Cheers to old favourite

JB toddy shop is surrounded by high-rise buildings

The sturdy single-storey building at Jalan Sulaiman, a short street that links Jalan Wong Ah Fook and Jalan Trus, is believed to have been built in 1920. 

A wooden signboard hanging above its main door reads, Kedai Tuak Awam Johor Baru [Johor Baru Public Toddy Shop].  A metal plaque on the gate has information in three languages – Tamil, Chinese and the English translation that reads as Coconut Juice Shop.

Signboard above main entrance made of wooden planks
Next to these signs, a larger more colourful signboard stands out in stark contrast.  With illustrations of coconut palms and the words, “Air Nira, Toddy and Coconut Juice” emblazoned on it, passers-by will have an idea of what is being served here.  It’s toddy or fermented palm wine, an alcoholic beverage produced from the flower of the coconut palm.  

Originally the toddy shop was run by personnel of the Royal Malaysian Customs, Johor [Kastam DiRaja Malaysia Johor], and managed by three key staff – Pak Osman, Mr Manikam and a Chinese lady clerk who has since passed away.  While Pak Osman retired to Muar, Mr Manikam worked here for about 40 years before he too retired.  Then Chelladurai Loorthusami took over under license with the Royal Malaysian Customs, Johor and operated the business for 32 years. 

Nagalingam Chelladurai with a sample of
bottled toddy for export
With foresight and an enterprising spirit, Chelladurai and his son Nagalingam Chelladurai, 49, carried out surveys and research on the various types of coconut palms and decided to replant his old rubber plantation in Lima Kedai with coconut palms.  They maximized land use by planting the Mawar and Matah species of coconuts and reared goats in the plantation.  Chelladurai retired six years ago and his son now operates the business with the help of his nephew Mathaialakan Kannaiah, better known as Suresh, and Balakrishnan Kota Raman.  

“Balakrishnan used to climb the coconut palms to harvest toddy,” said Nagalingam, adding that Balakrishnan started working as a palm juice tapper and has been with the business for more than 30 years.  At age 61, Balakrishnan no longer climbs trees but he still helps Suresh with the business in the shop.  

“Everyday I go to the plantation at 8am to collect fresh toddy,” said Suresh who would be back in the shop with about 50 liters of toddy to open for business by 10am.  He said on an average, regulars usually enjoy 2 to 3 mugs of toddy on each visit.  During the day, the shop is virtually empty but there is usually a crowd on weekends.

Balakrishnan Kota Raman has been
working with the toddy shop since 1960
The sparsely furnished front hall seems hardly able to accommodate a handful of customers but the rear courtyard is certainly big enough for a regular crowd.  The spacious courtyard is furnished with tall concrete tables and stools that are cemented to the ground.  An interesting feature is the rows of parallel high metal fences, painted bright green colour, built in front of the outer sales counters. The counters are also sealed in wire mesh with only a small window open at the bottom edge for the transaction.

“During my father’s time, it can sometimes get so crowded that queues have to be controlled,” said Nagalingam, explaining the need for high fences at the sales counters and implying that customers are more orderly now.  He said regulars at the shop include doctors and lawyers who buy takeaways and every now and then, foreign tourists drop in for a drink.

“I’ve been coming here for more than 25 years,” said Balakrishnan Mulogam, 54, a retired army officer who was formerly attached to the Majidee Camp.  When he was off duty from his job in Singapore, Tamilivaan Krishnan, 25, would also be in the shop.  Like them, Leong Siong, 60, and his group of Chinese friends are regulars who enjoy a few toddies in the shop.

A jug of fresh toddy served at JB's toddy shop
Traditionally, toddy is also an ingredient for making tosai, apom, sponge cake and even pau pastry.  Fresh toddy tastes sparkling sweet with a little sour aftertaste.  Nagalingam said toddy has many health benefits including controlling diabetes and half a glass can even be given to children as medicine weekly or fortnightly.

“It’s a natural product,” he said, emphasizing that it’s normal to sometimes see bees or ants in the beverage.  “But customer satisfaction is important,” he added, aware that there must be hygienic handling and good service at all times.  Tasty fresh toddy, served at room temperature, is clearly an acquired taste and its popularity has kept this shop in business for generations. 

The Johor Baru Public Toddy Shop, located at JKR 467 Jalan Sulaiman, Johor Baru, is open daily from 10am to 5pm. 

Suresh at the outer sales counter with high fences
to control crowds

Leong Siong enjoying his regular mug in the rear courtyard

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 2 January 2012

Glad to share interesting feedback:

Gerard said:  Honestly was not aware that the toddy shop was alive and kicking.  Goodness!  You have even made it look dignified!!



  1. Anonymous1/09/2012

    I've known this place for as long as my lifetime and have always wondered what it was like inside but never dared peek! This quenches that thirst Peggy! Good write up!! SA

  2. Thanks for sharing this informative article. I am from Singapore but planning to relocate in JB. My Singapore friends and I have been hunting for a toddy shop. Will definitely pay a visit to the shop, sit amongst the crowd and drink on their tables!

  3. In the 1960s and early 1970s when Thunder Crabs were a plenty in the Tebrau Straights, their dry curried Thunder Crab Claws were worth dying for!

    Fond Memories of good old JB yesteryears!

  4. Is the shop still there?

    1. Yes, it's still there serving up fresh tumblers of toddy!

  5. peggy you have written a comprehensive background which i found fascinating.

    do you know what food they serve there and whether any vegetarian options exist?

  6. This toddy shop serves toddy only and no food. Hope this answers your question.

  7. Anonymous10/08/2015

    Peggy, thank you for the interesting and comprehensive historical account of the JB Toddy shop. The pronunciations for the past and present proprietors must be a bit mouthful
    As a kid, I used to get my "coconut" style haircut acroos the road and I am wondering why there are always a lot of Indian people hanging around this joint. Now I know why ........ thanks.