Sunday, 31 July 2016

Messing Around In Melaka, Part 4

Back at Heeren Street, disaster struck. Melody came down with a pounding headache and I was dispatched to a nearby 7-Eleven to get a strip of Panadol.

Fresh from The Shore, we returned to the Jonker neighbourhood and took a coffee break at Backlane Coffee, another hipster café, to wrap up the day. The ambience and décor made us café rats feel at home and we quickly settled in. It was also near our hotel.

Backlane Coffee - this might be the back entrance; another
doorway opens to a real back lane

After ordering, Wendy paid up. Earlier, we had pooled an equal amount of money for food and drink for our stay and left Wendy with the purse. Among Backlane's signature items was a drink where you poured milk over frozen owl-shaped coffee cubes in a glass.

Melody's malaise was apparently due to the late nights she'd been keeping, along with the stress of dealing with debtors in her freelance gig. She'd been agonising over one client who'd been late with a hefty payment, but she didn't want to sound pushy while chasing it.

Properly caffeinated, Sam gave Melody some advice and taught her a few lines in Cantonese, though I felt the words had a similar impact in Malay. I think it was along the lines of:

Tauke, lu tak cantik la macam ni. Bukan saja lu cari makan, saya pun mau cari makan.
(Boss, you ain't bein' pretty. You're not the only one scrapin' by here. I'm also tryin' a make a livin'.)

Saya punya kerja lagi susah. Tauke dah hutang berapa bulan belum bayar lagi. Saya banyak buat kerja sama lu. Ni macam tak cantik, tauke.
(I got it rough too, y'know. You been owin' me for months, and I done lotsa work for you. This ain't pretty, boss.)

I'm sure Sam must've used these lines before; they were too polished to be "new". Her gig involves lots of money, tough customers and tougher bean counters.

We laughed quite a bit, which is always pretty. Melody sounded a little better; I think she had half a mind to hire Sam part-time as a debt collector. And "Lu tak cantik/You ain't pretty" became our catchphrase and, later, our hashtag.

Owl be chillin' at a cool backlane coffee place, yo (photo by Wendy Lok)

Guess you could say our evening at Backlane Coffee was a real hoot.

30 December 2015...

I was left with The Ladies the next day. Melody chose to stay behind to do some work for a client or two. She seemed to feel better, and Sam's cantik pep talk might have given her freelancer's spirit a huge booster shot.

To my surprise, everyone liked the hotel's breakfast buffet. Something to do with the neighbourhood, I suppose, where every other shop is considered part of the area's cottage industries and everything was still prepared and overseen by locals.

We made our way to Jonker Walk, which Sam and Wendy were hankering to explore. In addition, Melody gave us an errand: find the alley where some 3D murals are.

The morning was pleasant. A few shops were open or in the midst of opening. Outside a closed shoplot, a large tray of barley grains were being sunned, suspended on an upturned plastic chair. I haven't seen much of that for a long time.

The Ladies spent a good part of the morning at Simpson Wong's Top-spinning Academy at 79 Jalan Tokong. At this institution (it's on TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet), patrons are guaranteed mastery of top-spinning in two minutes by Wong, who also sold tops and assorted bric-a-brac.

Perhaps sensing my less-than-enthusiasm for the sport, my tennis elbow made itself known after lurking in the background for a while. Sam and Wendy took to it like ducks to water.

Simply put, the keys to top-spinning lay "in the wrist" and how the string is wound. The string must be wound tight around the spike and firmly around the rest of the lathed wooden body. One length of string is wound around the thumb. The whole thing is then thrown in a downward angle, launching the top.

Top-spinning class in session (photo by Wendy Lok)

Well, that's as best as I can describe it. Worried about my elbow, mosquitoes and the impending warm weather, I didn't pay close attention.

Having spun tops before, Sam picked things up quickly, making several successful attempts. She also shot a video of Wendy's learning process. It took Wendy a little longer.

We passed by many other shops en route towards the murals. Staff at a biscuit shop were pulling out trays of freshly baked biscuits for the day. By "biscuit", I mean Chinese pastries of all sorts, without or with fillings of sweet mung bean powder, molasses, lotus seed paste or some savoury stuff which might have been pork or anchovy sambal.

A dodol workshop made the local version of taffy the old-fashioned way, with a huge wok and wooden stirrer. Sam and Wendy sampled some. Later on, Sam purchased a bamboo steaming tray from a rattan-goods shop. At the shop opposite, a tinkerer finished up a metal utensil he was making. I bought nothing, since I hadn't drawn up a shopping list.

Even with the influx of tourists and out-of-towners like ourselves, I began wondering whether these businesses can survive. The first time I dropped by as an adult, I gawked at scenes from my childhood I'd thought I'd never see for real again.

Many of these sights in Penang have vanished or retreated into quiet, ever-shrinking enclaves, preserved by necessity and the tenacity of the locals, with help from the state government. Having these around was comforting, letting me pretend I hadn't aged much since I last encountered them.

Not sure if this is the real Aik Cheong shop. It was almost mid-morning
and it's still closed. Few shops around Jonker Walk opened before 10am,
probably waiting for the crowds. Or maybe it was their rest day.

We left the shops and drifted towards the more historical part of the quarter. Along Jalan Tokong (formerly Harmony Street), we strolled past the trio of holy places: the Cheng Hoon Teng (Azure Cloud Pavilion) Temple, the Kampung Kling Mosque and the Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple, all of which were at least two centuries old.

Despite the irritating smoke from burning joss sticks, I felt wistful over how harmonious things might've been, compared to today. What would those uptight weirdos upset over places of worship think of these temples sitting side by side on this tiny road?

Who knows why we took that turn at a junction into Jalan Hang Kasturi, but shortly after that, we found what Melody asked us to look out for in an alley to our right. A huge stone-encrusted concrete bollard stood in the middle of the entrance.

In the age of social media, these "3D paintings" provided photo opportunities for the Instagram-crazy. One interacted with these images: "holding" a rose while "wooing" a local maiden (no risk of angering her machete-swinging father), "handing" an Indian moneylender his dues, "painting" a Nyonya lady's windowsill, "shaking" the hand of an orangutan, or looking up in fear at a rearing, salivating bull.

Outside East and West Rendezvous, where Nyonya goodies are sold

Of course we took photos. Melody might need photographic evidence of our find.

We also managed to reach the mausoleum of Hang Jebat via an alleyway between a row of shops, around the orangutan mural. I enjoyed poking fun at the poorly written text on one of the signs, despite a notice saying that it was being "fixed".

(Whoever it is, you're taking too long. I was so annoyed I was willing to do it for free.)

Hang Jebat was one of ancient Melaka's famous five caballeros, who included the famous and loyal Hang Tuah. When Tuah was framed by jealous officials and wrongly sentenced, Jebat went on a vengeful rampage for his said-to-be-dead buddy.

Tragically, Tuah - who was revealed to be alive - had to kill Jebat for the kingdom's sake, establishing himself as a role model who put king and kingdom first. Lately, some are holding up Jebat as a symbol of rebellion against a cruel and unjust government - bros before bosses and all that.

As the day wore on, the heat crept up. Past 11am, we reached another shop with another weird name: East and West Rendezvous at 60, Lorong Hang Jebat. Besides serving cendol, it also stocked some of the usual "local" Melakan goodies in what used to be an old house's hall, big enough to fit a cendol "stall" - a stationary cendol station, really.

This morning, we'd walked in on the staff and lady boss stuffing bamboo-leaf pockets with white and blue glutinous rice and savoury fillings.

Zongzi! sang our hearts. We'd found a place where Nyonya rice dumplings, another Melakan Nyonya staple, were made and sold.

Zongzi (glutinous rice dumplings) being wrapped before steaming, at
East and West Rendezvous

I don't know why part of the rice is stained with the juice from the blue peaflower - it's not the morning glory, a different plant - but it made for a nice colour contrast. The filling looked savoury, probably minced pork stir-fried in soya sauce.

Sam and Wendy wanted a load of dumplings, some for their friends and relatives. We - or, at least, Sam and Wendy - were assured that, even without refrigeration, each zongzi can stay fresh for up to 48 hours. I wasn't convinced.

But there weren't enough dumplings on hand for their order and the lady boss said the dumplings might take a while - fifteen minutes, maybe? So Wendy and Sam confirmed how many they wanted and we went elsewhere to wait.

We ended up at Bikini Toppings, a quirky café nearby whose main offerings were coconut-based. Every other item is a Bikini-something: Bikini Ice Cream (ice cream with coconut), Bikini Shake (ice-blended coconut water and flesh with choice of ice cream), Bikini Jelly (jellied coconut water in the shell), Bikini Wrap (didn't ask) and Bikini Spaghetti (ditto). "Bikini Juice" was plain old coconut water.

Aren't there better ways to engage customers than having them decipher cryptic menu items?

At least we enjoyed what we got. My coconut shake wasn't as legendary as the stuff from Pantai Klebang (which we planned for but couldn't reach), but it was still good.

They even had a "bikini" T-shirt. You know, the one that makes you look like a broad when you wear it. We thought it would make a nice present for Melody, who's fond of such kitsch. But we thought the better of it after some half-hearted wrangling - what if the "bikini" is the wrong colour?

"Oh, there he goes again!" Sam exclaimed as I returned the used utensils to the counter - a little thank-you to the shop and the city that made our holiday so pleasant. "Again", because I'd nurtured this habit back ... way before meeting The Ladies, I think. And it depends on the shop.

Sam's "Bikini Jelly" - just coconut jelly in the shell, really. A welcome
respite from the mid-day heat at Bikini Toppings (photo by Sam Fong).

Amused, the lady boss recalled a similar story about a kid who came with his parents and started helping out at the shop, just to bask in the smiles and attention he was getting. "When it was time to go," she concluded, "the boy cried and said he didn't want to leave!"

High five, kid.

Nyonya dumplings finally in hand, we made our way back to the hotel. Lunchtime loomed, but we held out until we got back to fetch Melody.

If you encountered this page by chance, I suggest starting at Part 1, followed by part 2 and part 3. Read part 5 here.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Messing Around In Melaka, Part 3

"Pictures are for illustrative purposes only."

Like a talisman, this disclaimer is used by many F&B establishments to disavow responsibility for discrepancies in what they serve - food, drink, rooms, and so on between what is depicted in promotional materials and reality.

Online, the photos of the rooms in the Swiss Heritage Boutique Hotel were pretty. They were, after all, the only things many had to go on when selecting accommodation besides TripAdvisor reviews, not all of which were glowing.

Back at our rooms at the Swiss Heritage - which was Swiss only in name and, perhaps, Christmas decorations - after our mid-afternoon walk around the Jonker Walk area, some of those TripAdvisor brickbats were confirmed.

Part of the waiting lounge at the Swiss Heritage Boutique Hotel, with
some travellers' bags. Shouldn't just leave them around like that.

My room smelled musty, the air felt and smelt damp, and one wall sported a brown watermark - proofs of water seepage and poor ventilation. Windows opened to the next room's windows and a narrow air well of sorts. Inside, it's hard to tell whether it's night or day. Funny, considering how the original Straits Chinese architecture had features that maximised air flow and natural light.

One side of the bed creaked loudly, threatening to cave in under the weight of any enthusiastic bed-jumpers. A Pyrex panel on the bed head for covering the embedded fluorescent lamp had come loose.

Other than that, the place looked new. Recently renovated, we were told. I loved the showers (with rain shower option, yo), and the bathroom had a new working hair dryer, which I used to warm up when the air conditioning got too cold, which was often.

Then, there's the noise. The staff and neighbours tended to get loud on occasion, and at least one other building nearby was in the process of getting new again. Among us, Wendy was most perturbed by and most vocal about the din. By the time we went out for dinner, she was contemplating moving out.

I wasn't too concerned with the state of the rooms, though it felt too much like one of those polished and expensive studio apartments cropping up in the country. I lay in bed, nursing my disappointment over a bar of "artisanal" chocolate from a nearby chocolatier. Had I taken a closer look at the package, I would have left it alone.

Good chocolate imparts an intense, somewhat spicy, charred-earth smell and sandy mouthfeel that remains for a few minutes, indicating a substantial amount of cocoa solids. Bad chocolate has less cocoa solids, contained "vegetable oil" that comes from other non-cocoa veggies, and goes down like chocolate-flavoured candlewax.

At least there was dinner: the famous satay celup. Melody also convinced us to case at least one other hotel in the city, perhaps for future visits, either before or after eating.

Wendy's eyes glinted.

This evening, Sam drove. I would take the wheel the next evening as we were only four people, so it didn't make sense for both our cars to be out. With the clipped tones of Star Wars droid C-3PO directing us via Waze, we made our way to what Melody's acquaintance said was a satay celup institution.

Parking wasn't hard, nor was getting around. Scheduling the trip on weekdays was smart. The dinner, sadly, disappointed.

The satay celup was ... well ... underwhelming

I was expecting satay celup to be skewered meat dipped in chilli and peanut gravy - which is just satay. What I saw instead was skewers of assorted bits of raw and precooked food: prawns, cockles, squid, fishballs, meatballs, otak-otak and even broccoli florets, plus a boiling pot of satay gravy - set into a recess in the centre of the table - to dip them all in.

Here, satay celup was just steamboat. About as Melakan and exotic as chicken rice balls.

The air went out of my sails quickly as we settled down to eat. Comparisons were made with the notorious Sichuan hotpot. Looking at the roiling hellbroth of peanuts, chilli and oil in the centre, it was hard to disagree.

"In China, they tend to cook with a lot of oil," the well-travelled Sam recalled. "I lifted one side of a plate of half-eaten fried rice and-" the fingers of one hand mimed an explosion, "the oil pooled at the other end."

We made short work of our dinner and went on to find things that were more Melakan, like this fried oyster place within the vicinity, whose awesomeness ensured it would be constantly walled off by hordes of expectant diners. Again, we were guided there by the voice of that fussy protocol droid.

"You have arrived!" C-3PO eventually announced through Sam's smartphone. A few robotic bleeps from R2-D2 followed. "Oh my stars!" he exclaimed in reply. More bleeps. "It is you! It IS you! ... Uh, what a desolate place this is."

No kidding, 3PO.

The fried oyster place was closed.

For the next ten minutes or so, everyone else was Googling other alternative destinations on their phones. Melody, meanwhile, looked up the opening hours for the oyster place. Consternation filled the car as we discovered how much updating some of the sources needed.

"Closed on Tuesdays!" Melody finally wailed. Another search revealed more places that took Tuesdays off. We wondered if there was a conspiracy among the hot hawker stands to go on holiday on Tuesdays.

I could've kvetched about how we could have done all this research months before we got here, but I wanted to live, and it was too far for me to walk back to the hotel.

Melody suggested a change of pace by casing a hotel, so off we went after 3PO was given new coordinates.

Where a pleasant surprise awaited.

I put away my phone, giving up on taking more photos. Not that there was much to photograph up here anyway with my less-than-awesome gear.

"Queen" Melody's dais: one of the round sofas at the rooftop Sky
Garden lounge of the Swiss-Garden Hotel and Residences
Malacca (photo by Sam Fong)

The girls felt different. Melody posed, Cleopatra-like, on a large circular sofa for Sam, whose photo-taking skills ("Make me look hot!") and cameraphone (Apple, mah!) she admired.

Around us, the wind raged. I was convinced it would wrench our gadgets off our hands, sweep them away to the city below and brain an unlucky passenger or vehicle.

We were thirty floors up in an alfresco lounge, the Sky Garden, at the Swiss-Garden Hotel and Residences Malacca. Fierce gales greeted us when we scoped out the infinity pool, the family pools and the water recreation area and followed us up here - could've been our proximity to the ocean. The floor next to the infinity pool was wet and puddled - did the wind splash all that water out of the pool?

The hotel and apartments were attached to The Shore, a newish shopping mall situated in a piece of land surrounded by river. I was a bit sulky to learn we'd be spending some time in this mall after looking at the hotel - weren't we supposed to get away from that?

However, at the elevator lobby, we met an older gentleman and what I thought was his assistant. A conversation was struck up, and Melody kept it going. Her curiosity about the current topic would arouse a similar interest among others, which tend to lead to unusual situations.

The nighttime view from the Sky Garden lounge (photo by Sam Fong)

When he learnt we were curious about the hotel, the gentleman introduced himself as the executive sales manager of that very hotel. "So you're gatecrashing?" he said, and we were all nods and "Yes."

Accustomed to antisocial behaviour in KL, we did not anticipate him personally showing us the pools and, later, the rooftop lounge and got one of the staff to "show us around" (read: stand there while we roamed, gawked at and photographed the place).

Of course, none of this happened without a little grilling on the way. "You're not planning on opening a hotel, are you?" he asked us at one point.

We were a little taken aback by that. Industrial espionage, here?

As if we could.

Eventually, Melody's line of questioning also raised a couple of flags. "Cut to the chase," said the manager when we took the elevator up. "What exactly are you looking for?" Understandable, since he could've been in trouble for showing us around if we had been the wrong type of guest.

Melody revealed her secret identity as a freelance writer with a pen in several publications' inkwells and explained that we were shopping for hotels in the city. I suspect she was emboldened by our success at "sneaking" into the E&O in Penang and being wowed by it. I reckoned a weekend at the E&O was something one would have to save up for.

The manager was more relaxed after that. We'd learnt how young the hotel was (just over a year old at the time of our visit), so not much was done to market it while the kinks were being ironed out. Once we arrived at the 30th floor, he and the assistant left us.

As far as rooftop lounges go, Sky Garden's décor was relatively modest compared to, say, that one in 1Utama. Big cushioned chairs, water features, a bar, wooden footpaths and more, surrounded by colour-changing lights. But it was open to the elements - too much, if you ask me - and what a view.

Then, my fear of heights kicked in and made my hands tremble and sweat. I put away the phone, not trusting myself to keep a firm grip on it. The ladies, however, had a ball.

Part of the Sky Garden rooftop lounge (photo by Sam Fong)

Coming down from the high, we gathered at the lobby. We still could not believe our luck. The rooftop visit was more than we'd bargained for. Then, we learnt how much each room cost per night.

We had to restrain Wendy, who was ready to move her luggage from the other "Swiss" place we were staying in.

We could empathise. For just a few ringgit more, we'd have a pool, gym, rooftop view, swankier surroundings and no noisy neighbours or construction cacophony. But that would also mean forfeiting what we paid for our original accommodations. And we were already a day into our sojourn in Melaka.

It wasn't worth the trouble. We'd anticipated being unable to see or experience everything in this city, so we made a point to return and stay here - provided the prices didn't rise too much by then.

Witn that, we browsed around in the mall, which had an aquarium and two food courts, one for Chinese cuisine. I went along; the Sky Garden visit made me amenable to following the girls around. They posed with life-sized figures from Snoopy and window-shopped. We continued to make plans for Melaka Part 2 on the way to the parking lot.

Incidentally, Swiss-Garden Hotel and Residences Malacca hosted the contestants of Miss World Tourism 2015/16, who were here, I think, for the finals that Thailand couldn't host for some reason. Memories of Melaka still fresh in my mind, I was incensed by the noise some groups were making about the event "promoting" vice and whatnot.

Their "concerns" and shallow notions of piety paled in comparison to the hospitality and generosity (and, perhaps, courage) the manager and his assistant showed to four clueless chumps from KL.

Don't mess with Melaka, yo.

Some random passer-by pointing at a now-famous slogan - with
his forefinger, naturally (photo by Sam Fong)

If you encountered this page by chance, I suggest starting at Part 1, followed by part 2. Part 4 is here.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Raya Weekend Cooking: Pasta From Scratch

I've talked about pasta dishes so much I doubt anyone wants another pasta story from me. But bear with me, this one is different because...

A wild ball of pasta dough appears! How will it turn out after
some kneading, resting, cutting and boiling?

A couple of recipe videos managed to convince me that it was easy to make your own pasta and that it tastes better than store-bought. Knead an egg and 100g of flour into a ball of dough, flatten it out, cut it into rustic pasta strands, boil, season and enjoy.

What the videos didn't mention was how HARD it is to knead the dough to the right consistency, and that you need to rest it for maybe one hour, not half. I had to rest the dough twice, adding a little water to knead before wrapping it up in cling film.

From dough to bowl, the process took a whole afternoon, and I did chores afterwards. My arms were feeling it for a while. I can see why Italians of yore went "Meh, I'll just toss this with some olive oil and cheese" after making a batch of this. A good idea, though.

Getting the flour into a dough didn't take long but, my, how the dough STICKS. I would knead it again after a failed attempt to roll it flat, then stored half in the freezer, in case 100g was too much for me (it wasn't). The resulting portion was snack-sized and it was almost 5pm when I tucked in.

When I finally arrived at this stage, my heart did belly-flops.
Watching DIY pasta come together in real life is incredible.

As you go along, it's easy to get lost in the kneading, especially if you have issues to work out. At some point, you might even feel it's ... fun.

Three rounds of kneading and a bit of rolling and ... can it be? Is it ... ready? Yes, it is! The strands were ragged and unevenly rolled but they were ready. This is technically a bunch of Chinese egg noodles, since I didn't use durum wheat semolina.

I remember dining at a place in Penang called Cozy in the Rocket, where I saw the chef make pasta from scratch and was mind-blown. I'm still not close to that level, but this still feels like an accomplishment.

Yes, once cooked they looked and tasted like pan mee. The strands almost doubled in width and thickness in the boiling salted water, but took half as long to cook as store-bought linguine. Tastes better too, but I think that's because it was seasoned with Blood, Sweat and Tears and that special ingredient: Personal Satisfaction.

Actually it's just olive oil, a clove of garlic (grated), powdered
Parmesan, black pepper and a dash of mixed herbs. But it
tasted like satisfaction. Sweet, sweet satisfaction.

But this portion was still half of the dough I'd made. The other half's chilling in the freezer and probably not kneaded enough. I'll have to deal with it soon...

22/07/2016   I've since found out that this kind of pasta has a name: pasta all'uovo, or "egg pasta" (jidan mian in Chinese). Mais bien sûr.

I also came across this piece by someone who takes her pasta more seriously than me. That's a lot of dough she went through.

Full portion of pasta dough from 100g of flour, mostly rolled out.
Any flatter and it might stretch wider than the counter.

But after this batch, I determined that the dough had not been kneaded enough because I had not been tracking the time. So for the next batch, I stopped at intervals to check how long I'd been working on the dough.

The dough stretched better when rolled. Well, I did spend 25 minutes kneading it. I started sweating around the twentieth minute. Despite flouring the dough and the strands liberally, the pasta was still sticky and hard to unravel.

Same amount of flour and egg, yet I ended up with enough pasta
for two - or three people. What gives?

Ah, so there's supposed to be a drying period, like in this recipe? I'll explore that.

This time, I decided to cut up the whole portion into strands. However, I was puzzled at the amount I ended up with. Easily more than twice the amount of the previous batch - just enough for two hungry people.

Home-made pasta with home-made basil pesto

More than twice the portion, more than twice the satisfaction. But 25 minutes of kneading? Probably because I'm no Zangief.

Perhaps it's time I take up a workout regime. But I suspect I'd be working on another batch of pasta much sooner than picking up a pair of weights. It's much easier, and I get to eat my exercise equipment afterwards.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Messing Around In Melaka, Part 2

Wandering towards another junction at Jalan Hang Kasturi where the A' Famosa Chicken Rice Ball Restaurant was located, I spotted a familiar sign and the miles we'd travelled seemed to have vanished.

No way that's an Inside Scoop sign!

Yes way. The independent ice-cream company's spreading its wings

So it appears that the KL-based independent ice-cream enterprise has joined the invading hordes that descended upon modern-day Melaka, itching to take advantage of the endless flow of foot traffic from visitors. We would later encounter an outpost of Sangkaya, another start-up and coconut ice-cream outfit from the Malaysian capital.

We patronised neither. It didn't feel right somehow.

Instead, the ladies (all three) browsed around one of the shops that sold prepacked local goods with the usual marked-up prices: coffee, biscuits, cencaluk, sambal, pineapple tarts, durian tarts and the like. They also sampled a kind of seaweed jelly, the "pour into hot water and mix" variety. Again, not cheap for the portions each packet produced.

A queue in front of a shoplot - and the heat - drew us in. At Kedai Aku Dan Dia, an elderly gentleman was plopping handfuls of bright green balls of flour into a pot of simmering water. In a pastic container, more such balls were being rolled around in shaved coconut.

We'd found an onde-onde vendor, sited at 25, Jalan Hang Kasturi. Also called (appropriately) buah Melaka, these grape-sized, shaved coconut-covered balls of glutinious rice flour held shavings of brown, sweet and smoky gula Melaka. The green came from the extract of the pandan (screwpine) leaf, touted by some as this country's equivalent of vanilla.

("Appropriately, because buah Melaka can also mean the Indian gooseberry, which is greenish in colour.)

Outside Kedai Aku dan Dia, where perhaps the best onde-onde
or buah Melaka can be had

Unfortunately for us, the last of the current batch was sold. Well, not all. One little fellow remained in the container. The vendor offered us the lone onde-onde, which Sam took up.

Then, for some reason, she lost her grip on the thing. It was as if it was trying to escape, like a fleeing Mexican drug lord.

A few close calls later, my gaze fell onto her upturned fist. My gut clenched with the assumption that it was empty, but her hand was occupied. With a shout or two of triumph, she popped the slippery onde-onde into her mouth.

"Mmm~! So good," Sam moaned as she chewed. I think the struggle made it even tastier.

The vendor's kind gesture assured our return to the shop, some fifteen minutes later, where we bought two bags or ten pieces for RM4. However, the girls only finished one bag, leaving me with another. The contents were still hot, so I let them be.

While waiting for the next batch of onde-onde, we looked around. Some of the shops we browsed included The Daily Fix, located inside another of the refurbished old houses in the neighbourhood.

The front housed a knick-knack shop, selling things that included odd pieces of wood, each for massaging specific parts of the body. Some of these massage aids had "suggestive" shapes; others would feel right at home in a ninja's utility belt. On the scene were some expensive pillows, covered in casings styled after sacks of flour, sugar or rice of yore.

"Why on earth would anyone want these?" I asked.

"They're very nice," Sam said. "They look authentic."

"Yes, when you want to pretend you're a dockhand, carrying these around and sleeping on it after a hard day's work."

Trust hipsters and the Gen-Y to hip up the rough and gritty.

Goodness gracious, green balls of sweetness!

The café took up part of the courtyard and the back half of the property. It sported the familiar Instagrammable rustic chic shared by many other establishments of its ilk. A mutual acquaintance spoke well of its offerings, so we made a note to drop by, which we did, before packing up for the trip home.

Sweaty and fatigued from walking in the hot afternoon, we took refuge in Christina Ee's, where we cooled down with cendol. Their place and their version of the dessert looked more humble than the other icon farther along Jonker Walk, the often crowded Jonker 88, and its durian cendol.

A layer of cooked adzuki beans, buried under a mound of shaved ice, crowned with a medusaic mass of green strands of pandan jelly and drizzled with melted gula Melaka and coconut milk. Also, no durian, but what the heck. This was just what we needed. A few spoonfuls later, the heat receeded and we felt energised again (carbs are great), though we did feel bad for ordering just two bowls to share between us.

Over that same bowl of cendol, we talked about life and the growing appeal of ginger as one ages (gets rid of wind in the gut), along with plans for the next stages in our fluid itinerary. I'd tune in and out time and again to snort at the tour guides who were helping tourists pick "better" brands of white coffee, biscuits and other merchandise.

Chillin' out with some cendol at Christina Ee's

Before I knew it, the onde-onde been forgotten long enough for them to turn cold and soggy from condensation. Still yummy, though, as I learnt back at the hotel. Unmelted bits of palm sugar crunched along with the coconut as I bit down, popping the chewy glutinous rice layer and filling my mouth with a comforting, earthy, syrupy sensation.

This is nothing like what we'd find in KL, or anywhere else we'd been to. And it's just two hours away.

Of the many oversold historical aspects of Melaka, the Baba-Nyonya is arguably among the most visible. They are part of a group collectively known as Cina Peranakan - local-born Chinese who have adopted aspects of Malay or indigenous culture. My attachment to the Chinese heritage in Melaka might have origins in my Penang-born mother's Cina Peranakan roots.

Peranakan in Malay means "local-born" and usually applies to people of other places who are born here, such as the Jawi Peranakan: Indians and those of Middle Eastern origin.

The Cina Peranakan community in Melaka is particularly famous, partly due to strong PR and marketing efforts. You'll find museums showcasing Baba-Nyonya heritage, restaurants serving "authentic" Nyonya cuisine and shops selling Nyonya attire, such as beaded shoes and the figure-hugging baju kebaya. But it's the cuisine, I believe, that looms the largest in the imaginations of visitors.

I find such displays of heritage shallow, which is no one's fault. Many tourists are only interested in the look, feel and tastes of Peranakan Chinese heritage, hurrying by as they do from one attraction to another, afraid to miss out on something else should they linger too long at one spot. Few have the stamina and time to delve deeper, and it's not just the foreign visitors. As such, I feel many of these showcases rarely offer more than just glimpses of a bygone era.

There's an impression that a lot of our history has been steamrolled, bulldozed and sold off in the name of progress before the level of devastation was deemed serious - and even then, progress hasn't slowed. Many origin stories about the people, cuisine, events and architecture have been lost. In spite of the efforts of a handful of tireless, devoted history buffs, activists, academicicans and stalwarts in the shrinking communities, we're losing more of our collective heritage as time passes.

Why the blue colouring? Why these designs? Why build it like this? How did the Baba-Nyonyas' Malay-Chinese patois develop?

Few seem to know for sure. Replies such as "It's always been here" or "that's how it is done" aren't enlightening or reassuring.

One day, there will be no answer at all.

And I'm not sure what we can do besides rant about it in self-indulgent "travelogues" like this one.

If you encountered this page by chance, I suggest starting at Part 1. Part 3 is here.