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For seafood lovers there is a place about 15km from Malacca town where one can enjoy some mouth-watering seafood and its special nasi lemak which will make you come back for more, writes Hamidah Atam.

For visitors to the popular Medan Ikan Bakar Pernu/Umbai (Grilled fish food court in Pernu/Umbai) in Malacca, there is something they can expect the moment they step out of their vehicles.

This is the warm and courteous greetings of the "public relations officers" of the food stalls. Numbering between four and six, for each stall they will keep beckoning you to try their food with tips on what you can expect from their respective stalls. Only when you have decided and settled down at the stall of your choice, will they leave you alone to dine in comfort with your family or friends.

As there are 12 stalls offering more or less a similar variety of seafood, their "PR" indeed comes in handy, especially for the first-timers. Despite the cost, the courtesy, fast service and mouth-watering cooked or grilled seafood will leave one asking for more.

For the regulars, ikan bakar Umbai is a must, at least once or twice a month.

The medan, which started with only small stalls in the early 1980s, is now attracting some 2,000 visitors a day, including foreign tourist, mainly form Singapore, Taiwan and Japan.

Various type of fish to whet your appetite and meet your protein needs are available. They range from jenak, siakap, senagin, kerapu, cencaru, kembong and pari. The prices vary depending on the season. On normal days, the jenak, senangin and kerapu are sold at RM22 per kilogramme while the siakap is RM20 per kg.

Common cencaru, kembong and pari are sold at RM10 per kg while the prawns, depending on the size, cost between RM45 and RM55 per kg. There are also crabs and squids to go with the fish, selling at RM16 and RM14 per kg respectively.

There is no haggling as price tags are displayed at each stall to help you decide on your choice. What really makes this spot popular is its fragrant nasi lemak bungkus, available in packets or small portions, neatly wrapped in layers of daun pisang and paper.

The all-time favourite nasi lemak, flavoured with pandan and coconut milk, is the main menu, served together with the seafood. Despite its size, it tastes so asli and with a little bit of sambal tumis in the rice, it is enough to make one crave for more.

Another type of sambal - the sambal kicap which comes complete with a slice of limau kasturi (lemon) and small pieces of onions - will be served once your orders are ready. If this is not enough, there is otak-otak, oysters and cockles which one can order, cooked either sweet and sour or simply grilled.

And for a more filling and hearty dinner, there are young coconuts, ABC special (shaved ice dessert) and fruit juices to wrap it all. For a great time with friends, there is no harm if you just take the nasi lemak plus of cup of hot kopi O.

These are the actual "attractions" of medan ikan bakar pernu/umbai that, despite the lack of signages, continues to be a favourite "hunting ground", particularly during weekends and long holidays.

There should not be any problems in parking your vehicle as the parking area is spacious and can accommodate more than 800 vehicles. All the stalls open from 4pm to midnight but on weekends and holidays the hours may be extended up to 3am. For the Muslims, there is a surau nearby for you to perform your Magrib or Isya’ prayers.

At the medan, there is also a jetty for those who want to go by boat to nearby Pulau Besar. But sitting at the stalls, one can get a beautiful view of the sea and the island while waiting for the food. The many fishing boats at the jetty will give one a clearer picture of what has actually contributed to the success of the medan and the stall owners.

For newcomers, the medan, which is about 15 km from Malacca town, can be quite difficult to locate due to lack of signboards. What one should look for after driving about 25 minutes from the town towards Muar is an Esso petrol kiosk on your left. The medan is on your right.

There is also a big signboard on your left but in case you miss, as there is a big tree covering almost all of the signboard, just look for the station. You won't miss it. In case you do, just ask around from the locals as the whereabouts are at their fingertips.

One of the stall operators, Ibrahim Elias, 37, said he was happy that his business had soared over the part few years that he no longer thinks of any other side business. "They (customers) come in hundreds everyday and I am more that happy. We have to cook between five to six big pots of nasi lemak everyday to cater for them. "On public holidays and weekends, I have to rope in some family members to help my six workers because there are just too many customers." His stall can accommodate 80 people at one time.

Besides Umbai, Serkam, Kampung Bukit Punggor and Anjung Batu, which are within a short drive from Pernu, are also popular for their fresh grilled fish.

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The above article appeared in the New Straits Times on Mar 3, 2000 under the featured section on "People & Places". Copyright 2000 New Straits Times Publications (M) Bhd. All rights reserved . Website url :- .

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