Jalan Hang Kasturi: Street of tinsmiths and tofu

  • Community
  • Friday, 13 Dec 2013

IF you are looking for an ancient street with fascinating sights, sounds and smells, this is it.

Jalan Hang Kasturi, or Second Cross Street as the older locals in Malacca know it, begins from Jalan Kampung Pantai, intersects with Jalan Tukang Emas (Goldsmith Street) and cuts across Malacca’s two main tourist draws — Jonker Street (Jalan Hang Jebat) and Heeren Street (Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock).

In addition to being lined with many attractions as Jonker Street and Heeran Street, it is also one of the few places where artisans still practice their trades in shops set up by their ancestors.

A tinsmith hard at work along Jalan Hang Kasturi which used to be synonymous with the trade
Family business: A tinsmith hard at work along Jalan Hang Kasturi which used to be synonymous with the trade.

With the ever-rising value of properties in the old city under the Unesco- designated World Heritage status, many traditional family businesses have been forced to move elsewhere or close down.

In spite of this, Second Cross Street has managed to retain its allure.

In between the shops of old are guest houses and budget hotels catering to backpackers, cafes, hawker stalls, restaurants and an array of gift shops selling items ranging from painted clogs to priceless antiques.

The first thing that grabs the attention as one enters Jalan Hang Kasturi from the Jalan Kampung Pantai junction, is a mural of eight running horses painted on a wall of a building.

The street art attraction is a rather new one. It was painted by two local artists — Chong Chen Chuan, 68, and Quake Kah Ann, 36.

Handmade sandals and clogs at Gee¿s Original gallery
Amazing skill: Handmade sandals and clogs at Gee’s Original gallery

The mural, based on the Chinese calligraphy painting technique and themed ‘Towards a new journey’ was to mark the 29th National Chinese Cultural Festival between No 10 and 18 last year.

The horses, which symbolise vitality and vigour, have become popular spots for tourists to pose for pictures.

That stretch of Jalan Hang Kasturi is also known to locals as “Tofu Street” because of the stalls selling tofu-based snacks and other delicious hawker fare in the area at night during weekends.

The Tofu Cafe, a popular pub there, is the best place to watch the late EPL matches and bump into the town’s regular crowd of night owls.

During the 18th century, tinsmiths dominated this end of Second Cross Street. Most were Hakkas who arrived from villages near Canton (Guangdong).

It was a thriving trade in the days when almost everything was made by artisans using bare hands and simple tools.

In addition to a wide variety of kitchen utensils, they also made galvanised iron rain gutters for roofs of houses. There are now only a handful of them left on the street.

Yong Chin Lim, 47, a third generation tinsmith is located next door to the Bala’s Place guest house which carries the slogan of ‘A little bit of India in Chinatown’.

Chin Lim spends his working hours knocking out things such as barbecue sets, sieves, long-nozzled kopitiam kettles, water scoops and hand-operated fluid pumps.

Similar items are also created for sale to locals and tourists by Yong Der Fa, 55, another third-generation tinsmith who runs a shop started by his grandfather Yong Kong Tai.

He took over the business when his father Yong Kom Kee passed away 13 years ago.

The mural of eight running horses painted on a wall of a building along Second Cross Street
Vigour and vitality: The mural of eight running horses painted on a wall of a building in Second Cross Street.

“The term tinsmith was used during the British era. We are now regarded as metal sheet craftsmen. We use mostly stainless steel now,” he said.

Unlike the past when they sweated over charcoal furnaces to heat metal sheets and wires, today’s craftsmen use the more convenient gas burners.

At the junction of Jalan Hang Kasturi and Jalan Kampung Kuli stands one last remaining shop of rattan and bamboo weavers.

Yat Heng or Yuet Hin Rattanwork, as it is known now was started in 1908. Time appears to have stood still in the shop which sells items like baskets, chairs, stools, fish traps, trays, back scratchers — all made from either rattan or bamboo.

One of Malacca’s most famous eateries is located at the next junction of the road with Jalan Tukang Emas.

Teo Soon Loong Chan, reputedly serves the best authentic Teo Chew cuisine (non-halal, though) in the city.

It looks a bit shabby from the outside and rather small and ordinary inside but the pictures on the walls tell the stories of how much it is appreciated by its VIP and celebrity patrons.

I’ve only been there twice in about 20 years but friends, who go there regularly, relish the food and swear by the taste.

Patrons have to make advance reservations during weekends and public holidays because of the limited number of tables.

The section of Jalan Hang Kasturi which crosses Jonker Street to Heeren Street has its share of lively places and shops, including the Bali-inspired Puri Padi.

The retail outlet with a Balinese gateway, garden and thatched roof sells and assortments of goods sourced from Indonesia.

Another remarkable place is Gee’s Original Gallery, a colourful shop selling hand-crafted clogs, shoes, slippers and t-shirts.

As for pubs, there’s one with a name inspired by R&B singer Billy Paul’s 1973 hit about a man and his affair with a married woman.

The “Me & Mrs. Jones” Cafe, however, is run by a happily married couple — Hock (or Hawk to his friends) and his wife Joan.

Hawk, a brilliant musician who plays six instruments, entertains the crowd nightly with his repertoire of songs. Equally talented local guest artists, who perform with him regularly, have helped to make the place famous.

To come back to the name of the street, it is rather bizarre for it to be called Jalan Hang Kasturi, after one of Malacca’s five mythical warriors.

He was not buried along the road but at Jalan Hang Jebat. As for Hang Jebat, the road bearing his name is not connected to him. His tomb is at Jalan Kampung Kuli.

One can only suppose that such confusions contribute to the charm of the historical city.

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