One thing you need to know about us Malaysians – we are a nation extremely protective of the good name of our food. The Malaysians may have diverse views about our government, politicians, educational system, inflation rate, infrastructure, transportation system or the corruption rate. But when it comes to the issue of Malaysian food, we take great pride in it and will not stand to be disparaged. I dare say almost all Malaysians are willing to put on our armours to defend the reputation of the Malaysian cuisines and specialties, even if others might find our behaviour to be out of proportion or completely overzealous.
When the famous Hong Kong celebrity chef, food critic cum television host So Sze Wong (苏施黄) casually conveyed her (possibly, half-joking) view that the Malaysian food tastes bad, all hell broke loose in Malaysia. The wounded Malaysians expressed their anger and disbelief at such insensitive and dishonest comment; they protested vehemently, even carried out a campaign to boycott the Hong Kong- founded dessert outlet Tong Pak Fu (糖百府) which engaged So Sze Wong as its ambassador at that time. Poor So Sze Wong, well known for her straightforward and bold views, was compelled to deliver an immediate apology to the Malaysian publics for her unintentional insult of our precious national heritage. Unfortunately, this apology on hindsight was unable to calm the rage of the very furious Malaysians. So Sze Wong’s role as the ambassador of Tong Pak Fu was being scraped away, after years of being the only face of the brand.
To be fair, I don’t blame So Sze Wong. After all, how can we expect a person grew up in a place full of Dim Sum, roasted ducks, Char Siew and Wan Tan Mee to suddenly adjust her taste buds and start enjoying the spicy and strong-tasted Sambal, Asam Laksa, Nasi Lemak and Rendang Curry? Yet this incident demonstrates the uncompromising attitude of the Malaysians when it comes to our beloved food.
Located at the bank of the serene Malacca River is this ancient-looking shop called Chung Wah (中华茶室), well known for its unique and authentic Chicken Rice Balls. The shop is easily identifiable- just look out for the extremely long tourists queue under the hot scorching sun at the intersection of Jonker Street and Lorong Hang Jebat. When you found the queue, you have most probably reached Chung Wah.
So what is this curious little dish all about? Apparently Chicken Rice Balls is a dish originated from the historical town of Malacca, a kind of variation of the traditional Hainanese Chicken Rice dish. The recipe may vary, but generally the rice is first stir-fried with grated ginger and finely chopped garlic till light golden, and then boiled together with pandanus leaf, broth and salt seasoning. The chicken is simmered gently in broth of garlic cloves, spring onions, sliced ginger, coriander leaves, salt and water till it turns moist and succulent. The dish is then served alongside with dipping soy sauce and chilli condiment.
The Malacca Chicken Rice Balls dish is almost identical to the traditional Hainanese Chicken Rice dish, save that the rice is not served in a bowl. Instead, the soft and fragrant rice is hand-molded into numerous round orbs in the size of ping-pong ball (or maybe slightly bigger) when it is still piping hot, and the rice balls are then transferred and served on a shallow plate.
Chung Wah, despite its old and rustic façade and interior, has managed to dominate a large market of Chicken Rice Balls in Malacca. This is apparent from the almost unceasing long queue from the time the shop starts its operation in the morning till the time it closes on a daily basis. And what is my verdict? I must say the chicken is juicy, silky and tender enough to qualify it as a satisfying meal. The flavourful and ununiformedly molded compact rice balls went pretty well with the chicken and sauce which accentuate the fluffiness of the rice. It was a pleasing meal without any major complaint (and this is despite the unappealing ambience of the shop and the quite disorganized service of the staff). I would say the queue was absolutely worth it.
And once you are done experiencing the must-try in Malacca, you may want to walk across the road to the famous Sam Shu Gong (三叔公) for a bowl of durian cendol as well as some real shopping for local delicacies (think of dodol, pineapple tarts and everything else of Malacca). The actual durian cendol looks very different from the advertised picture. The advertised picture shows large chunks of durian meats attractively displayed on top of the shaved ice, while the actual durian cendol was just blended durian covered with very thick shaved ice. I must say the appearance of the actual durian cendol was less appealing than what is depicted in the picture. Despite that, the aroma of the durian was wonderfully compelling. The very generous mixture of ingredients of cendol, grass jelly, red beans and atap seeds underneath the shaved ice, together with gula melaka and fresh coconut milk made it an absolutely refreshing dessert. It was indeed another very satisfying meal of the day.
Now who dares to say Malaysian food tastes bad again?