The Phoenix Trail: Peranakan Heritage of Melaka
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The Phoenix Trail: Peranakan Heritage of Melaka

Located at the point where the East and West maritime trade winds meet, Melaka (also known as Malacca) has always been a melting pot of cultures. The prosperous port attracted travellers from far and wide; some stayed for good and created a new society as an amalgamation of cultures. The descendants of Chinese immigrants who arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries and married local women created a distinct society called Straits Chinese or the Peranakan whose history could be found all around Melaka.

MUSEUMS

The Peranakans developed a distinct culture which features both traditions of their ancestral land and their new homeland. Unlike in a traditional Chinese society where a man is the patriarch, the Peranakan is a matriarchal society where the head of household is the oldest female. It is their feminine touch that gels the whole society together, a fact that would be apparent when you visit their households.

Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum

This private museum is owned by the Chan family who are able to maintain their family’s history and heritage even after seven generations. The townhouse has been beautifully restored to how it was in the late nineteenth century, when Chan Cheng Siew bought it as the Dutch were leaving Melaka following the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824.

Baba Nyonya Museum - CC BY 2.0 - Soham Banerjee resized, Peranakan Heritage of Melaka
Baba Nyonya Museum CC BY 2.0 Soham Banerjee

Stepping into the 19th century house is like stepping back into a bygone time and sharing Chan family’s intimate memories, imagining how the host entertained his business partners in a room with neo-classical European furnishings, how the family eats together with pink porcelain and using their hands, or how the mothers taught their daughters skills they needed to be good housewives. Interesting to note that even on the ancestral altar, it is the first matriarch’s tablet that gets the most important position! Don’t forget to listen to the guide to find out the reason why.

As a guided tour is imperative, do check their tour schedule before your visit.

Address: 48-50, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia

Opening hours: Daily, 10am – 1pm (last morning tour 12pm), 2pm – 5pm (last evening tour 4pm). Extended Hour on Weekends: Fri, Sat, Sun (last evening tour 5pm).

Admission: Adults RM16, Children (up to 12 year old) RM11

 

Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum

While the interior of the building is not as grand as Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum’s, it is still worth visiting as the museum is full of antique treasures, furniture, and jewellery. This is the chance to learn about Peranakan culture, particularly customs around marriage and family, the dominions of women.

goldsmith, Peranakan Heritage of Melaka

Just like their Malay counterparts, Peranakan women wear kebaya which varies according occasions and age of the wearer. Aside from showing the different Peranakan kebaya varieties, the museum also displays goldsmith tools. In the past, a rich Peranakan family would employ a personal goldsmith to provide them with custom-made jewellery.

kebaya, Peranakan Heritage of Melaka

The best part of this museum is that you are actually allowed to take pictures!

Bridal throne, Peranakan Heritage of Melaka

Address: Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia

Admission: RM15

Opening hours: Daily, 9.30am-5.30pm

 

CUISINE

Peranakan girls weren’t allowed to pursue higher education and were taught to be the mistresses of their houses instead, spending most of their days in the kitchen. Peranakan food came naturally from the Peranakan women who adapted Chinese culinary practices to local tastes, techniques and ingredients. This special combination sets Peranakan cuisine apart from the rest of Malaysian cooking, evoking a feeling of nostalgia when Peranakan hostesses would spend hours in the kitchen to showcase their culinary prowess to their important guests. This “original Asian fusion” food is definitely a must-try when you’re in Melaka, as it is a dying art in the rest of the country.

Babi Pongteh

Babi Pongteh, Peranakan Heritage of Melaka

A favourite pork dish within the Peranakan community, it is slightly sweet from the use of local palm sugar, with a hint of saltiness from Chinese taucheo or fermented soybean paste.

Ayam Buah Keluak

Ayam buah keluak, Peranakan Heritage of Melaka

Buah keluak (Pangium edule) nuts taste earthy and cacao-like, often considered to be the truffles of the region. Ayam buah keluak is chicken cooked in tamarind gravy with buah keluak nuts, a spicy dish that is great to eat with plain white rice.

Nyonya Popiah

Popiah, Peranakan Heritage of Melaka

Instead of the fried versions that usually come in mind when you hear  “spring rolls”, the Peranakan version is a “fresh” one with the skin being a kind of crêpe made of a mixture of wheat flour, water, salt, and egg. The filling always includes julienned jicama and other vegetables, doused in pork and prawn broth.

Nyonya Chap Chye

Chap chye, Peranakan Heritage of Melaka

Chap chye simply means “mixed vegetables” and true to its name it is a simple dish of stewed vegetables complemented with glass noodles, bean curd, black fungus ear, and black mushrooms. The Peranakans have it with belacan (shrimp paste), which gives it a unique twist.

PERANAKAN RESTAURANTS IN MELAKA:

Address: 13, Jalan KL 3/8, Taman Kota Laksamana, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia

Opening hours: 11am – 5pm

This legendary restaurant used to be located within the old town area, but it has now relocated to a more spacious storehouse further from the city centre.

Address: Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, 75200 Melaka, Malaysia

Opening hours: 9am–6pm

Aside from serving delicious dishes such as otak-otak and cendol, Kocik Kitchen is also strategically located, reasonably-priced, and halal.

Address: Hotel Equatorial Melaka, Jalan Parameswara, Bandar Hilir, 75000, Melaka, Malaysia

Opening hours: 12–2pm, then 6.30–10.30pm

If you’re looking for a classier location to have your Peranakan food, Seri Nyonya is a great choice.

 

GETTING THERE:

From Kuala Lumpur: 2-3 hours by bus from Bandar Tasik Selatan Integrated Transport Terminal-South

From Johor Bahru: 2-3 hours by bus from Johor Bahru Larkin Terminal

 

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