Thursday, March 31, 2011

Together Again

Before I start the entry, here is a shout-out to Michelle a.k.a. Dr. Gan Fei Lee - "Happy Belated 44th Anniversary".

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I am late for just less than 24 hours in making this shout-out, so that should not be that bad, I think haha! Over the weekend, I made a unplanned visit to Malacca to see the girlfriend. It was just a short one; barely less than 48 hours spent in Malacca but we still had great time together : )

Well, I am supposed to be in Japan already by now. However, I am quite sure everyone is aware of what had happened to Japan a fortnight ago. Yes, the massive earthquake, the devastating tsunami and the worrying radiation leak that left me with not much choices but to defer my return to Japan as planned. I have since delayed my flight to two weeks later, just to let things get better and settle down first. Plus, it will significantly ease the worries my family and relatives that they have for me if I return to Japan too early.

I was in KL on Friday and I thought why not I drop by Malacca for a day or two, since Mich coincidentally has a day off on Saturday. Instead of heading to Bukit Jalil to take a bus back to Taiping, I took a detour and went to Bandar Tasik Selatan and hopped onto a bus bound for Melaka Sentral. Mich picked me up from the bus terminal after she completed her work at the hospital. Both of us were kinda tired already actually, but the tiredness just faded away the moment I stepped into the car and we saw each other again : )

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Had our dinner at Nancy's Kitchen, located near Geographer's Cafe.

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The interior decorations are plain and simple, such as old photographs hanging on the wall.

Like most of the time, our first stop is always gonna be Jonker Walk, probably because it is very near from Mich's house. It only takes roughly fifteen minutes by foot, though most of the time the girl is too lazy to talk all the way there. So, we usually drive halfway there and walk the remaining distance haha!

You know what, most of the time I will bring my camera along whenever I am out. Yes, it is all mainly for blogging purposes. But on that night, it was one of the rare occasions when I decided to leave my camera behind and forget about taking any photos at all. It was a wise move; it was then I realised I could spend more valuable time together with Mich when I do not have my camera with me because most of the time, I will be snapping away and abandon the poor girl haha!

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Mich was busy flipping through the menu and being a half-Nyonya, I let her pick the dishes, while I rest on the table haha!

I sent a text message to Michelle to reserve her for a date-cum-dinner that night, and she just replied me with a simple "=P".

We were just walking along Jonker Walk and decided to try out on this Nyonya restaurant. One thing I like about this Nyonya restaurant is that they play some oldies in the background. Famous oldies such as "Rasa Sayang", "Geylang Si Paku Geylang" and "Lenggang Kangkung". Sweet memories that made me reminisced my Pendidikan Muzik class in my primary school years. We, or actually it was only me, tried to sing along, but too bad I had forgotten most of the lines lol!

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Top hat or also known as pai tee.

Michelle said the top hat was just average, although I thought it was quite good. Maybe the ones I have tried before this are really low quality haha! I love the combination of the crispy hat cone and tasty vegetables as the filling. It is something like popiah, but with a different serving.

That was just the appetiser. For the main course, we ordered three dishes.

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Chicken with black nut (ayam buah keluak).

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Steam spicy fish paste (otak-otak stim). You will sure stim after eating this haha!

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Fried egg cincalok (cincalok telur).

The waiter commented on the good choices of dish Mich picked, as they are among the more tasty and popular dishes in the restaurant. Well, it just further confirms that the girlfriend has Baba's blood hehe. I cannot really comment on how good the food is, so the following reviews came from Mich, who has tasted some authentic home-cooked Nyonya food before.

The ayam buah keluak, which is a classic Peranakan dish was not bad. The nut is black in colour, originally from Indonesia and tastes like truffle. The nut is cut open, that allows the gravy flavour and spices go into the nut, producing a sweet, spicy and savoury taste. Overall, the gravy was not too spicy and the gravy was not too watery, though it was a little bit oily.

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Price wise, it was not too expensive to have a meal here.

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Some local snacks and kaya for sale. 

The omelette fried with cincalok or fermented shrimp was good as there weren't any sandy or grainy texture. Due to the preserved cincalok, it tasted slightly salty.

As for the otak-otak, a kind of fish paste and fresh coconut with several kinds of spices and also a famous Peranakan must-have dish, it was much better than the ones we had at Jonker Walk. I personally prefer the southern version of otak-otak, compared to the one found in northern state, commonly known as "hu bao" mainly because they smell nicer and tastier.

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Squeezing the lime onto the otak-otak before we start to e.a.t.

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: )

We returned to Jonker Walk and bought a few snacks - durian puffs and durian soft serve, Mich's favourite. She suggested to walk over to the clock tower while we finished up our snacks. It has been some time we since we went to that place at night. The last time was during the New Year's eve in 2009, I think.

It was just a short meeting as I sent her at the hospital the next morning for her on-call shift, and I left Malacca later that day. Nevertheless, the company and time spent together was priceless. 

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The fountain and clock tower.

Till we meet, again : )

Monday, March 28, 2011

"Sing, Shout, Eat" At Malacca

Ever since we started our LDR (by the way, that stands for "long-distance relationship"), Michelle and I have made a long list of things to do. The list is just like any other things-to-do or shopping list. The difference is however, it takes months and sometimes even years to accomplish just one thing from the list because we do not get to be together often and long. One of them in the list is to go for karaoke.

If my memory doesn't fail me, we have only went for karaoke once before this. So, we went to have our only second karaoke session together in like four years, to make that count doesn't sound too pathetic lol!

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Honey sea coconut and longan jelly drinks. I have forgotten their exact names, so I just simply tembak only haha!

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: )

The girlfriend mostly sang boy band songs from the 90's - Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Boyzone, A1, etc. But her all-time favorite is still Westlife, simply because their songs are kinda easy to sing.

As for the boyfriend, well …. he literally sings any songs you give him haha! On that day alone, I sang English, Malay, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Hindustan, Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien songs. The last two one was a total failure. I stopped singing those songs after the first line haha!

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The choice of Japanese songs were quite limited, in fact the Kanji characters were replaced with Chinese pinyin alphabets =.=

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See, I didn't bluff you one. Yup, we sang Kuch Kuch Hotta Hai, by Datuk Shah Rukh Khan lol! Mich was damn sporting, that she followed me to be crazy too haha!

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After our karaoke session, on the way to the car park, we had a quickie (camwhore session) at the field just next to Dataran Pahlawan Mall.

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Sunset at Dataran Pahlawan open field, nearby Fort A Famosa. The long thing on the right is the Menara Taming Sari.

Later that night, we went to somewhere Mich has been waiting to go with me for some time already - fun fair! It is the fairyland for kids. This place reminds me of the time when I was just a little kid, where Mom would take me for a ride on the Ferris Wheel every time the fun fair comes to town. She told me that there was one time when I was just a two or three-year-old boy and I sat on the Ferris Wheel alone. Then somehow, it broke down and I was stuck at the top gondola, alone! But I was a good boy that I remained calm and didn't cry until I was safely brought down haha!

It was a weekday and was not school holiday yet, so we found ourselves the only couple there when we arrived. However, the crowd slowly picked up when as the night progressed.

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 They call this place "Asia Fun Park", held behind Fajar supermarket. Lame name, I know haha!

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Minnie looks shy when I pose in front of them haha!

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The place was kinda empty when we were there, so every movement of ours is taken notice by the staffs there.

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The bigger of the two Ferris Wheels at the fun fair. The girlfriend gets excited every time she gets to hop onto this.

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Catch the lucky duck and you get a mouse in return haha

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XXXL-size teddy bears. Ah Fur, you would love this a lot haha!

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We had a bumper car session and the result wasn't that encouraging. Was banged by the girlfriend all the time =.=

Later that night, we decided to grab something for supper. We had two choices - either at kopitiam or mamak. As a half-Indian kid, I know I will always prefer mamak to kopitiam anytime hehe. 

There is a well-known mamak shop near Taman Kota Laksamana called Pak Putra Restaurant, which serves good north Indian cuisine. This restaurant specialises in freshly baked, juicy and tender tandoori chicken and naan bread. This place is popular among the locals and when you see this, it is usually an indicator that the place serves good food. We noticed that there were several tables which were occupied by foreign tourists as well, and those ang moh seems to be enjoying the spicy food there a lot!

The reason people like to dine at this restaurant is not because of its nice decorations or fancy plates, but it's because they serve among the best Indian cuisine you will ever tried. The soft and fluffy naan, the juicy and tender tandoori chicken, the fragrant mango lassi are among the popular dish in their menu. Another good thing about this restaurant is that although they have turned famous, their service remains good and they are very friendly to their customers.

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Pak Putra's signature dish - tandoori chicken and naan.

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The succulent and flavour-packed tandoori chicken, which is served with a special kind of spicy greenish sauce.

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Being a big fan of potatoes, I tried out their potato cheese naan. It was not that bad, but I guess I will still stick to the original normal naan.

That ends our half day tour singing karaoke, shouting while riding on the scary rides at the fun fair and eating at mamak around Malacca. Thanks for reading : )

Friday, March 25, 2011

Grandma's Famous Khao Jam

One great thing about coming from a "rojak" (mixed) family background is that there are so many kinds of different customs, culture, and food you can find. One of them is food; you get to eat a wide varieties (although sometimes they can taste kinda weird haha!) of food, if the elderlies are willing to share the recipe with you and perhaps even better, cook it for you.

Technically speaking, I have Chinese, Sinhalese, and Siamese blood. Therefore, that should explain my physical features, in which I don't think I look like a typical Cina guy at all. However, I always believe that I look like Wang Lee Hom haha!

Alright, I shall return to the main topic. One of my favourite dish by grandma is "khao jam".

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The ingredients used in preparing khao jam.

What is khao jam?

Khao jam is Thai, which comes from two words, "khao"(rice) and "jam" (mixed together). Hence, khao jam would mean a rice dish that has all the ingredients mixed together and eaten raw. In Malay, this dish is more commonly known as nasi kerabu or "vegetable rice" and is a very popular dish in the East Coast, especially Kelantan.

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My grandma knew I would be taking photos of the food, so she prepared this for me. Isn't she so sweet? *hehe* : )

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The various kinds of wild herbs to be added into the rice, which includes turmeric, kaffir lime leaves, bunga kantan (ginger flower), jambu air (water apple), shallots, lemon grass, turmeric leaves, etc.

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Kerisik (grated, toasted, ground coconut paste), fried dried prawns and sliced half-ripe mango are also among the ingredients used.

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Not forgetting, the home-made sambal belacan to give the khao jam that extra umpphh!

For anyone who has not heard or seen this rice dish before, khao jam looks like a colourful dish, mixed with rice. The most tedious and time-consuming part in the process of preparing the dish is the collection process of the many kinds of herbs. It is either you buy them from the market, or get them from the backyard garden. There are times where some of the herbs can only be found in the wild, and they are not sold even in the market.

There is no certain rule or a tied recipe that state what herbs must be used in the dish. Most of the time, it is entirely up to the individual to include anything available. Of course, some people may have their own preferences of a certain kind of herbs to add into the khao jam, and the ingredients also slightly differ from one region to another.

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Here comes the chef doing a demonstration on the preparation of khao jam.

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You need a happy chef to get a delicious dish haha!

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All the ingredients were added and now all that's left is to mix everything!

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After all the kerabu is added into the tray, it is time to mix everything with the rice together.

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This is the final result, ready to be eaten. The effort and dedication that goes into cooking this dish is truly impressive.

Some people might not be aware that making khao jam would require the leaves of so many different herbs. The actual recipe requires over 100 kinds of herbs but it is just not possible for us to get them at one time. It will certainly make the khao jam tastes so much better if more herbs are used but usually, we just use whatever herbs we can find.

Among the herbs commonly used are basil leaves, lime leaves, kaffir lime leaves, ginger leaves and pandan leaves. Other ingredients include lemon grass bulbs, long beans, bird's eye chillies, lime, bean sprouts, cucumber, onion, ginger lily, grated coconut, dried prawns, half-ripe mango, and a pinch of salt and sugar.

The reason why they need so many kinds of herbs is because people in the olden days used to live in areas that were prone to floods. The weather was cold, so they would eat this rice to ward off the chills. This dish also helps to prevent rheumatism, a medical problems affecting the joints and connective tissues.

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No cooking is required for preparing this meal but trust me, I am very sure anybody who tried this will want to have a second helping.
 
As for the rice, my grandma only use normal white rice. However, there are other methods to prepare the rice, such as cooking it using juice extracted from dozens of different leaves, which will give the green-colour rice a refreshing fragrance of the leaves used. Another method of cooking the rice is by cooking the rice in the blue extract of a kind of blue flower called bunga telang in Malay. This produces the classic blue rice of nasi kerabu, which is commonly seen in Kelantan.

One difference between khao jam and nasi kerabu is found on the rice. Khao jam is cooked using the juice extracted from herbs, whereas nasi kerabu is rice mixed with finely chopped leaves. Hence, it makes khao jam more fragrant. Even though only white rice was used by my grandma this time, the finely sliced herbs are enough to give every bite suffused with a tantalising herbal fragrance. It is certainly a healthy and hearty meal, especially for people who are on diet.

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Grandma almost got choked while eating, and she said one old petua is to turn the plate around several times haha! I am not sure how effective it is,
but has anyone heard of this method before?

According to this source on how khao jam came about, I found out that in the past, most Thais worked in the fields for a living, they were farmers, they farmed chilies, working from dawn till dusk, so they spent all their time in the fields, which were wet. Thus eating this would help to ward off chills. Khao Jam first gained its widespread popularity in Kelantan; and this dish is actually less common in Thailand.

For desert, she prepared another kind of dish - tok (pronounced "talk"). The dish is a combination of krayasaat, Thai traditional popped rice and gravy made of durian flesh and coconut milk like what I had last time. This time however, she prepared a different version of tok.

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 Grandma grates the coconut herself using these traditional grater. The one in front was hand-made by my late grandpa.

Instead of combining the popped rice with durian gravy, she used freshly grated coconut and mixed it with the popped rice. To give the desert that extra flavour, she added a pinch of sugar and salt. The result is a wonderful desert that not only smells good, but tastes really great!

Having a bowl of tok will never be enough. I think I had at least two to three bowls of it that evening haha!

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Preparing tok is as simple as ABC. Just pour all the ingredients into a tray, mix them well and it is ready to be eaten.

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Before mixing the popped rice and grated coconut.

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In less than five minutes, the dish is ready to be served.

So, is there anyone interested to have a homestay at my grandma's place next time?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Capitol Satay Celup In Malacca

A visit to Malacca will never be complete until you take a taste of the popular satay celup. To people out there, especially non-Malaccans, who are still in the dark what satay celup looks and tastes like, let me give a simple description of satay celup. "Satay" is an authentic Malay food of grilled marinated meats (common meat used are chicken and beef), served on bamboo skewers, usually come with spicy peanut sauce for dipping. On the other hand, "celup" means "dip" in Malay language.

Combine the two words together and that is how the name "satay celup" came about. Satay celup is served and eaten like lok lok and steamboat, except the main difference in sauce. Instead of dipping them in a pot of boiling soup, satay celup is cooked by dipping or dunking sticks of raw food into boiling pot of aromatically rich and spicy peanut sauce.

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The line of people queuing-up stretches along the row of shops leading to the restaurant; people standing by the roadside with cars speeding past them.
 
The first and only time I tried satay celup was more than three years ago in December 2007, when I went down to Malacca with Michelle. It was one of our first meal together and we were joined by a few classmates of hers. Our satay celup meal was at Ban Lee Siang at Jalan Ong Kim Wee, one of the two most popular satay celup places in Malacca.

More than three years later, we decided to try another place which is just as popular as Ban Lee Siang - Capitol Satay Celup, operated by Low Yong Cheng's family. They have been in the satay celup business since the mid-1950's. His grandfather used to use a kandar stick to carry his wares in two baskets, one for fresh food and the other for the stove and sauce. That is why Capitol Satay Celup is said to be the origin of satay celup in Malacca, before places like Ban Lee Siang existed.

One down side for dining here however, is the waiting time. Capitol Satay Celup is always full of crowds, especially during weekends and public holidays. Thus, you should always expect to queue, even at ten at night. We went there on a weekday but the line was still quite long. If you count by time, the line is about half an hour.

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They have also made sure that all imposters are known as that; imposters haha!

If you ask me which one I prefer more, I personally think that Capitol Satay Celup is better than Ban Lee Siang. Capitol Satay Celup, being the pioneer of satay celup in Malacca, still remains good until today. Even Michelle and her Mom, who has never come to Capitol Satay Celup agreed that Capitol Satay Celup has the edge over its rival.

Comparing Ban Lee Hiang and Capitol side by side:

Ban Lee Hiang 
  • RM0.50/RM0.60 per stick. 
  • No extra bonuses. 
  • Limited choices of food. 
  • Popular among the locals. 
  • Waiting time is comparatively short; no queue, or sometimes, shorter queue. 
  • Restaurant consists of two shop lots; spacious and comfortable. 
  • Peanut sauce tastes milder, but has the one bit of spiciness in it. 
  • No medium and big sized prawns, only small sized shrimps (one per stick)
Capitol Satay Celup 
  • RM0.80 per stick.
  • Extra bonuses like big-sized prawns, squids and etc.
  • Huge varieties of food; over 80 types of seafood and vegetables.
  • A favourite among Singaporeans and tourists.
  • Expect to queue; long queues are common and usually extremely long.
  • Restaurant has only one shop lot; there are approximately 12 tables.
  • Peanut sauce has stronger taste and a little sweetness; strong ginger and lemon grass taste.
  • Small-sized shrimps (two per stick) are fresher, juicer and tastier.
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Finally, we were about to get seated.

One interesting thing about dining at Capitol is how they seat you. Here, you will get your own table to sit on, no matter how big your group is, or even if you come alone. There is no sharing tables at all, unless you make a deal with the other patrons outside to share the space.

While waiting until a table is empty for you, the waitress, who are mostly foreigners but speak fluent local dialects like Hokkien and Cantonese, will come to you and ask you if you wanna have the Muar bread, which goes perfectly with the peanut sauce. The breads are exceptionally soft and fluffy, coming at eighty cents a plate. If you choose not to have the bread, you will have a plate of cut cucumber for free.

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With advantages as a pioneer, and flock of food lovers dedicating great testimonials (this entry being one of them), Capitol Satay Celup has gotten a comprehensive media coverage over tens of years. Part of these media exposures are featured on their wall of fame. By the way, price of each plate type is displayed on the wall.

Once you have been assigned to a table, the waitress will ask you to go pick and choose what you want from the refrigerated counter while they clean up the table and get the sauce ready. You place all your food on a tray that can be found next to the refrigerated counter. There will be a stainless-steel pot filled with boiling curry sauce in the middle of the table into the round hole by the time you're back from selecting your food.

Underneath the table is a gas cooker to continuously warm and boil the peanut sauce. As the sauce started to boil, the waitress will then come around with two huge scoops of freshly ground peanuts, brown sugar and various herbs and spices to mix it all right in front of you. She will also keep stirring till the bottom of the pot to avoid any sedimentation of the peanut chunks in the pot.

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This restaurant certainly takes some pride as the innovator of satay celup in Malacca. Third generation some more. Don't play-play arh!

The secret of satay celup lies in the peanut sauce served. It is a thick sauce and full of crunchy ground peanuts. Comprising of 22 ingredients and spices (as reported by The Star Street Food guide), including peanuts, dried chilli, onion, garlic, lemon grass, brown sugar, turmeric, galangal and sesame seeds, they are cooked together to perfection.

As the sauce started to boil, a waiter came and added in more freshly crunched peanuts and brown sugar. 

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With almost 80 types of skewered food to choose from, it is common to see large group of people going back for second helping.

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The food are neatly displayed and you take whatever you wanna eat. You will be charged for what you have ate, not what you have taken.

At Capitol Satay Celup, there are more than four and a half rows of food, consisting over 80 types of skewered seafood and vegetables, ranging from chicken, cockles, abalones, fish balls, cuttlefish, mushrooms, vegetables, quail's eggs, shrimps, bean curds, fried bean curds, tofu, fried dough flour or more commonly known as "yu-char-kuey". Besides the aromatic peanut sauce, the galore of food they offer here is one of the factors that makes this place attractive.

They make sure the freshness of the food are maintained by keeping them inside huge refrigerators at the back and open fridges with shelves at the dining hall. Another important factor is the peanut sauce because no matter how fresh the food are, if the peanut sauce is not nicely blended, everything will not taste nice.

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The bread with cubed cucumbers, to be dipped into the peanut sauce. 

The sauce is constantly on the boil, and the waitress will constantly go from one table to another to make sure that the sauce stays at the satisfying level of thickness throughout our meal, by blending the sauce with sufficient amount of savours and peanuts. The sauce is replaced for each new customer on table. However, I suspect that they recycle the sauce at the kitchen because after all, how many pots of sauce do you expect them to prepare in a day, right?

I digress. Everything is self-serviced here and it is a strictly no take-away place.

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Some of our chosen food stuff, taken for three people.

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The final countdown for the feast to begin.

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Mini-sized century eggs with slices of ginger served in plates. Food in plates are priced differently, according to the plate colour.

Here comes the interesting part of dining at Capitol Satay Celup. When you table has consumed a certain amount of food, the waitress will give you the bonuses or mystery gifts, whatever you call them. Most of the time, they are in the form of big prawns, squids, scallops and etc. The price of these varieties are definitely more than RM0.80 but you are charged RM0.80 still. For example, the big prawns are said to cost about RM8.00 per stick, but the price stays at RM0.80.

It is another form of discount and giving back to the customer after eating a lot. In another way, they are encouraging you to eat more so that you can earn the extra bonuses and indirectly increase their profit at the same time.

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Was halfway stirring the peanut sauce when Mich called me to turn over. 

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Yup, just dunk everything inside the peanut sauce, but not your fingers, of course. Never leave them too long inside the boiling sauce 
to maintain the juiciness of the seafood.

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These are the bonuses that I was talking about.

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The big prawn, which is longer than my palm and here, I am gonna let it swim inside the peanut sauce haha!

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The big prawn usually takes longer time to cook, maybe because it is more than six inches in length!

Once you are done, the waitress will come over to your table and count your bamboo sticks, and you pay. Try not to remain on your table and continue to chit chat after your meal because that will make others to wait unnecessarily.

So, whenever you are in Malacca and have never tried satay celup before, make sure you give it a try before leaving the place. This dish is considered a signature dish in Malacca, so complete your trip with this dining experience!

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The ang moh couple who were seated just behind our table kept drinking water throughout their meal lol! 
The spicy peanut sauce might be too much for them, I guess.


Address: Capitol Satay Celup Restaurant, 41, Lorong Bukit Cina, 75100 Melaka, Malaysia  
Tel: +60-6-283-5508, +60-12-229-5505  
Third generation owner: Low Yong Cheng  
Operating hours: Daily from 5:00 pm (Closed on Monday)  
Price: Each stick costs RM0.80 and various plate types indicate different charges.  
Map, courtesy of Amazing Melaka.