Best of JB local food

“Come to Johor Baru and I will take you there,” was the way I replied my aunties Sylvia and Polly, now relocated to Kuala Lumpur with their families, every time they lamented over how they longed to have a taste of food from their favourite food destinations in Johor Baru.

My aunties finally took up my offer and came to JB by public transport to revisit their favourite food places. I assured them that they need only to name it and I would take them there! So from the moment I picked them up from Larkin Sentral, we were on a veritable food trail to revisit and relish their favourite local food. Here are 10 ten food destinations that I took them to.

Own recipe handmade noodles at Mee Ho Seng Kee
Mee Ho Seng Kee [Non-Halal] on Level 6 of Johor Baru City Square, is a modern café which bears no resemblance to its original stall located in a corner coffee-shop at Jalan Meldrum. 

Seated in air-conditioned comfort and served by uniformed staff, we can also view a flat-screen television on the wall to see show these noodles were handmade, using duck’s eggs as one of the essential ingredients in their family recipe. 

The secret is not only in the taste and texture of the noodles but also in their sauces. 

Upon my aunties’ request, the dry-tossed noodles were served with the chillie sauce on the side to add to the noodles, to their own taste of spiciness.

Kway teow th’ng or Teochew-style flat rice noodles in tasty broth and Mee Pok Tah, dry-tossed flat noodles, remain popular choices for breakfast, lunch or a snack. 

Favourite familiar noodles at Ah Seng's
Here, the fragrance and flavour in the dry-tossed noodles are from a dark sauce and chillie mix, highlighted by bits of deep-fried pork lard. 

Regulars at Ah Seng’s stall [Non-Halal] in Jalan Tan Hiok Nee will also order a side dish of Ngoh Hiang items like deep-fried bean skin rolls filled with meat, liver and yam, wedges of hard-boiled eggs and his famous pink-colour fish-balls. 

Since Ah Seng’s passing recently, his family members who run the business now, continue to keep the recipes consistent – a familiar satisfying taste, duly verified by my aunties.

Choosing own favourites at the nasi padang
Just like my aunts, fans of the Nasi Padang stall run by Adam Soroso in Qin Garden coffeeshop [Halal], followed them when they moved from its previous location at Jalan Trus to its present site at Jalan Dhoby. 

Breakfast items of lontong, mee rebus and soto ayam were usually sold-out by mid-morning when the Nasi Padang dishes are ready. 

When we, the lunch early-birds arrived, we helped ourselves to the freshly cooked items to enjoy with white rice. 

Regulars know the routine: collect a portion of white rice served on a basket lined with greaseproof paper and help themselves to the buffet of dishes. 

Popular items include beef and chicken rendang, chillie mussels, fried tempe or dried fermented beancurd and assam pedas or spicy fish.

Close to lunch hour, this cosy café was bursting with diners and we waited for a table to be available before being ushered indoors. 

Grilled Chicken Chop at It Roo Cafe
Opened in 1961 at the corner of Jalan Dhoby and Jalan Pahang, It Roo Café [Halal] earned the enviable reputation for serving the Best Chicken Chop in Town in 2003. 

My aunts just wanted a taste of their classic Hainanese-style grilled chicken chop made with a tender, boneless chicken thigh, topped with own-recipe mushroom sauce, and served with a side of fried potatoes wedges and coleslaw. 

This is probably the only café in the city that serves their chicken chop with potatoes, cut and fried from fresh potatoes.

Icy Cendol [Left] ad Air Batu Campur or ABC [Right]
I took my aunts to Toast & Coffee [Halal], a double shop-lot at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee to connect them with Auntie Sylvia’s former classmate, Wendy, who runs the café with the help of family members. [She used to work with Loh Ban Thye, one of JB’s earliest departmental stores at Jalan Trus.] 

After a catch-up chat with her, we decided to have dessert and Wendy recommended rojak, air batu campur or ABC and chendol

As we savoured the icy taste of ABC, we agreed that it was reminiscent of the flavours in the ice-balls we used to enjoy from the neighbouring provision shop while we lived in grandfather’s house at Jalan Ngee Heng, during our childhood!

A dollop of spicy belacan topping on Laksa Johor
When Auntie Polly wanted a taste of Laksa Johor, I considered the various outlets that served this local delicacy and picked De’ Kayu Manis [Halal] at Nong Chik Heights. 

I know the portion is good and its taste, authentic. Made with spaghetti instead of noodles, this dish with royal origins is synonymous with festive fare in Johor. 

With a number of cafés and restaurants serving it now, we don’t have to wait for Hari Raya to enjoy it. 

As we savoured this noodle dish to the very last drop of its tasty gravy, we agreed that the spicy fish gravy and sambal belacan or spicy prawn paste condiment, made all the difference to a serving of good Laksa Johor!

Kueh Koleh Kacang at Sedap Corner cafe
Ever since I was able to understand it, I knew that kuih koleh kacang was Ah Kong or grandfather’s favourite Malay kuih. So when my aunties asked to eat ‘Ah Kong’s favourite’ I knew where to find an authentic taste of this local delicacy. 

While Auntie Polly shares Ah Kong’s delight for the smooth and fragrant kuih koleh kacang, Auntie Sylvia prefers kuih kochi

To avoid any disappointment, we went to the main Sedap Corner café [Halal] at Jalan Abdul Samad for afternoon tea and savoured a satisfying range of local kuih, that of course included kuih koleh kacang and kuih kochi.

Piping hote bitter gourd soup with slices of innards
Auntie Sylvia was familiar with Makanan Hakka [Non-Halal], a family-run restaurant which used to be in Taman Pelangi but had shifted to Senai. 

When we reached Taman Bintang Utama and found this restaurant which specialises in Hakka cuisine, the proprietress was overjoyed to meet auntie again. 

Our order included their signature dishes of bitter gourd soup flavoured with slices of innards, char yoke or deep-fried pork seasoned with nam yue or fermented beancurd and braised beancurd topped with minced meat in a claypot to eat with steamed white rice. 

I peeked and saw every table of diners also enjoying the bitter gourd soup, served piping hot!

A serving of freshly steamed siew loong pau
For a leisurely yum cha or drink tea dim sum breakfast, it must be at Tasixi Hong Kong Dim Sum [Non-Halal]. This casual dining restaurant in Taman Perling is perpetually packed so we headed out early – in spite of the rain – and were seated after a brief wait in the queue. 

Serving staff, bearing trays of steamed, fried and sweet dim sum, moved around the restaurant, proffering the trays to diners. 

Aware of how busy the kitchen was, we quickly placed orders for two servings of siew loong pau – delicate soup-filled steamed dumplings. And we thoroughly enjoyed this yum cha ritual in skillfully eating these freshly made dumplings without spilling a single drop of its soup.

A satisfying fish soup noodle dish at Gan Hiong
My aunties who both enjoy eating fish wanted to have their favourite fish noodles so we headed to Taman Gaya where there is all-day dining of a choice of noodles at Restoran Gan Hiong [Non-Halal]

The crowd had thinned after the peak lunch hour so we could comfortably place our orders at the entrance and was given an order number to stand on our table. 

When the steaming bowls were served, I saw generous portions of ingredients, including thick slices of fish in the rich fish-based broth. 

While the restaurant was well ventilated, enjoying the freshly-cooked soup noodles, tinged with a lip-smacking salted-vegetable flavour, was also a sweaty but satisfying experience.

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 9 Nov 2017

No comments:

Post a Comment