Melaka is a feast for the senses in general. But the strongest draw of the incense-laced old Malaysian spice port down the road from Kuala Lumpur may well be its food. Melaka hosts an array of low-price, high-quality catering outlets.
The following five venues reflect the diversity of Melaka's multicultural richness around or on Chinatown, just beware the manic traffic.
Sri Kaveri, Lorong Hang Jebat
Overlooked by guidebooks, this restaurant named after a sacred Indian river offers such good value it's embarrassing. For a sprinkling of ringgit, you get a feast-like serving worthy of an offering to the river goddess – a vigorously varied thali buffet that consists of whatever the chef decides to throw together on the day. The address for Kaveri – a Tardis-like hole-in-the-wall – is hard to pin down. You will find it near the Honky Tonk Haven Cafe on the street that cuts past the river, away from Jonker Walk. Look for the brightly garlanded entrance.
Pak Putra Tandoori & Naan Restaurant, Jalan Laksmana 4
One online voice describes the experience of a visit to Kaveri rival Pak Putra as "like eating outside a garage". But Pak Putra wins everyone over. "It's super-busy and a wonderful place to socialise in the balmy night air with a kick-ass mango lassi and just about any meat or seafood you can imagine cooked to perfection," another fan writes. Exactly. You will find the Pakistani tandoori off the main tourist drag, Jonker Walk, toward the sea in a weird backstreet location.
Limau Limau Cafe, Jonker Street
The chandeliers, Latin jazz and arty photographs make Limau Limau feel like a slice of Australia's most sophisticated city, Melbourne. The fare on offer at Limau Limau has corresponding polish. Should you want a break from the curries, chicken-rice balls and spicy soup widely available in Melaka, the two-storey cafe offers sublime chocolate smoothies, fresh juice, lassi and Lavazza Coffee, along with food. Even the muesli is outstanding. Limau Limau stands just off Temple Street, aka Harmony Street, which is littered with guest houses.
Zheng He Tea House, Jalan Tukang Emas
Set on the most attractive street in kaleidoscopic Melaka, the Zheng He Tea House is a one-off. Part-museum, the tea house boasts an ancient calligraphic love letter inscribed on the interior panelling and a courtyard complete with a well. In keeping with the decor and architecture, the tea is a cut above. Ask the silver-tongued tea house manager, Pak, or her elder guru daughter to recommend a brew tailored to your taste and any health needs.
Geographer Cafe, Jalan Hang Jebat
You cannot miss Geographer Cafe. All tourists roll up at the downtown haunt eventually, for several reasons aside from centrality. For a start, Geographer has a nifty street corner location great for people-watching. What's more, all the food dished up – Western, Malaysian, fusion – is good. Ditto the drinking options, which include white beer and stout.
PS: An honourable mention goes to the fresh pineapple juice vendor who appears on the fringes of the public singing contest regularly held in Chinatown at weekends.