Pak Putra: Remarkable tandoori in Malacca


Intense chicken.

In Malacca, you must try the tandoori chicken at Pak Putra, an Indian tandoori and curry house set in a residential neighborhood not far from the tourist center. It is a pleasant little walk, especially as the sun starts to go down: you will be joined by others.

Pak Putra is a small place where you can sit outside and drink watermelon juice: swarthy, rather handsome tandoori men slapping bread and chicken onto the walls of incendiary hot ovens, which resemble large clay jars.

I paid a princely 7 Malaysian Ringgit for my chicken, which is roughly $2.30. It was delicious: mint and chili chutney, lots of spices, very tender. (I might even chance white meat here—usually an unpardonable sin).

I sat in a little blue plastic chair and watched Malay people roll up to sample the wares: the owners walked through the crowd slowly waving menus. They walked up from the side-streets near the restaurant and emerged from gleaming cars: some tourists had also got in on the act, slurping down lime juice and watching the men ceaselessly roll out lumps of naan dough.

Like much of Malacca, Pak Putra is perhaps best defined by its geniality: this slow-moving tourist town appears to have retained quite a lot of its old charm, in tandem with the glitzy mega-malls and theme park developments. People here are happy to talk, to hang out, to shoot the breeze: perhaps most importantly, Malaccans are deadly serious about properly feeding you if you take the time to visit.

Friendly Malays outside Pak Putra.

The garlic naan held up to the expectations one might develop while watching it cook in the great glowing clay jars outside the seating area. It tasted rather like the best garlic bread I’d ever had, simultaneously smoky, buttery, and infused with a sharp, aromatic flavor. It was served with a spicy, electric-orange daal, which was silently refilled whenever I ate more than one or two bites.

I ordered the veggie tawa as well—usually something of an afterthought—and it was quite nice. A bit sweeter than I might anticipate, but a pleasingly light flavor, not laden with butter.

When I got up to photograph the tandoori ovens, the tandoori men swiftly moved into show-man mood, posing for me, slapping out naan dough with exceptional force, and flashing winning smiles for the lens. It is mesmerizing to watch a tandoor oven being worked: it must be a lot harder to do it all day, when you are losing pounds and pounds of sweat on the job.

A hefty cone-roti. They insisted I take a picture.

Pak Putra also has a delightfully aggressive take away policy.

To illustrate: I couldn’t finish my naan, and the concerned looking owner came over when I asked for the bill, and said “Oh, you don’t like the bread?”

I made the universal I’m-Full sign. “It was delicious, but I couldn’t finish it,” I replied. I felt distinctly bad about this. The naan truly deserved to be eaten. Would I be guilted over this? Would I lie in bed feeling terrible about my inability to consume a massive portion of naan, therefore insulting both the chef and legions of starving children everywhere?

“We will wrap it up,” he said. “No problem!”


A boy was deployed to wrap the naan up, and unsurprisingly, it was accompanied by a small bag of that electric orange daal.

I stuck it in my backpack and promptly forgot about it until I got back to my hotel room hours later, when I pulled it out and immediately assaulted my small hotel room with the delightful scent freshly made garlic naan.

I have snacked on it a bit: I am not a bread-eater, really, but for some things one makes an exception.


Assorted thoughts on Malacca

Typical Malaccan pedicab.

I like Portuguese settlements, I suppose—not that I have visited them often, but there is something to the concept. They do not have the buttoned-down nature of British colonies, perhaps: there is a sort of wild Catholicism to them, the sort you might see in Spanish and Portuguese streets during a major religious celebration.

Malacca was once a major trading post, controlled first by the Malays, than shifting to the Portuguese,than the Dutch, than to the British—and finally, back to the Malays in the 1950s, after independence.

Trading ports attract all manner of strange people, and Malacca turned into an extremely cosmopolitan sort of place—illustrated by stiff Caucasian mannequins wearing the traditional dress of the area’s ethnic groups at the Sultan’s Palace museum. (Why only the Thai mannequin is grinning like an idiot…well, I don’t have a suitable answer for that).

The pirates and the havoc have gone, although there is a pirate-themed theme park and you will see small children waving around plastic cutlasses. Now, Malacca is a quiet, coastal town, with a rather interesting old district and big apartment and condo buildings sprouting like mushrooms on the edge of the historic area.

Old Malacca was designated a World Heritage Site a few years back, and it is worthy of the term: curving roads set off by ramshackle shophouses, some saved as museums, gutters with unidentifiable water running by them. There are little art galleries and cafes in them now, where you can sit and watch tourists from all over the world puzzle over which semi obscene t-shirt they’d like to buy.

But it is not a crass tourism, and there is not really much of it on the weekends: you can easily wander down a small path into an antiques store piled high with vintage money and carvings from Malaysia’s Hindu era, or find yourself very much alone in some back-alley bit of town.

The food is excellent here. Peranakans are Chinese Malays, and those Nyonya restaurant you see everywhere are well worth trying. (Baba refers to a male Peranakan, and Nyonya to a female, as I learned). There is also excellent Indian food, and Chinese food as well: much like the rest of Malaysia, Malacca is a melting pot. I went out the Portuguese Settlement today: that’s another blog post.

Friendly Malaysians at the tandoori shop.

I was thinking today about Malaysia’s identity. Most Malaysians could probably identify themself as having a heritage of something else – this is rather like the USA.

It is also interesting to contemplate how developed Malaysia is. The taxi drivers liked to discuss this with me, in the rather elegant English that seems to come easily to 60-something men here: two of the taxi drivers I rode with had been to Cambodia, and they hastened to described its poverty, its corruption. They also hastened to compare Malaysia with the rest of the world – and the rest of the world was generally found wanting.

“There is all this fighting in Syria, Muslim on Muslim,” one cabbie mused, as we drove in from the bus station. “I simply don’t understand it. Here in Malaysia, we have peace. We all get along with each other.”

Boy out with his grandmother at the fort in Malacca.

Well, I’m unsure about that -and I really am, my lack of Malaysia-specific knowledge is disturbingly vast – but there is certainly a pleasant lack of tension in the air here, at least to the casual observer. I enjoy watching the shoals of hijab-donning women in colorful costumes mixing with Chinese tourists and slightly head-addled looking Westerners: the Malaysian melting pot, united by tourist attractions and food stuffs flavored with sambal.


Malaysians are absolutely wild about John Denver. I hear Country Roads multiple times a day in various locales here. Kids play it on the street, taxi drivers play it in their cabs, restaurant owners hum it while they work…what in the name of God is going on here?