Satay Celup at Restoran Capitol & A Walk Around Historic Melaka
Posted April 20, 2012on:
Hundreds of years ago, way before the New World was found, the Malay archipelago was made up of tiny kingdoms, which is the predecessor of many states in modern Malaysia. Melaka or Malacca, as it was called, was undoubtedly one of the most powerful Malay kingdoms of all. Traders from Sumatra, Arab states, China, India and more came to trade among other things, spices and needless to say, it was a prosperous kingdom. As spices were a valuable commodity, Western explorers, especially the Portuguese wanted to control Melaka, for those who controls Melaka, controls an important stretch of the spice route.
I don’t want to bore you with all the historical details but Melaka fell under the hands of the Portuguese led by Alfonso de Albuquerque. The Dutch soon took over, followed by the British and then the Japanese. Despite a turbulent history, Melaka’s position as a vibrant marketplace with multicultural communities and the conquest of the Portuguese had led to a melange of cultures, architectures, and of course, cuisine.
As far as culture is concerned, Melaka is one of the homes of the Peranakans. The Peranakan communities mixed native and local Malay cultures together, and it’s evident in the costumes, languages, and food. When the Chinese princess married to the Sultan of Melaka, the descendents formed the Chinese peranakan community. They are often called Baba and Nyonya, meant to describe the men and women respectively. Their culinary contribution to Malaysian cuisine is phenomenal and exquisite in many ways. The Indian peranakans are called Chitty and like the Chinese peranakans, they speak a Malay patois, but in their case, the patois has many loanwords from Tamil. Portuguese peranakans are called Kristang or Serani and they speak a Portuguese-Malay patois that was surprisingly similar to the Macanese patois in Macao, which was a Portuguese colony. Unfortunately, these patois, while unique, are slowly in decay.
The architecture of Melaka is no less impressive. When I was there for a visit last year, the city of Melaka still remained humble. The streets were quieter than I expected, probably a far cry from during the height of the Malaccan empire. We just got done with cendol at the Dutch city hall square and after a short walk, we ventured up to the site of the old Portuguese fort which we call Kota A’Famosa. The massive fort is now left with only one gate, the Porta de Santiago. Walking through this gate almost sent chills to my body because I wonder what is the story behind it and what and who had been here 500 hundred years ago? Was someone killed here or did the Dutch soldiers accidentally miss the bomb on this gate? So many unanswered questions!
As we walked up the hill of Bukit St. Paul, we reached the ruin’s of the old St. Paul’s Church. This was probably the church for the community inside the fortress but it now looked abandoned. From what I read, it seems that it was consecrated for the Virgin Mary which was reconsecrated for the Dutch Reformed when the Dutch took over. As we were inside the former chapel, I could not help but to feel a sense of sombreness. It looked very empty with old Portuguese tombstones leaning on the walls. Then I closed my eyes and imagined what it would be like if the chapel is restored to its former glory.
I walked on its cobbled steps which led me to the exterior compound of the church. At the top of the hill, we could see the houses and the Straits of Malacca at a distance. I guess this was the perfect spot to see if the enemies were coming from afar. Part of me felt it’s nice to walk into a historic site like this church anytime without having to pay an admission fee and still able to touch the structure itself. But at the same time, I wondered if enough efforts were put into preserving this old church and the remnants of the fortress. I mean, who’s to stop people from chipping the old bricks or stealing historic items if ever found in the compounds of the church? Honestly, Malaysia is lousy at preserving historic sites in many respects and even lousier at teaching younger Malaysians to appreciate and care for national treasures like this. I felt the government got caught in the idea of pembangunan materialistik. We make bigger and better buildings and infrastructures because we want to make the world envy us. But yet, have Malaysians forgotten our history, where we came from and how we can pass down our heritage to future generations? I don’t think we are educating our kids enough to have the right minda to keep up with the mass development.
We descended the hill and headed to Jonker Walk. During weekends, this is packed with locals and tourists. However, we went on a weekday, so it’s a bit quieter. I love admiring the details of well preserved pre-war shophouses and there’s plenty of them in Melaka. These handsome houses have wooden window panels, five foot walkway, English tiles with Malay/Nyonya patterns, and Italian columns. It’s just a beautiful piece of architecture. If I have a cafe, I would want mine to look just like these shophouses. =)
Nearby, I heard Muslim prayers from the loudspeaker. We went towards the prayers and we found none other than the famous Kampung Kling Mosque. Built by the Indian Muslim traders, this mosque is an architecture beauty in its own right. Like the shophouses, the mosque has Indian, Chinese, Victorian, and Sumatran influences, so it’s quite a departure from the regular mosques you see in Malaysia.
As the sky is getting darker, we were getting hungrier as well. While I wanted to try Melaka style Nyonya cuisine, we didn’t know the best restaurant to go to. We decided to check out the famous Restoran Capitol for their satay celup. Satay celup is probably a Malaysian Chinese invention. They took one of the best component of a Malay style satay, the kuah (peanut sauce), and transformed it into the centrepiece. Then, people dip skewers of meat, seafood, and vegetables into the hot peanut sauce. Essentially, this is steamboat with a Malay twist. Very often do you see vendors selling satay celup at night markets but Capitol managed to sustain it as a restaurant business.
After waiting outside the restaurant for 45 minutes during a torrential downpour, we were finally seated. In the middle of the table, the staff brought out a pot of thick, richly spiced peanut broth. They then proceeded to enhance it with a scoop of their mystery ingredient. I took a spoonful of the broth and it was divine; it was sweet, salty, and fragrant. But it is a big pot, and it made me wonder if they throw the peanut broth out at the end of the meal or would they recycle it for the next table? Eww I know but peanuts are not exactly super cheap and it just does not make mathematical sense to make a fresh 5 litre pot for every table for the amount of money they are charging. I guess I will never find out. If you’re a hygiene freak, you can definitely leave this off your to-eat list.
The way it works is, you go pick your choice of skewered food from the fridge and each skewer has a price. If it is not skewered, you pay according to the colour of the plate. There’s everything from tiger prawns, squid, tofu, pork, beef, chicken, century eggs etc. Once you have your pick, celup or dip it into the peanut sauce in the middle and wait till it’s cooked or warm. As you can see from the picture, it can get kind of messy. Plus, they lost electricity for 15 minutes because of the rain, so dipping in the dark didn’t help either. Service sucked big time but the food was quite good. I still prefer a Malay style satay though. =)