MALACCA, June 7 — Possibly the most popular destination in my hometown, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Malacca, has to be Jonker Street. Pre-war Peranakan residences are transformed into tourist magnets filled with antiques, souvenirs, museums, homestays and eateries offering Nyonya laksa, dodol (durian candy) and the infamous chicken rice balls.
Lesser known are the growing number of artisanal cafés that serve coffee and fusion fare in nostalgic environments harking back to the good old days. (Except “the good old days” these days come with a decent flat white made by local hippie baristas.)
What better way to explore these coffee havens than to embark on a full day of café hopping? You have to start at Jonker Street (officially known as Jalan Hang Jebat) naturally. Hidden in the back of a souvenir store is The Daily Fix, a surprisingly sunny café (thanks to the natural light from the air-well in the interior courtyard).
The brainchild of owner Julian Yeo, The Daily Fix has an easy-going Antipodean meets historical Malacca ambience. Vibrant mismatched furniture share the space with a wall of colourful enamel dishes. A profusion of green plants brings a tranquil side of nature indoors.
The café gets its beans from a variety of coffee roasters; recent offerings include Toraja from Sprezzatura Coffee and Nuts+Bolts from Pulp by Papa Palheta. For sweet treats, try the Pandan Gula Melaka Pancakes, fluffy and redolent of the aromatic screwpine leaves and local palm sugar. The mint cake is another fresh bite, when they have it.
To reach the second café, turn left from Jonker Street into Jalan Hang Kasturi and then right into Jalan Tukang Besi. This street is thus named thanks to the former metal workers who used to ply their trade here. That slice of history comes alive at Kaya Kaya Café, where even the reclaimed wood tables are adorned with antiquated metalwork.
Rattan chairs abound in the interior courtyard. A two-storey wall mural here declares the origin of the café’s name: in Zulu, “kaya” means “home”, while in Turkish, it means “stone”, which is quite appropriate for a “stone home” with lots of exposed red brick walls.
Besides coffee, Kaya Kaya Café also offers homemade pandan and lemongrass brews as well as Fuller’s Organic Honey Dew beer for those who enjoy a zesty tipple. Manager Pak Siew Yong, a former Malaccan tea house owner, recommends their signature Malacca Elvis, a pancake take on the King of Rock and Roll’s beloved peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich.
Next, enjoy a leisurely stroll towards the Malacca River, before turning left into Lorong Hang Jebat and crossing the bridge over the river. Hidden in Lorong Jambatan, a quiet back alley, is a tiny café named after its address: Alley No. 5. Its secluded location means you can sip your cuppa while enjoying some peace away from the tourist hordes of Jonker Street.
Owner Yalu also runs The Bridge Loft, a popular homestay for backpackers above the café. The retro décor draws from a 1960s palette of Shanghainese sirens crooning on old radios. During its golden past, the alley and nearby Kampung Java used to bustle with opium dens, brothels and Chinese theatres.
Today, only a few traditional businesses such as goldsmiths, barber shops, and a rubber stamp manufacturer have survived but Alley No. 5 continues to draw a lively and dedicated evening clientele with their regularly held musical performances by local indie bands.
To continue, walk along Jalan Kampung Pantai away from the river. As you turn left into Jalan Hang Lekiu, you will stumble upon Eat @ 18, our fourth stop. The café takes up the ground floor of a two-storey shophouse; the upstairs is occupied by a boutique hotel called Opposite Place.
Eat @ 18 is run by baker Eli Lum, whose artisanal breads are swiftly earning a following here. The preservative-free, organic breads are featured in dishes such as Lum’s signature French toast with fresh fruit, homemade strawberry jam and cream. Some of the loaves can be found hanging from the exposed brick wall as menu adornments.
From the pebbled walkway of the front patio to the communal table surrounded by hanging plants, Eat @ 18 is perfect hideaway for lovers of brunch fare and coffee to linger over. Lum also sells a wide variety of cookies under her Knead & Simple brand.
Head along Jalan Tukang Emas next till it turns into Jalan Tokong, so named thanks to Cheng Hoon Teng, Malaysia’s oldest traditional Chinese temple. Just before you reach the temple, you will pass a row of the shops selling joss sticks and hardware. Nestled in its midst is Mods Café, possibly the most retro café in the country.
Its claim to this reputation is a bright orange Volkswagen Classic Bus inside that doubles as a coffee bar. Baristas Chong Joe Yee and Jacqueline Wen serve up espresso beverages and single-origin brews in this space inspired by the mod culture of Britain during the early to mid-1960s.
Pony-tailed owner Abert Khow is also the resident coffee roaster, the only one in Malacca. The roasting takes place in the rear, where the roasting machine shares a room with Khow’s drum set. With beer cans from around the world adorning the walls and the Union Jack flying proud, experience the invasion of the Beatles era once more.
Complete your café crawl by returning to Jonker Street from its intersection with Jalan Tokong. Look out for the Koong Woh Tong herbal jelly outlet; hidden inside past a row of souvenir shops is Backlane Coffee, so named because its other entrance opens out to a side alley at the intersection of Heeren Street (Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock) and Jalan Kubu.
The large windows facing this back lane allows plenty of natural sunlight in, making this the brightest café by far. The décor is vintage yet clean, with a turquoise vinyl record player playing sentimental tunes from the 1970s and yellowing maps on the wall. A long, white-bricked bar showcases the freshly made desserts Backlane Coffee is known for.
Try their signature salted caramel tart with Ruby Salt and gula Melaka meringue topping or one of their macarons — the teh tarik and Earl Grey flavours are popular. Sip on freshly brewed coffee made from a house blend of Columbia, Java and Sumatra beans. Every cuppa is accompanied by a buttery cookie stamped with the café’s name.
Who knew historical Malacca had so many hidden cafés to uncover? Have fun tracking each one down!
The Daily Fix
55 Jalan Hang Jebat, Malacca
Open daily 10am-5:30pm except Tue closed
Tel: 06-283 4858
Kaya Kaya Café
32 Jalan Tukang Besi, Malacca
Open daily 8.00am to 6.00pm
Tel: 018-984 5351
Alley No. 5
16 Lorong Jambatan, Kampong Pantai, Malacca
Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 10am-3pm
Tel: 016-415 5097
Eat @ 18
18 Jalan Hang Lekiu, Malacca
Open daily 8:30am-6pm except Tue closed
Tel: 06-281 4679
14 Jalan Tokong, Malacca
Open daily 10am-6pm except Wed closed
Tel: 012-756 4441
129 Jalan Hang Jebat, Malacca
Tel: 06-282 0542
Open Sun-Thu 11am-11pm; Fri-Sat 11am-12am