Being inducted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, Malacca City in Malaysia is proof of how “good things come in small packages”. Although it is a small city with a land area of approximately 300 square kilometers, it boasts of an interesting melting pot of myriad cultures that cannot be readily experienced elsewhere in the world. Not only was it colonized by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British, but it also showcases a unique Peranakan (Straits Chinese) culture, in which Chinese immigrants from Mainland China intermarried with the Malays living in Malacca originally. Such a diverse mix of cultures and customs is reflected everywhere in Malacca City, ranging from architecture and sightseeing spots to local cuisines and even street wall paintings. If Malacca sounds like your kind of place, then read on as I introduce to you 5 lesser-known shops and sights there so that you can have more fun absorbing its cultural vibes while eating up a storm!
1. Visit Wah Aik Shoemaker at Jalan Tokong
Think that bound feet shoes are a thing of the past? Apparently not at Wah Aik Shoemaker. This family business has been crafting these shoes by hand for three generations. Take a step back into the past as you enter this shop—if you are lucky, you may just get to see the artisans embroidering the shoes before your very eyes—and admire these intricately designed shoes on display. Not quite for the faint-hearted because one will think about how Chinese girls in the past must have suffered tremendous pain, just for the sake of their elders flaunting their wealth.
2. Walk past shophouses near Jonker Street at night
I stayed at a guesthouse located at Harmony Street, which was a stone’s throw away from Jonker Street. There were many shophouses along the stretch of road from Harmony Street to Jonker Street; their inhabitants would sell fresh meat from their living rooms every morning. I assumed that the fresh meat was delivered by a wholesaler early in the morning, so imagine my surprise when I walked back to my guesthouse later that night and saw butchers chopping meat. One butcher was even chopping his meat in the middle of the road and did not seem bothered by the occasional car travelling past! It was indeed a great way to observe how people in Malacca led their lives.
3. Indulge in your love of cats
If you are a cat lover, Titi Art Gallery is not to be missed! The owner, Titi Kwok captures the varied mannerisms of cats adeptly through minimalistic and energetic brushstrokes, so his paintings are an excellent choice to decorate your walls with. For those of us who are more budget-conscious, Titi Kwok has thoughtfully launched his artworks in the form of fridge magnets so that we may buy magnets that have feline poses that really appeal to us or our cat-lover friends!
4. Visit 3 places of worship from 3 different religions—all on the same street!
Malacca is unique in the sense that we can observe how different religions co-exist in harmony. Take a leisurely stroll along Harmony Street and admire the elegant beauty of Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, Kampung Keling Mosque and Sri Payyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple. Incidentally, Cheng Hoon Teen Temple and Sri Payyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple are respectively the oldest Chinese and Hindu temples in Malaysia. What’s more, after admiring the architecture of these buildings, you can make your way to Low Yong Moh Restaurant Dim Sum restaurant strategically located across the street and tuck into some delicious dim sum!
5. Savour mouth-watering fresh milk crabs
While we are on the subject of food, carve out some time so that you can pay Restoran Tong Sheng a visit. Some Singaporeans miss out on this place because it is not strategically located at any of those streets where the good eating hangouts are clustered together. But fret not, this restaurant is a mere 5-minute cab ride from Mahkota Parade Shopping Mall. Once you get there, be prepared to have your palate tickled by juicy and tender crabs generously doused in fresh milk. Instead of the mantou buns that Singaporeans use to dip into our chili crab sauce, dip toasted bread into the juicy gravy and let its awesomeness unravel in tiny delightful bursts on your tongue. Their Cheese Prawn Bee Hoon is also highly recommended and goes well with the milk crabs.
What ultimately made Malacca City memorable for me was the opportunity to observe life as how the locals live it. Such slices of life pair very well with its relaxing feel. I came away with a renewed perspective of how being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site does not mean that a place will necessarily lose its original touch and vibrancy.