The first stop on our 10-day Malaysian extravaganza with Mark’s Dad & brother was Malacca City, capital of Malacca Province, right on the historic Straits of Malacca. For many centuries and right up to the current time, the Straits of Malacca, separating the Malay Peninsula from Indonesia’s Sumatra, has been among the most important waterways in the world; going through the Straits cuts hundreds of miles off the distance between India or the Middle East to China & Japan.
During the Age of Discovery all the European colonial powers fought over control of the region. Malacca was first colonized by the Portuguese in 1511, who lost it to the Dutch in 1641. The Dutch, who were more interested in their colony centered in Jakarta, traded it to the British in 1824 who then ruled until Malaysian independence in 1946. That melange of colonialism shows up in a variety of ways – the food, the architecture, the language, and more, I’m certain. Just last night, for instance, we ate at a great Portuguese restaurant, pretty unexpected after our three-plus months in Southeast Asia so far.
Just six years ago UNESCO named the historic city center a World Heritage Site; tourism is booming and it’s easy to understand why. We found great food, interesting buildings, a great little Chinatown, a beautiful little river walk, and the most unusual trishaws we’ve ever seen. The only downside was that we were there over celebrations for Chinese New Years and as a result a lot of the city – or at least the central part of the city where tourists like us hang out – was closed. Not all, certainly, but apparently a lot of people were home celebrating with family instead of serving us, as they should have been. Someday I’d love to go back when everything is open and people are out and about.
Sadly, though, we have no photos of the Straits. I walked down there our first day, and ran along the water’s edge a couple times, but basically the view is really pretty boring, just unattractive rocks and industrial wasteland. Too bad, since I was hoping for some great historic revelation.
Great post, as usual. Especially love photos of you guys with John and Lidd. But what I really want to know is: How the heck was that restaurant where you ate in the dark??
It was pretty cool, though probably something you only need to do once in your life. You checked in on the first floor, where there was a bar and a few table and where they served a little dish and explained how it worked. Then they guided you through a door, up the stairs, through a curtain, and then it was pitch black. They lead you to a table, chow you a chair, and guide you to find your silverware, water glass, napkin, and wine glass. Interestingly, you have to pour your own water, which is challenging if you can’t see how full your glass is. Because we ordered wine by the glass, we didn’t have to pour the wine.
Then they started bringing food. You didn’t order anything and they didn’t tell you what they were bringing except “These are four appetizers,” then four main courses and four deserts, all small servings in small dishes. You had to try to figure out what you were eating.
It was interesting. You could hear other people, but you had no sense at all of the physical space or how big it was or how many other people were there. The big success was that neither of us spilled a thing; you try to have an entire meal where each time you want a sip of water or to drink some wine you have to find your glass, get it to your lips, and then get it back on the table without spilling anything.
At any rate it took a little over an hour, and then our (blind) waiter guided us out and said goodbye. All in all pretty cool. But we probably won’t do it again…
Fascinating! How was the food itself? Did you have any trouble identifying any of it?
I was describing the whole thing to friends and they asked if the food was cooked in the dark, too… hmm, I’m guessing not.
Oh yeah, the food itself. It was very good, very much a class act. Three courses, each of which had four small dishes, so you could lift the bowl to your mouth and kind of scoop it in with your fork. Or at least that’s what I did; I couldn’t see what anyone else did!
Part of what made it interesting is that you had no idea what you were eating until it was in your mouth. That is, you didn’t get a menu before hand. They asked if there were any allergies or things you really didn’t want to eat and we said “No, we’ll eat anything.” Then it’s just an exploration as you chew, smell, and discuss what you might think it is. At the end of the meal when you went back to the light they showed you photos on an iPad of what you’d eaten and described the ingredients. Some of ’em we got right and some of ’em we missed badly. Interesting to note that one of the dishes was sweetbreads, something I never order knowingly but I enjoyed it just fine as long as I didn’t know what I was eating. So basically good food, good wine, and no spilled dishes. That’s a success!
And no, the food was not cooked in the dark – we saw the kitchen in advance and it was definitely lit.