Melaka, Local Vegan Life
Having been on the road on our Vegan Food Quest since the beginning of the year, we felt like having a rest from travelling and decided to rent an apartment in Melaka for 6 weeks… We love to travel but when you are in the same place for a while you get to see a different side of life. It also means we’ll have our own kitchen again, which is great because one of the things we miss about not being at home is not being able to cook our own food.
Our apartment in is Ujong Pasir, which is a 15 minute bus ride or a 45 minute walk from the centre of the old town in Melaka. There aren’t many tourists here and it’s definitely the place to come and experience some local Malaysian life. We can see the sea from our apartment balcony and the neighbourhood is really friendly.
We have lovely neighbours who have shown us a lot of kindness. Annie, who lives below us and has never even heard of the concept of veganism, has even begun to veganise traditional Malay dishes and deliver them to us.
Annie has even made us our very own supply of a red chilli paste condiment called ‘sambal’, which is a key part of Malaysian dining. It normally contains belachan, which is made from shrimp paste, so we can’t eat it but Annie’s animal free version is so tasty that we are now putting it on everything we can.
Plus she finds little vegan friendly treats for us to try like a lychee, coconut and rock sugar drink concoction that makes a sweet afternoon pick-me-up. Getting to know local people who share their life and culture (and food!) with you is definitely one of the best things about traveling and we never feel like being vegan gets in the way of this because people are generally very interested in our lifestyle and often try to find something they can share.
Once a week, on a Tuesday, there is a local night market where you can buy fruit and vegetables, if you can manage not to get distracted by all the stalls selling snacks. Indian vadai, freshly steamed sweetcorn and fresh popiah are all a constant distraction to doing the weekly shop.
A lot of the food in the night market isn’t vegan, but you don’t need a lot of choice when you find Charlie’s stall, offering ‘Baba Nyonya’ kuih (small snacks or desserts) and fresh popiah. Baba Nyonya cuisine originates from the original Chinese traders who settled in Malaysia and married Malays, producing a fusion cuisine that Melaka is well known for because of it’s history as a key trading point in days gone by.
Charlie’s fresh popiah are a real bonus find for us (as any other vegans visiting Melaka). Popiah are wheat flour ‘pancakes’ that are filled with all sorts of goodies like tofu, minced garlic, chilli sauce, hoisin sauce, bean sprouts, lettuce, cucumber and sweet stewed jicama (which is a sweet turnip like vegetable). Normally they have egg, shrimp, pork, lard or other non-vegan friendly things in and the recipe varies from region to region but Charlie’s popiah have to be the most vegan friendly and delicious in the whole of Malaysia.
Admittedly we haven’t tried them anywhere else but these are so good that we aren’t sure that anyone could make them better.
Once eaten, never forgotten…
Ujong Pasir is also home to the ‘King of Vadai’, Mr. Kumar. Mr. Kumar can be found on the main road, most days selling his vadai from the back of his motorbike. This is a mixed blessing for us, we love to talk to him and eat his delicious, thin vadai (made from Australian dhal he tells us proudly) but we are getting a bit fat from over indulging in these tasty vegan treats. They are just so addictive, served with fresh green chillies that you just take a bite of along with your vadai.
Ujong Pasir is right next door to the Portuguese Settlement, an area of Melaka that has housed the descendants of the original Portuguese settlers, since the early 1930’s. One our first weekend here we were invited in to a 60th birthday party of one of the members of the Portuguese Malay community, as we walked home from a night out. Being a very sociable bunch of people, they gave us food and drink and even got us up on the dance floor to demonstrate our very poor dancing skills.
Every year there is an annual ‘Festa San Pedro’ festival, a 3 day event of cultural activities, music and food. We happily got involved in judging the boat decoration competition and also discovered ‘asam boi’ which is a drink made from sour plums, sugar and salt and is amazingly tasty. We are really getting used to the Asian flavour balance and love the combination of sweet, sour and salty all in one go. We also found some exceptionally good vegetable samosas and had to go back twice to get more because they tasted great and we are a bit greedy.