486 Tranquerah Road
Tel: 60 6 283 1762
In-the-know Malaccans flock to this casual Peranakan eatery two miles west of the old town and under the tree in the backyard of Victor Low's 80-year-old colonial-style house. Working with family recipes, the sixth-generation Peranakan chef rustles up authentic, incredibly affordable Sino-Malay classics such as laksa a creamy noodle soup with curry, coconut milk, and fish balls; and popiah, wheat-flour wraps stuffed with shredded bamboo shoots, cucumber, carrots, and chopped shrimp, slathered with caramel-flavored gula Melaka palm sugar. Don't be put off by the rustic setting: Ingredients are fresh and high-quality, while preparation and cooking are fastidious.
Open Saturdays through Wednesdays 7:30 am to 4 pm.
Renaissance Melaka Hotel
Tel: 60 6 284 8888
Melaka's swankiest restaurant has silver flatware, crystal glasses, linen tablecloths, and exceptionally attentive service. Something of a splurge for Malacca (although inexpensive by American standards), meals here are worth every ringgit. The menu revolves around meat and seafood cooked on a charcoal grill. The chef also uses Continental methods to prepare Asian ingredients, with happy results: An entrée might be sea bass with a ginger-dill sauce, bok choy, and potatoes. The fairly extensive wine list includes some great Portuguese selections.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 6:30 to 10:30 pm.
Carcosa Seri Negara
Taman Tasik Perdana
Tel: 60 3 2295 0888
Travelers seeking to evoke the unhurried grandeur of colonial-era Malaya should not miss the experience of afternoon tea at the tastefully chintzy Drawing Room at the Carcosa Seri Negara Hotel. Starched napkins, plush Empire sofas and chairs, and the soothing tick-tock of a grandfather clock relax the soul and prepare the palate for a classic, more-British-than-the-British enactment of the ritual. The menu offers more than 20 choices of tea, served with waves of courses on traditional silver three-tiered cake stands. First come dainty finger sandwiches, including smoked salmon, egg, and cucumber, followed by scones with jam and clotted cream, and finally a small portion of Chantilly and strawberries. How better to spoil yourself (and your appetite for dinner) than this near-perfect reconstruction of a colonial high tea?
Tea service daily 3 to 6 pm.
Penang , Malaysia
The best Malaysian food is not found in restaurants but on the street. Penang is famous for its food stalls, and those on Gurney Drive are exceptional. The stalls are toward the water just down from the intersection with Jalan and Kelawai, where dozens of vendors hawk Chinese, Indian, and Malay dishes. You don't need to speak the language—just stroll along snacking on whatever smells and looks good. The treats offered include the laksa (fish soup with noodles) that is a Penang specialty, oh chien (oyster omelet with chili dip), and char koay teow (a tasty dish of fried flat noodles and seafood).
3-H Jalan Pantai Molek
Tel: 60 4 890 7858
Culinary pilgrims visiting Penang should ignore this café's generic name and venture along the beach road toward Batu Feringgi to sample its authentic Nyonya cuisine. The interior of this quaintly crumbling bungalow is a delightful kitsch museum, a jumble of family relics such as wedding portraits, and an old sewing machine. It's strictly a family affair: The present owner's grandmother was kidnapped in Sumatra when she was a girl and brought to Penang, where she was adopted by a wealthy family and taught how to cook Nyonya in the family kitchen. Penang Nyonya is a bit closer to Thai than its sister cuisine in Malacca, with fiery chiles much in evidence here (the kitchen will tone it down on request). Gulai tumis fish is a delicious, complex preparation of pomfret fillets in a tamarind-based sambal (chile sauce), with okra, ginger flowers, and mint leaves. For dessert, try sago gula Melaka, divine pearls of tapiocalike sago palm in silky coconut milk, sweetened with red palm sugar. The staff is warm, friendly, and happy to explain the dishes.
Open daily 11 am to 3 pm and 6 to 10 pm.
48F Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah
Penang , Malaysia
Tel: 60 4226 2681
Commanding a stunning sea view, the appropriately named Ocean Green specializes in fresh fish, wisely fiddled with as little as possible. The simple piscine preparations allow customers to choose from a huge variety of fish, which is then steamed or fried and served with a choice of chili, black-bean, sweet and sour, or curry sauces. Reservations are recommended.
Open daily 12:30 pm to 10 pm.
198–199 Taman Melaka Raya
Tel: 60 6283 1966
Sixth-generation Peranakan Seet Tiang Chye has been serving Straits Chinese cuisine for 25 years, making his unaffected family-style restaurant the oldest such establishment in Malacca. Beyond the large, black-and-white portraits of Seet's ancestors, there's not much in the way of decor inside this 210-seat space one halfmile east of the Malacca River. Here, the focus is firmly on comfort food. Order several house specialties—such as ayam pongtay (chicken with ground, fermented soya beans and dried Chinese mushrooms), udang goreng asam (deep-fried tamarind-marinated prawns), and sambal belacan (grilled shrimp paste with fresh chiles and lime juice)—pop it all on a lazy Susan, and share. As Malaysia is predominantly Muslim, Seet runs a halal kitchen and does not offer pork dishes. They do serve beer, however.
Open Thursdays through Tuesdays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 6 to 9:30 pm.
11 Jalan Hang Kasturi
Tel: 60 3 2273 7372
Long before the international boom in Nyonya cuisine, there was… the real thing, and there are few better or more authentic places to sample its piquant mysteries than Precious Old China. The restaurant's creators hail from Malacca, the traditional center of Nyonya culture. Precious Old China is a refinement and enlargement of the same owners' landmark Old China Café, in the heart of Chinatown (11 Jalan Balai Polis; 60-3-2072-5915). Like its predecessor, Precious serves definitive versions of Nyonya classics in a charming setting of antiques and contemporary art. The Victorian side chairs (for sale, like many objects here) were used in the court scenes in the film Anna and the King. Start with otak-otak, tasty little banana-leaf parcels of savory custard with fish, then move on to lemak nenas prawns, a mild, creamy curry with pineapple, and beef rendang, a dry beef stew in a complex, spicy sauce with a coconut-milk base. Desserts are divine: Try kuih dadar, dainty green pancakes filled with grated coconut, flavored with fragrant pandan essence, and sweetened with red-palm sugar.
Open daily 11 am to 10 pm.
Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur
11 Jalan Sultan Ismail
Tel: 60 3 2074 3900
Guests at this swank eatery in the Shangri-La have included Al Gore, Nancy Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. Inside, you feel as if you're in Manhattan, and no wonder—the interior is the work of Adam Tihany, also responsible for Le Cirque. Dark marble columns flank a circular dining area surrounded by floor-to-ceiling ivory-and-gold curtains. In the center, water catches the light as it falls from the ceiling into a green-glass culvert. The cuisine is contemporary French with Asian twists, such as lamb cappuccino, served with a single stroke of praline purée, flavored with a coffee sauce, and garnished with milk foam and thyme (vegetarian options are available), and there's an extensive selection of wines and cigars.
Open Mondays through Fridays 12 to 12:30 pm and 7 to 10:30 pm; Saturdays 7 to 10:30 pm.