Nostalgic of my roots - my great grandfather from China met and married my great grandmother in Malacca - I revisited the Malaysian town four times recently.
Though my last visit was 20 years ago, the Malacca I saw in my latest visits was still as picturesque, with traditions intact.
My comeback stays included a suite at Hotel Puri - a converted Peranakan house on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock at the fringe of Jonker Walk - and a homestay at Cyclamen Cottage, a conserved colonial building.
Cyclamen Cottage sits on Teck Chye Avenue off Limbongan, which joins Jalan Tengkera.
My friends and I had the Garden Wing to ourselves. Our room cost about RM370 (S$140) for two nights on triple share. It felt like home.
Couple Chris and Cindy, who run the place, live in a wing of the main building.
Opposite the main building is another colonial house that holds half-Baba Chris' collection of Peranakan antique jewellery and other memorabilia including traditional games like congkak.
When I played the game as a five-year old, I used to allow my grandmother to cheat occasionally and "tembak" (win the opponent's seeds).
Chris will oblige if you request a courtesy view of his private collection and tell the stories behind it.
Old-world street food
Street food, a large part of my childhood memories, is alive and well in Malacca, and super if you visit this Chinese New Year.
Head to Jonker Walk, a 15-minute jaunt from Cyclamen Cottage. The cottage provides bicycles for your use for free. But if Chris is on the way out, he will even drop you off.
Close by is the famous Tengkera putu piring or steamed rice flour cakes filled with gula melaka (palm sugar). A no-frills stall, and open only at night, it is run by a couple right at the doorstep of their home.
You will know it is the right place when you see cars, including those with Singapore licence plates, lining the road as their owners queue to buy the snack for supper. No wonder, the flour in this putu piring is fragrant, with a generous glob of gula melaka inside.
A lok-lok truck parks at the start of Jonker Street (renamed Jalan Hang Jebat) on weekend nights. Mid-street, a weather-beaten old man selling gula ting ting (sugar candy), reminded me of when grandma used to stuff the candy into my mouth when mum wasn't looking.
For whatever reason he chose to continue the trade, I liked that the old-world things remained in Malacca.
At the Jalan Hang Kasturi intersection, I saw another "uncle" selling boiled peanuts, something healthy to snack on for a change.
This is the street to stop at for a coffee break. One place to chill at is the bohemian Calanthe Art Cafe, which serves coffee from 13 states of Peninsular Malaysia. The aroma stirs up happy childhood images of grandpa pouring half the coffee on the saucer to cool it for me to drink while drinking his half from the cup.
The few times I went to Jonker 88 on Jonker Street for cendol, the green mixture was not properly thawed.
However, Bibik House Cendol, at the end of the same street, serves the cendol in a small dish on the side so it does not harden. Add as much gula melaka as you want, there is a bottle on the side too.
On Jalan Melaka Raya, Restoran Tong Sheng is the place to tuck into scrumptious cheese prawn beehoon. A plateful for three to five people cost just RM40.
But if you have time for only one meal in Malacca, go across the road to Amy Heritage Nyonya Cuisine.
Peranakans don't recommend Peranakan food easily because we feel mum's food is best. But Amy's won our party's hearts. This is the flavour of my roots.
These are just some must-trys: ayam buah keluak (chicken with black nut gravy), jantung pisang (appetiser using the core of the banana), kueh pai ti (appetiser with turnip filling) and ikan chilli garam (fried fish).
We fought for every last morsel, including the fried fish - crispy on the outside, moist on the inside. End the day with a leisurely 45-minute cruise down Malacca River for RM15. From Jonker Walk, the jetty at Quayside Heritage Centre is the closest.
My party of four took a two-hour drive from Singapore via the Second Link to Malacca.
Explore Jonker Walk on foot. Traffic is especially bad after 11am on weekends as tourists flood in for the weekend night market.
Jonker Gallery, a chain of boutiques, offers fusion fashion for head-to-toe casual wear. I liked Jalan Tokong best as the clothes here offer funky comfort. Don't say "cheap, cheap" when shopping. Locals dislike it as it drives prices up.
This article was published by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.
This article was first published on Jan 6, 2015.
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