer quantity of food we all put back was incredible; I didn't think it was possible to eat so much in such a short amount of time. If you like to eat and an Asian invites you to be a food tourist, take the chance! Your mouth will be so happy.