Jaw-gathon to Batu Pahat

AT the end of every makan gathering, the next inevitable question that always pops up is “when is our next jaw-gathon?”  The word jaw-gathon, coined by my foodie friends, aptly describes our marathon jaw exercise from chit-chat and good food.  This time — after comparing diaries, considering options and many email exchanges — we finally agreed to visit Jules, a former classmate based in Batu Pahat and to indulge in our passion for food along the way.

We started off in the morning, cruising along comfortably in an eight-seater car and exited the Plus Highway for our first stop in Air Hitam.  Though it was just an hour’s drive from Johor Baru, none of us could think of a reason why we shouldn’t stop and enjoy a mid-morning snack. After all, we had no strict schedule to follow and the stomach would be our guide for meal times.

First Stop

Pau and dim sum at Tai Chuan coffeeshop
Situated close to the crossroads on the way to Batu Pahat, Tai Chuan coffeeshop was packed with customers. Liz, a frequent customer here, quickly placed our orders for brewed coffee, teh-si (the local version of tea latte) and freshly-steamed pau, xiu mai and lor mai kai (chicken glutinous rice).

When she pointed out that good quality pau pastry should not stick to teeth, our instinctive response was to check if this was true and observed others surreptitiously to see if the pau pastry was really up to standard!

It was. Satisfied, we promised ourselves we would stop by on our way back to ta-pau (takeaway) some pau.

Back on the road, we wisely agreed to pace ourselves and order food portions to share so that we could enjoy a greater variety.

Turning at the “big tree” (Simpang Rantai circle) to get to town, we noticed that the main roads in Batu Pahat ran in a one-way grid. After several turns, the roads started to look familiar but we finally found the Garden Hotel, checked in and waited for Jules in the lobby.

Day One

The quiet of the hotel lobby was shattered as Jules burst in with excited squeals of welcome. No one would have guessed that this wacky woman is a lawyer with a reputable practice in town.  With infectious enthusiasm, she outlined an itinerary and we piled into our car, following her directions to Taman Bukit Pasir.

Fresh strawberry juice [Left] and Kerabu Fruit Salad [Right]
 Jules promised us strawberries for lunch and privately wondering about it, we felt like Alice In Wonderland because it got “curiouser and curiouser”.  True to her word, there were plenty of strawberries at Daddy Village where proprietor Adam Chew explained that when he left Cameron Highlands for his hometown, he not only brought along his highland-born wife but had arranged for a steady shipment of fresh strawberries to his restaurant.

Fresh strawberry juice was so refreshing we quickly ordered a second round! Then there was kerabu fruit salad flavoured with bunga kantan (torch ginger flower) and strawberry slices.  We polished off plates of fish, stirfried eggplant, otak-otak, mutton rendang, black pepper fried rice and otak fried rice and still found space for iced cendol, ais kacang and sago gula melaka.

Next, Ling suggested coffee in an old-fashioned kopitiam where old men nursed cuppas with one foot propped up on the chair but we finally agreed on Han Kee Café in Taman Banang where people kept both feet on the ground!

We enjoyed hot coffee and shared toasted sandwiches stuffed with omelette and otak and met baker Ho Koh Guang who ran his business with his two brothers. When we left, there was a beeline of customers for Ho’s cakes, rolls and buns.

Freshly-baked 'tau sar piah'
A visit to Batu Pahat is not complete without buying traditional Chinese pastries, so Jules led us to Jalan Rahmat and Chop Khoo Boon Hiang. While my friends shopped, I stayed on the street to enjoy the view of Soga Hill, musing over the legend of its spring water that is said to have healing powers.

After all that shopping, space was getting scarce in the car but we still found room to spare in our stomachs, especially after a long wait for our two-part dinner that began with black pepper and salted-egg crabs at Kampong Tio Chew Restaurant.

After we licked our fingers clean, we moved to Part Two at the riverside hawker centre where we shared plates of fried oyster omelette, juicy pork satay, ais kacang and ching th’ng before we were ready for bed.

Day Two

The many cars parked near the “big tree” Simpang Rantai circle marked Warung Mat Marican as a popular breakfast venue. Its zinc-covered long tables with wooden benches reminded us of our former school canteen.

Frothy head of teh tarik at Warung Mat Marican
As we slurped delicious mugs of frothy teh tarik and coffee tarik with yummy mee siam and lontong topped with sotong sambal, we felt sorry for late-comers who were turned away because supplies had run out.

The bright morning turned grey as we checked out of the hotel and headed for the foothill of Soga Hill for lunch at Restoran HG 3. A light drizzle would not stop us from HG’s signature dishes like bihun fried with bitter-gourd and an appetising asam pedas with pomfret in a spicy gravy with slices of tomato, lady fingers and salted vegetables. The marvellous meal was aptly topped off with hot coffee brewed from beans grown in nearby Senggaram.

Good food and great friends are a grand combination for a meaningful time together so we said goodbye with plans to visit Batu Pahat again soon because we had only touched the proverbial tip of the food iceberg.

And as we had promised, we stopped in Air Hitam for steamed pau takeaways while our jaw-gathon continued, covering hilarious topics ranging from exotic food and natural health remedies to good husband material and more ideas for our next trip.

Fast Facts

• Daddy Village, 18 & 20 Jalan Kundang 3, Taman Bukit Pasir. Open from 8.30am to 10.30pm daily except Monday. Tel: 07-433 9118.

• Han Kee Cake & Café, 48 Jalan Jelawat, Taman Banang. Open daily between 7.30am and 11.30pm. Tel: 07-434 7562.

• Kedai Makan Kampong Tio Chew, 3 Jalan Rugayah Utara. Tel: 07-432 9396 & 012-754 2686.

• Restoran HG 3, Jalan Titiwangsa, Taman Bandar. Mobile No: 013-771 1932 & 013-729 7973.

How To Get There

From the North-South Highway, exit at Air Hitam toll and follow signs to Batu Pahat. Or take the scenic 90km route to Air Hitam and another 33km to Batu Pahat.

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Travel Times on 5 January 2009

No comments:

Post a Comment