My first meal in Malaysia was also my first experience with Indian food as well. My Taiwanese roommate Wendy and I joined Howard, our hostel’s owner, at his favorite local Indian joint. He was born and raised in Malacca and had come to this restaurant all his life.
When we arrived at the restaurant, the workers set up a table and chairs on the sidewalk alfresco style. Despite evening’s approach, it was still really hot and humid. We ordered gigantic, and I’m talking extremely huge, mugs of mango juice to quench our thirst. Wendy and I decided to share a mug as well as an order of tandoori chicken. We also got sides of naan bread with different curries. I think Howard ate a chicken and rice dish but I don’t know what it’s called.
As we waited for our food, Howard told us a bit about the area. He was really passionate about his hometown and his thriving hostel business. He said the area was undergoing a major cultural revival, and the government was actively trying to preserve and promote Malacca’s historical value.
However, while this brought more worldwide awareness to the colonial city, it also increased the commercialism of Malacca. Large hotels were coming up all around to accommodate the increased tourist traffic. Howard felt at odds with this because even though this could have a positive effect on his hostel, he was afraid the small-town feel of Malacca would disappear. He wanted travelers to have an authentic experience of Malacca and not one that was packaged for them in a group tour.
While I can definitely understand his sentiments (after all, I’m from Hawaii, one of the most commercialized “dream vacation” destinations in the world), once a place is “discovered” by tourists and the local government decides to capitalize on this there is no going back to what was once considered quaint or charming. This may be a sad notion for purists or those who are deeply sentimental, but it is also a sign of progress and has happened many times before. And while I agree that a sudden rise in popularity can sometimes be harmful, I also believe that it creates new opportunities for locals. It can increase cultural appreciation, promote religious acceptance and foster technological advancements in addition to any financial rewards gained in the process.
Sometimes development is a good thing. Maybe the next time I return, this small Indian joint will have expanded into a franchise that tourists can enjoy all throughout Malaysia. The naan was extremely soft and the chicken pieces were juicy with just a hint of heat. And the mango juice . . . simply delicious and necessary for such a hot and humid environment.