The city of Malacca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located 150 kilometers southeast of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. It is famous especially for the bright red buildings that make up the Portuguese built historical downtown area, but for this post I’m going to focus on Jonker Walk, also known as Malacca’s Chinatown; more specifically, I’m going to focus on its Chinatown at night.
I’ve seen it referred to as the perfect Chinatown—just the right mix of touristy and local—but I don’t know if I’d go that far. Offhand, I can’t think of one I liked better and it’s certainly nicer than nearby Kuala Lumpur’s ridiculously touristy version, but I didn’t think it was THAT great. I’m sure there’s a better Chinatown somewhere on earth and most likely, there’s more than one. Nevertheless, it’s a nice place to spend an evening; and more importantly for me, it’s a nice place to eat.
The first time I visited Malacca’s Chinatown, I basically just stumbled into it. I didn’t enter from the main street, but from the side, since I was really just looking for a good place to get some food. Few people were out and even when I hit the garishly lit up gate welcoming me to Chinatown (I assume, since it was written in Malay), the street remained deserted and I had no idea what was in store for me just a few blocks down the road.
I soon started to hear some music and after turning a corner, I found myself right in the middle of a karaoke and dance contest of epic—and horrendous—proportions. And I do mean literally in the middle; I had walked between the spectators and the performance area, since I had come from the wrong side (the backstage side I guess, if there had been a backstage).
After being laughed at—and jeered at by one old man who was WAY too into the proceedings and whose view of nothing I was apparently blocking—I quickly ducked into the crowd and moved toward the back a bit. My quick thinking and immediate movement away from the action saved both my eardrums and my sanity, since the girl who took the stage at that moment began unleashing on the innocent microphone and through it on the world, all the horrific demons that had clearly been tormenting her soul. I don’t know how else to describe the sounds she was emitting. Horror movies don’t scare me, but that tiny woman did.
And it only got worse (worse? maybe not; but weirder and most definitely funnier) from there. A while back I wrote about a New Year’s Eve I spent in Kuala Lumpur and this night in Malacca was very reminiscent of that night. That feeling was probably helped by the fact that this took place about two months after that New Year’s Eve and a mere 150 kilometers down the road to boot.
After the karaoke, it was time for some dancing and several ‘dance troupes’ took the stage in succession. I wrote ‘dance troupes’ because ‘bunch of middle-aged women who get together occasionally and practice uncoordinated gyrations to terrible dance music plus the one guy whose wife wasn’t nice enough to leave him at home and instead dragged him along to participate in her little hobby’ just seemed too long. And then there was this troupe, whose one guy was not only totally into the dance, but who was also easily the best dancer:
Once the dancers took a break and the karaoke returned, I moved away from the racket to get some food. At night, the Chinatown in Malacca fills up with one street food stall after another, in addition to the restaurants that already line the street, their seating spilling out into it and the seemingly endless little shops and street carts selling various knickknacks. It’s a wonderful place for people who like to shop (not me) and people who like to eat (definitely me) and even more so for people who like to do either or both of those things accompanied by steady drone of deafening noise apparently considered music in some circles (100% NOT me).
Unfortunately, there was a little problem with the food, too. I can eat almost anything, but the one thing I really can’t stand is unnaturally sweet things and the Malaysians, like most Southeast Asians really, have a very prominent sweet tooth. Much of the food available was sugar loosely disguised as something else.
Some were great ideas, but ruined by poor execution (chocolate covered grapes, sadly covered in disgusting chocolate that made Hershey’s seem like it came from Switzerland); others never had a chance (caramel encrusted kiwis, because the sticky, chewy sweetness of caramel is pretty much the most disgusting thing I can imagine chewing on; and yes, whatever disgusting thing you’re thinking of right now, I’d probably prefer chewing on that to caramel).
And then of course there’s cendol. This dessert made from coconut juice, green noodles and palm-sap sugar is perhaps the most famous treat on Jonker Walk. You can probably guess that I didn’t enjoy this ridiculously sweet mess, but definitely don’t let that stop you from trying one if you ever find yourself in the area. That goes for all the other dressed up versions of sugar they sell here—I’m definitely in the minority in not enjoying them and not stuffing my face with all of them.
Even if you agree with me and prefer food that doesn’t give you Diabetes before you’ve finished the first bite, you’re in Malaysia—if you take a look around, you’ll notice you’re surrounded by fresh fruit, all of which makes a better dessert than any of the actual desserts. Or just forget about dessert and eat a second meal instead. That’s what I usually did, as there’s so much great food on offer that I was never able to settle on just one dish anyway.
I stayed in Malacca for ten days or so and I ate dinner in Chinatown on every one of them. Much of that was due to my hotel’s location just a few blocks away, allowing me to revert to my default state of moving as little as possible, but I was also drawn in by the endless food options. And it turned out the dancing and karaoke is only forced on spectators occasionally—I never had to endure that again after the first night. I have to admit, though, I wouldn’t have minded some more dancing; it was actually pretty funny. I could have done without the karaoke, but that’s not specific to Malacca. Any time anywhere on earth, we can always do without karaoke.