A sampling of Kristang culture at The Majestic Malacca
Kristang cuisine, a blend of Portuguese, Malaysian and Chinese flavours, frames the history of a culture with roots going back 500 years.
The sun is setting over the Straits of Malacca, and not far from the water’s edge, families have gathered at a series of outdoor eateries to feast on seafood. Though the restaurants in question are far from upscale, the mood is boisterous and the multinational crowd is in high spirits as they dig into platters piled with Portuguese chilli crab, incendiary sambal shrimp, and fishes grilled whole. As the evening wears on and the beer flows, voices rise in a cacophony of languages: English, Mandarin, Malay, and Kristang.
The latter is a mixture of Portuguese and Malaythat clings to survival thanks to the few thousand left in the region who still speak it. Officially known as Portuguese Eurasians, the Kristang are the descendants of Portuguese settlers who controlled the region in the 1500s. Today, approximately 1,000 Kristang inhabit the pastelpainted houses of the Portuguese Settlement on the outskirts of Malacca. The small community still honours the traditions of their ancestors. Before Lent, the streets break out into a raucous water fight. For Fiesta de San Pedro, men and women don traditional garb inspired by 14th-century Portugal and dance with abandon. Christmas transforms the neighbourhood into a sea of twinkling lights so spectacular that Malaccans of all faiths flock to see it
The Kristang continue to serve their distinctive cuisine, a fiery fusion of Portuguese and Malay dishes, enriched with exotic spices and laced with piri-piri chillies. These addictive specialities are are on the menu at Melba at The Mansion, the signature restaurant at The Majestic Malacca.
Situated in the original historic house at the heart of the hotel, this grand dining area, with its high ceilings and fine china, presents a far more refined picture than the humble eateries in the Portuguese Settlement. In lieu of plastic tablecloths and paper napkins, waiters in crisp formalwear pour Old World wines as an accompaniment to the neatly plated dishes.
THE KRISTANG CONTINUE TO SERVE THEIR DISTINCTIVE CUISINE, A FIERY FUSION OF PORTUGUESE AND MALAY DISHES, ENRICHED WITH EXOTIC SPICES AND LACED WITH PIRI-PIRI CHILLIES.
Yet despite the artful presentation, these Kristang dishes are every bit as authentic as their streetside counterparts. Many come from family recipes that have been passed down through generations and faithfully recreated by Melba at The Mansion’s expertly trained chefs. Rigorously sourced local produce and pristine seafood elevate this soul food to fine dining. Throughout it all, bold salty, sour, savoury, and spicy flavours that characterise both Portuguese and Malaysian cooking shine through.
A dish of eggplant slowbraised with soy sauce and lime is impossibly silky, while a velvety prawn curry is smooth and rich. Some of the Kristang specialities, such as a crab shell stuffed with sweet crabmeat and chicken, lean more heavily on the Portuguese side, while others are almost purely Malaysian. Even the simplest staples such as fried rice or laksa, with toothsome noodles swimming in a delicately spiced curry broth, are prepared with reverence here.
Regardless of what you order, the best way to enjoy is it to share it with friends and family. The Kristang believe in the power of food to bring people together in celebration. It’s one of the ways that they have managed to maintain their identity and why after half a millennium they are still such an essential part of Malacca’s cultural fabric. This cuisine is about community and maintaining a living connection with history. It is, simply put, food fit for a feast.
For more information, visit www.themajesticmalacca.com
RIGOROUSLY SOURCED LOCAL PRODUCE AND PRISTINE SEAFOOD ELEVATE THIS SOUL FOOD TO FINE DINING.
Top two images: the interior of The Majestic Malacca has a timeless elegance with authentic antiques and original porcelain floors. Bottom: Christ Church was completed in 1753 as a Dutch Reform church.