Malacca contends with Penang for the title of "Malaysia's favorite foodie city"; despite sharing one UNESCO World Heritage title, the two cities offer different takes on Malaysian favorites. A creamier, less spicy laksa; Hainanese chicken rice served in balls; and cendol served with more gula Melaka (palm sugar) and occasionally a garnish of the smelly durian fruit! (To hear Penang's side of the story, look at this list of favorite Penang dishes.)
You'll find something new to chow on, whatever your budget, when exploring the streets of Malacca. Travelers with money to burn can try Malacca's refined take on Peranakan cuisine; backpackers might try cheaper Malaysian street food like satay celup at a few cents per stick.
Many of the restaurants listed here can be found in Chinatown, immediately accessible from most Malacca hostels. Go explore your culinary options: Malacca is a rewarding food playground, no matter how much (or how little) you have to spend.
01 of 06
The Peranakan community originated in Malacca; it stands to reason that you can find the best Peranakan food here, where the babas and nyonyas (honorific titles equivalent to "sir" and "ma'am") combined Chinese and Malay influences to come up with a cuisine that belongs in a category all its own.
Redolent with local spices and savories like belacan and galangal, Peranakan cuisine is Malacca's signature culinary achievement; do not leave the city without trying it.
Where to eat it: the unassuming but superb Peranakan fare from Donald & Lily's (16 Jalan KSB 1, Taman Kota Shahbandar, Malacca, location on Google Maps) serves a mee siam that has Southeast Asia food maven K. F. Seetoh grasping for words:
"It's savory, it's sour, it's sweet, it's very refreshing, uplifting," Seetoh practically gushed during the inaugural World Street Food Congress. "It's made with tamarind juice, there is tau cheo, fermented Chinese bean paste... it's spiked with chilli and it's got freshly fried shallots on top, and [Jennifer Tan, the owner] tops it with two prawns there, just to make it look good. It's very addictive!"
02 of 06
Chicken rice ball
Malacca's very own variation on Hainanese chicken rice is a nod to efficiency: the dish's rice component is compressed into balls about two inches in diameter, cooked in chicken fat and seasoned with garlic and spring onion.
Where to eat it: The place that invented the dish still serves it every day; proceed to Hoe Kee Chicken Rice Ball (4,6 & 8 Jalan Hang Jebat, Malacca; location on Google Maps) to have the dish as God intended: hand-rolled rice globules glistening with chicken fat, accompanied with a hearty helping of poached chicken, best eaten dipped in their homemade chili sauce.
03 of 06
The Hokkien name for pineapple ("ong lai") sounds like the phrase for "come, good fortune" - thus ensuring the pineapple tart's place in many Peranakan families' Chinese New Year dinner tables.
Now that modern kitchen implements have simplified the formerly-arduous pineapple tart making process, these sweet treats are now available in Malacca year-round - and are a favorite take-home present for visiting out-of-towners.
Where to eat it: LW Nyonya Pineapple Tarts House (90 Jalan Tokong, Malacca; location on Google Maps) churns out pineapple tarts by the hundreds daily; located right on Jonker Walk (Jalan Hang Jebat), this venerable bake shop made the record books in 2004 by cooking the largest pineapple tart in the world!
04 of 06
The Malays use satay to refer to any street food on skewers; satay celup is a Malacca variety that entails dipping raw or semi-cooked seafood, meat and vegetables into vats of simmering, spicy peanut sauce. The best satay celup stalls offer over eighty varieties of skewered food to dip in the sauce; eating the stuff is completely self-service, as diners line up to cook their selection of skewers in the sauce before digging in.
Where to eat it: Capitol Satay Celup (Lorong Bukit Cina, Malacca; location on Google Maps) boggles the imagination with its array of skewered morsels, from mushroom to quail eggs to fried tofu to chicken. Each stick will set you back only a few cents, making this one of the best street food deals in all of Malacca.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06
Each city in Malaysia has its own take on the soupy, spicy noodle dish they call laksa; the Malacca edition is rich in creamy coconut milk, gentle on the spices. You'll find thin bee hoon noodles swimming in the lightly spiced coconut milk, but not alone: garnishes include shrimp, bean sprouts, fried tofu, quail egg, Vietnamese mint, fish cake, and sliced ginger buds.
Where to eat it: The aforementioned Donald and Lily's serves a kickass nyonya laksa; if you don't mind going further afield you can also try 486 Baba Low (486 Jalan Tengkera, Malacca, location on Google Maps) for another take on this Peranakan favorite.
06 of 06
A few restaurants in Malacca serve an interesting, odoriferous variation on the Malaysian Chinese dessert called cendol: they serve it with a dollop of durian purée. It's not for everyone (the smell of durian can be off-putting to the finicky, inexperienced eater), but durian works exceedingly well with coconut milk, adding a creamy/musky textural twist to this shaved-ice dessert.
Other ingredients include mung bean flour jelly, red beans and rice-flour noodles - a dash of gula Melaka, or palm sugar, completes this dessert.
Where to eat it: Jonker 88 (88 Jalan Hang Jebat, Malacca; location on Google Maps) serves cendol both with and without a durian garnish. Easily accessible thanks to its location right on Jonker Walk, Jonker 88 draws the crowds with an exceedingly thick, rich cendol that offers relief from Malacca's infamous humidity (read about weather in Malaysia).