The Bendahari in Melaka: Cultural Heritage with A Modern Twist

On a recent visit to Melaka, I stumbled across The Bendahari at a gem of a shophouse block that you could literally spend half a day having a good time eating, shopping, getting your hair cut and even ordering a new pair of dentures.

Kelly started Prime Cut Saloon in 2005 after studying in America and Singapore. Photo by The Bendahari

This cultural and creative hub called The Bendahari was officially launched in November 2019.

Its vision is to bridge foreigners, designers and entrepreneurs with locals to learn about the city’s culture, arts and heritage, co-create with artisans and trades people, and help to build creative heritage businesses that benefit local communities.

Lee’s Dental Laboratories is run by Dr Lee Soo Fwee, whose father was also a dentist who practiced from the same location he is in today. Photo by The Bendahari

What can you find at The Bendahari?

The shophouse block currently comprises four pre-war shoplots and houses the following businesses, each with their own cultural heritage and history:

  • a cafe (Sharing Plates)
  • a modern Nyonya cuisine restaurant (Bulldog)
  • Lee’s Dental Laboratories
  • a hairdressing saloon (Prime Cut), and
  • a cultural retail store (Markets!).

Melissa Chan of The Bendahari shared how the concept of The Bendahari was born.

“Inspired and led by God, the desire to see rejuvenation of old trades and heritage began as I was working at the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum, six years ago, in 2014.

At that point a lot of development was already taking place in Melaka, and a question that was on my heart was “what of the older generation?”

Many of the younger generation preferred to go to larger cities to work, and the voice of Melaka as a heritage city was getting fainter amidst all the progress.

Much of the thought process for The Bendahari is inspired from the book of Nehemiah in the bible, that records families coming together to re-build the walls of a city. It is fitting that each of our tenants are family-run businesses!”

For the tenant-mix, The Bendahari team felt that it was important to keep as many of the older tenants who had been in the building as possible.

Melissa says that some of the tenants moved out, but thankfully Dr Lee and Kelly from Prime Cuts stayed on.

Dining at The Bendahari

Bulldog was also already an existing tenant. Its proprietor Gene and Tal had taken over the running of a Nyonya restaurant from Gene’s parents. Melissa shared:

“As a second-generation restaurateur, they were the perfect fit to show what is possible when the younger generation continues and innovates from their roots.”.

At a Peranakan dinner at the Bulldog, I liked the prawns (big sized), fried fish (crispy on the outside and tender inside) and cendol (good kick of coconut milk). Bulldog also serves a trio of liquor ice cream.

Grand Marnier and chocolate, Kahlua and Run, Whisky and Lemon ice cream scoops (RM16)

The new tenant to the space so far is from the Daily Fix. Melissa recounted:

“I had worked previously on a community-based project with the owners Julian and Soo, and we shared a similar vision and desire to do something worthwhile for Melaka’s heritage, so it was a natural progression to invite them over. With the success of the Daily Fix, thankfully they said yes, and Sharing Plates was born.”

When I visited Sharing Plates, the cafe food and drinks at Sharing Plates were unique and of good standard (try the durian pancake and iced chocolate variants).

Durian-filled pancakes with vanilla ice cream
Iced chocolate is a must try, my favourite is the Earl Grey Chocolate.

Shopping at The Bendahari

Markets!, which is directly managed by The Bendahari, aims to bridge the gap between traditional and modern products.

Markets! is a heritage store featuring the handicraft of multiple local artisans. Photo by The Bendahari

Melissa explains:

“We started by showcasing designers and artists from around the region but our aim is to feature more Melakan artisanal businesses and to also develop sustainable livelihoods by creating products with local communities.

Some featured Malaysian artists are Kuen Stephanie, Yazeed Kayoom of Jidkay Designs, and local Melakan artists Martin Wood and Ray Tan. Batik by Saarat and Kapten Batik, Kebayas by Sellia Kebaya, and Handmade Soaps by Rowenta of Works of Nature.

In December for Christmas we also featured home-made cakes and Kristang tarts made by Maria, Vicky and Martin Theseira from the Kristang community to raise funds for a heritage program this year.”

At Markets!, my mum found this beautiful and super comfortable three-quarter sleeved black kebaya top with buttons, that I kop-ed from her.

Black three-quarter sleeved kebaya top (RM218) from Markets!

What’s dreams does The Bendahari have for 2020?

The Bendahari hopes to be a catalyst for more Melakan artisanal entrepreneurs. Inspiring them to draw from their roots in this 600-year old town.

This creative hub would also like to invite artisans who have done well in other cities to share their journey with Melakans and even to collaborate on projects. Melissa said:

“For 2020, our hope is that the December fund raising endeavors for the heritage program will come to fruition, getting the younger generation in the Kristang community engaged with their heritage.

I believe we will be laying the foundation and groundwork for the years ahead, and am constantly reminded that ‘good things take time.’”.

Plan your visit to The Bendahari

Address: Lot 143-149 Jalan Bendahara, Melaka

Lot 147
Mon-Sat 10:30am-7:30pm, Sun 10:30am-6pm (Closed on Tuesday).

Lot 145
Tues-Sat Lunch 11:30am-2pm, Mon-Thurs Dinner 6:30pm-9pm,
Fri-Sat Dinner 6:30pm-11pm (live performance every Sat 9pm-12:15am)

Sharing Plates
Lot 143
Mon-Sun 9am-12am

Lee’s Dental Laboratories
Lot 143
Monday-Sunday 11am-7pm

Prime Cut Saloon
Lot 149
Mon-Sat 11am-8pm (closed Sunday)

Special thanks to Melissa Chan and The Bendahari for the interview.

Featured photo of The Bendahari shoplots: The Bendahari

Check out my other Malaysia posts here.

One Comment

  • Allan Chong

    Very interesting place….I will certainly pay a visit when I am back in Malaysia
    God bless and thanks for the info.