Melaka is quite well known for its Nyonyan or Peranakan people, a term used to describe the descendants of (often) male Chinese immigrants who came to the Malaysian peninsula and surrounding regions during the 15th and 16th centuries and married the local Malay women. Many of these people became quite affluent and created their own culture, including language, clothing, and of course, food. Some foods that we term as being Malaysia or South East Asian actually have Peranakan roots, including cendol, some Malaysian curries, and laksa. I was really interested in trying Peranakan or Nyonyan food, especially since I was in Melaka so I was quite happy to hear from Jenkins’ cousin that we were going to visit Donald & Lily’s for some Nyonyan food. Incidentally, Donald & Lily’s was actually on my list of places to check out because it was quite popular with the locals and noted several times as one of the best places to try out authentic Nyonyan food.
As with many places that Jenkins’ cousins took us to, there was a bit of a line-up to get in. After we settled down, we each ordered a bowl of cendol, which was perfect for the extremely hot and humid day. The cendol here was made with green cendol jelly, made with fresh pandan leaves, coconut milk, shaved ice, and a generous amount of palm sugar. The ice melted quickly, turning this into a drink of sorts and was very refreshing. I think the palm sugar used here really made the difference, as it was nutty and almost like a supercharged brown sugar.
We had only eaten dim sum just a couple of hours earlier so none of us were really hungry. But Ying ordered a few dishes for us to share and for Jenkins and me to get a taste of some authentic Nyonyan food. First came a braised fish in tamarind curry with tomatoes and okra. The okra gave the dish a slightly slimy texture and the fish could have been meatier but I really liked the flavours of the curry, which was spicy and full of body yet did not overwhelm the fish at all.
Ying told me that ayam pongteh is a must have if I want to try Nyonyan food. Basically, it was some braised chicken with mushrooms and potatoes in a sweet soy-based sauce. It tasted familiar to me for some reason and it may have been because I’ve had this before in some shape at Jenkins’ parents’ house. I especially enjoyed the potatoes, which soaked up the flavour of the sauce and the chicken. We were much too full to order rice but I think that would have gone really well with this dish.
The rojak here was lighter on the sauce than some of the other places we had been to but had some additional vegetables and bean curd-like item which was not in the other versions of rojak that we had. The sauce here was also less sweet and more on the spicy side, which I think really worked because the pineapples added all the sweetness that we needed.
We also wanted to order some mee siam because we were told that Donald & Lily’s version was really good but unfortunately, they had run out for the day even though it was only 1PM. Instead, we ordered some laksa, which I have to say is the best I’ve had. The rich curry flavour really soaked through to the noodles and there was just enough coconut milk to add some additional richness. The noodles had a nice amount of snap and the veggies and bean curd added some texture. If I wasn’t so full already, I would have really liked my own bowl so I didn’t have to share!
Jenkins and I had a great time at Donald & Lily’s. It was definitely worth the wait and I only wish we had gotten there a smidgen sooner so we could try the mee siam too.
Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (Heeren Street), Melaka, Malaysia
(faces the parking lot behind Hereen Guest House)
930a-4p. Closed Mondays.