Sunday, 21 August 2016

Messing Around In Melaka, Part 6

This episode took place at night, so I couldn't take enough good pictures - or, rather, I felt my camera couldn't take good night pictures after seeing Sam's iPhone in action. Hence, this text-heavy episode.


"In two hundred metres, turn left, master."

A shiver went down my spine. Man, I could get used to this. Maybe I should install that app and the voice pack.

"Yes, 3PO," I replied to the Waze app on Sam's phone.

This evening, it was my turn to chauffeur the girls around the city. We went searching for some Nyonya restaurants for dinner after finding Melody's recommended spot, Amy Heritage Nyonya Cuisine, was closed. She'd got us itching to go there with her dramatised narrative, so we were crushed when calls to the place went unanswered.


The Bulldog Café, where we ended up for a Nyonya dinner


Having no luck in one or two other places, including one called Nyonya Makko (my g*d, the lines of people outside), we eventually settled for the Bulldog Café, another stop along that witch's Melakan food trail. We parked at a lot near the Ramada Plaza Melaka and walked there.

An institution dating back to the 1980s (so I was told), Bulldog Café recently shed its old-school Nyonya interior for a more modern look: white-ish walls, steel and wood furniture and strategic lighting. Much like the contemporary hipster places in KL. Perhaps that's why no one laid siege to it.

A fish pond for koi laid before a stage for live acts, also festooned with lights. The only reminders of its former identity was the folding wood screen by the front door and a framed newspaper page from a few decades ago.


Pai tee


I scoffed inwardly, gutted that Bulldog went 21st century to stand out from the tradition-touting tourist traps in the Jonker Walk area and beyond. Progress, I think they call it.

Eating these dishes with rice in such polished, angular and well-lit settings felt even more incongruent, so we were all grateful they were nice. The pai tee - pastry cups with fillings of crunchy sliced vegetables, were delightful, as was the piquant ikan goreng cili (fried spice-coated chunks of mackerel) and kangkung belacan (water spinach stir-fried with fermented shrimp paste).

We wished we had two orders of otak-otak (a spicy, savoury fish cake), gleefully tearing off bits of it from the banana-leaf wrap. Though delicious, Bulldog's ayam pongteh, however, wasn't as potent (or as salty) as the one from The Melting Pot - not enough bean paste, perhaps?


Otak-otak


At least they didn't muck around with the recipes too much. There are reasons these flavours endure, even if architectural and interior design styles do not.

...Fine, the Violet-haired Witch had been spot on. Melody loves reminding me to look past that blogger's hair, manic grin and stick-thin frame, noting that she's always forthright with her opinions, unlike some other bloggers whose words have to be taken with a pinch of salt these days.

Needing to walk off our meal (I had two servings of rice), we resumed Melody's short hotel trail. A quick search on the Internet (see how ubiquitous Google is with smartphones?) we learnt that the distance to The Majestic hotel was walkable, so off we went.


The ikan goreng cili


Formerly the home of a Chinese tycoon named Leong Long Man, The Majestic was eventually acquired by YTL Corporation and reopened in 2008. Other notable high-end YTL hotels and resorts include the ones on Pangkor Island (expensive, but worth even a night's stay because I've been there) and in Tanjung Jara, Terengganu.

Again, we weren't chased out; lost at the spa area, one of the staff directed us to the restaurant area, one floor up from the lobby.

The lobby and lounges retained much of its old identity, which is what many visitors come here for. That also made me feel awkward wandering around the place. And the stairs sighed when I stepped on them on the way up to the restaurant.

The restaurant was largely empty. One Caucasian couple toasted each other with red wine at a table. We saw a guy, the pianist, walk up the stairs, sat at the instrument, unfold some music sheets and start playing. Which was our cue to leave.


Outside The Majestic Hotel Melaka


We had fun looking at the menu. Now I wish we'd taken photos of it. The mark-ups were majestically insane: fried rice and fried koay teow at upwards of RM30 - for street food, mind you.

Still, there must be something about the hotel, since we saw a Myvi parked outside on our way out. Maybe the owner's being frugal so he can vaycay here from time to time.

Oustide, our itinerary was diverted towards a walkway and its many signs detailing the many benefits of walking, so we walked. This place was near the river, where motorised tour barges plied.

Some of these barges sported the mascot of home-grown snack food Mamee. The dry noodle snack used to be in every school canteen, tuck shop, hawker stand and bread-vending motorcycle in my childhood. Only now I learnt that its origins were also in Melaka. A Mamee Museum in the Jonker Walk area also attested to this.

As we walked, I couldn't help noticing the "smell of the sea", reminiscent of shrimp or, if you fancy, belacan. The aroma made me feel peckish, despite the dinner we had.

We crossed a bridge and ended up in a Malay village. At first I thought it was a resort built like a "model village" for visitors. Minutes after setting foot there, it dawned on us that, despite the modern-looking façade of some of the houses, this was the real thing.

Kampung Morten lay near the mouth of the Melaka River, holding steadfast against the tide of development - modern touches such as street lamps, paved walkways and a fresh coat of paint notwithstanding. This village was said to be founded by one Othman Mohd Noh in 1920 and was named after Frederick Joseph Morten, a British land commissioner. It has the distinction of being the only Malay village in the heart of the city.

We saw statues of beduk, the drum that's typically beaten to assemble a crowd for prayers. We also saw a pump station near the bridge - the village looks like it's almost at the river's maximum height. And we also spotted a burger stall called "Morten Burger". I resisted ordering one - where will I wash my hands? Never mind that we'd just eaten.

Leaving Kampung Morten, I felt glad the state government kept this village pretty much as is. Too much of Melaka is being roughly dragged by the neck towards the 21st century and beyond.

Compared to The Majestic, the atmosphere in the lobby of the Ramada Plaza Melaka was festive. Families gathered here and there, kids were running around, and it was noisy. At a set of armchairs near the bar, someone was being interviewed and filmed.

From the look of it, this was another potential hotel. But the glint wasn't in Wendy's eyes, so I guessed we could forget about moving here tonight.

Melody insisted on spending a few minutes here, sinking into one of the plush armchairs near the interviewee. Near the bar, I noticed a piano, but no one was at the keys. Instead, an open laptop sat atop the piano, all wired up.

I went for a closer look and suspected that the laptop was the "pianist" for the evening. I thought only hipster cafés had their sound systems hooked up to a digital playlist.

We finally left with little comment on either hotel. Our best bet for the next possible trip is still the Swiss-Garden Hotel and Residences Melaka - yes!

But we still had to wrap up the evening. To this day, I thought we could've done better.

If you encountered this page by chance, I suggest starting at Part 1, followed by part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5. Part 7, the last chapter, is here.

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