Kuru Kuru Shop, a Good Earth Project

In my travels through the UK to Finland and across the globe to Australia and New Zealand, one of my favourite pursuits is to browse around the markets and charity shops to find interesting preloved items for keepsakes.

Facade of the Kuru Kuru Shop in Sutera Mall, Johor Baru
I’m ready to pay for the collectibles, from elegant ring-holders to charming candle-stands, antique costume jewellery to novels by favourite authors, because these are so rare to find here.

For me, the 17th century proverb, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” certainly rings true.

In Japan, they practice the concept of kuru kuru, which means "circular" or “circulation” and encourages consumers to donate usable items that are offered for Free to other consumers who need them.

The Kuru Kuru “circulation” concept founded by the Zero Waste Academy in Kamikatsu, Japan, in 2006 is now in Johor with the opening of the first Kuru Kuru Shop in Sutera Mall, Johor Baru.

On a poster in the shop
Those who are familiar with Tanah Sutera Development Sdn Bhd are aware that the developer of Sutera Mall, Taman Sutera and The Seed, has earned a proud reputation for being committed to creating a zero waste and sustainable living environment.

In 2014, the Good Earth Project was launched to promote the application of the 5R principles – Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and be Responsible – with a mission to create a zero-waste township by eradicating the use-and-throw habit.

One of the main initiatives of the Good Earth Project is food waste composting through the recycling of food waste into compost, aimed at reducing waste that would go into landfills.

When I met the FOLO (Feed Our Loved Ones) farmers to feature them and what they are doing with “black gold” under Portraits in my Book 2, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People, they told me about their composting project in collaboration with Tanah Sutera.

Useful items donated to Kuru Kuru Shop are offered for Free
For a start, the developer installed two food waste composting machines within the mall to recycle 500kg of food waste from the tenants.

To recycle a larger amount of food waste, the SuteraFOLO farm was set up with a natural composting plant to ultimately use the compost (also known as black gold!) to grow vegetables in their community farm and for maintaining their landscaped gardens.

It’s encouraging to know that the SuteraFOLO Farm has successfully converted some 300 tonnes of food waste collected mainly from Food & Beverage outlets in Sutera Mall, into compost.

The Kuru Kuru Shop is yet another exciting effort by the Good Earth Project.

A collection of books and novels
A retail space on Level Four in the new wing of Sutera Mall is dedicated to the Kuru Kuru Shop where the public can donate items such as books, clothes, shoes, bags, accessories and household essentials, that are in clean and usable condition.

The Kuru Kuru Shop aims to benefit consumers who truly need these items, all for Free. The only condition is each person may only pick up to three items per day.

When I visited the shop recently, I was thrilled to see a wide collection of useful items – including a wheelchair – as well as books and novels.

Because I had to crane my neck and bend double to look at the book titles, I started to reorganize the arrangement – same author, same genre – for more comfortable reading and access.

Favourite books by Enid Blyton
When I reacted with joy at the sight of a range of familiar books by Enid Blyton, En Zazali, the gentleman who is minding the shop, must have thought I was mad.

Knowing that others can benefit from the donated items in Kuru Kuru Shop, I told En Zazali that I will send my books – collected since childhood and from abroad – and other useful items to the shop.

He explained that the shop welcomes all kinds of useful items, including men’s and children’s clothes but there is limited space for women’s clothes.

We know that some well-thumbed books may be read and re-read, until the pages are yellow and have come off its spine. Then En Zazali showed me a book which he had successfully mended with masking tape and is now ready to be enjoyed again!

The Data Collection poster 
This certainly reflects the spirit of Kuru Kuru where every effort is made to keep the item in circulation, to benefit others who can appreciate it and give it a new start!

Then I spotted a Data Collection poster on the wall and saw the weighing scales.

And when I quizzed En Zazali, he told me that items are weighed to record the quantity (by weight) to chart their daily intake (donations) and output (takeaways).

And probably because he observed my interest in the books, En Zazali told me that they also welcome volunteers to help in the shop…

To donate your preloved items or to volunteer at Kuru Kuru Shop, go to L4-021 on Level Four of Sutera Mall, Taman Sutera Utama, 81300 Skudai, Johor.

Kuru Kuru Shop is open daily from 10am but may be closed on Public Holidays.

For more info, visit Facebook.com/kurukurushop/

Modern European at Initial Cuisine

At the tender age of 14, Koh Chin Hong had already decided that he wanted to be a chef.

At the entrance to Initial Modern European Cuisine
He probably made this decision while growing up on the good food that his mother dished out for the family and she inevitably was the inspiration that spurred him on to pursue a career in culinary arts.

Now the Head Chef at Initial, Chef Koh shares with me about his exciting culinary journey that started soon after he completed High School in Yong Peng, Johor.

His dream soon turned into reality when he completed a year in Japanese language studies and two years with a culinary school in Tokyo, Japan, where he mastered the art of Kaiseki, the traditional multi-course Japanese dinner.

Chef Koh Chin Hong in action,
seen through the open kitchen
Armed with the art of Kaiseki, Koh had the opportunity to meld this traditional Asian dining art with the art of Western haute cuisine when he worked with a Michelin-star restaurant that served Japanese-French cuisine in the Ritz Carlton.

An opportunity to work with a fine-dine restaurant in Sentosa Island, Singapore, brought him closer to home but the desire to explore the world to discover more cuisine took him to New Zealand where he worked with a resort popular with royalty in Huka, located close to scenic Lake Taupo.

Then it was a-dream-come-true experience for an aspiring chef like Koh when he was accepted to work with one of the world’s best restaurants, Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The Prawn appetizer with the
crispy stuffed prawn heads 
The sum of experiences with renowned chefs and restaurants in such a short span of time drove Koh to seriously consider doing something on his own.

Over the years, the crazy work hours (very often from 6am to 2am!) under the instruction of celebrated/distinguished/notorious chefs, has shaped a sharp discipline in Koh and he’s more than ready to lead his own culinary team.

With the support of his family, Koh returned to Johor full of fresh ideas to open Initial to serve his culinary creations in Modern European Cuisine with a hint of Japanese.

Koh understands that everything has a beginning and Initial is where he aims to take discerning diners – who appreciate quality food prepared with the best ingredients – on a gastronomic adventure.

“The best ingredients make the best food!” declares Koh emphatically as he tells me about his daily routine in seeking different fish and vegetables, fresh from the sea and local farms, so that diners will be served with only the best.

Koh is pleased that Johor now has sources and suppliers for the products he has in mind because he’s very particular about the fresh produce, meat and poultry used in his menu.

Adding Miso Dashi to the Daikon appetizer
As far as possible, fresh products are sourced from Johor so diners may be served the ‘Catch of the Day’ or the ‘Veg of the Day’ depending on seasonal vegetables or premium fish (not farmed!) from the sea.

I can see how Koh and his team at Initial are working hard to distinguish themselves as dedicated chefs who take pride in creating food items from scratch, using the best (wherever possible!) local ingredients.

Then it’s time for a taste of Koh’s recommended Tasting Menu.

While he heads into the kitchen to prepare our meal, baguette slices – baked in-house – are served with a side of seaweed kombu spread for an interesting first taste of Japanese influence in his Modern European cuisine.

The Egg appetizer comes with chunks of Pineapple Chicken
The prawn appetizer comprises two headless large meaty prawns on a bed of tomato salsa, drizzled with lime dressing and garnished with a flake of charcoal tuile (baked wafer).

“Eh? Where are the heads?” this pops into my mind as I’m looking for them but in vain.

As if to answer my question, the staff serves up on a separate plate, the two stuffed crispy prawn heads.

The suggestion is to put the entire prawn head into my mouth and crunch it up…

Very carefully (to avoid any harm to the tender insides of my mouth!) I do so and am pleasantly surprised to taste the burst of curry-flavoured concoction with hints of toasted dried prawns in the creamy stuffing.

The Pork Belly main course dish
Daikon or white radish is another recommendation, garnished with eryngii (mushroom), charred baby corn sticks, aburaage (Japanese fried tofu) and topped with a sprig of dehydrated enoki (mushroom).

At the table, a small jug of miso dashi (rich soup stock) is added to this serving.

The Egg appetizer is made with an Onsen egg, chunks of Pineapple Chicken, shimeji (mushroom), snow peas and finally, genmaicha (roasted rice) broth is poured in.

Curious about the Pineapple Chicken, I ask Koh if I heard him correctly and he clarified that this specialty chicken, was fed on pineapple – and not flavoured with pineapple – for a unique tender texture.

Sea Bass is featured in this Fish main course dish
With my curiosity and appetite suitably piqued, I’m ready for the main course items.

Koh explains that the Pork Belly dish is a new addition to the menu and this serving comes with a generous portion of pork complete with crispy skin on a bed of cabbage puree with a side of charred cubes of cabbage, minced pork belly wrapped in Chinese cabbage and drizzled with a savoury sauce.

When I sink my teeth into the pork, I can understand why Koh is determined to serve quality meat because it tastes so good when its free from any gamey scent.

An Eye Fillet in this Beef dish
The Fish dish features fillets of Sea Bass with a side of kale (green leafy vegetables), semi-dried tomatoes, water chestnut and drizzled with saffron beurre (butter sauce).

The Sea Bass happens to be the Catch of the Day and Koh explains that it may be substituted by Snapper or Garoupa on other days.

The Beef dish is made with Eye Fillet (you can ask for Wagyu!) on a bed of mushroom puree, garnished with marrow crumbs, pickled Japanese artichoke and wasabi lebneh (Greek yoghurt) with a rectangle of layered-potato gratin.

At the table, house wine jus is drizzled on its side before I enjoy the taste of tender beef.

Initial also serves Afternoon Tea and when I spy the freshly-baked cakes and pastries, I cannot resist having a taste of the apple tart.

Finally, when I compliment the chef for a delightful dining experience, Koh is all smiles because such good compliments are the desired reward for every good chef.

A slice of Apple Tart - loaded with apple slices!
I’m pleased to know that Koh is catering to private events with special menus tailored to the guests’ requirements because Initial is certainly a dining destination for any occasion.

Initial Modern European Cuisine [Non-Halal] is at No. 9-G, Jalan Molek 3/20, Taman Molek, 81100 Johor Baru, Johor.

Open for Dinner from 6pm to 11pm; Afternoon Tea from 1pm to 5pm.
Closed on Monday.

The premises at Initial comfortably seats 30 guests.

To avoid disappointment, reservations are recommended.

Tel: +6016 247 0977 or email: initialcuisine@gmail.com

For daily updates, visit Facebook.com/initialcuisine/

A real taste of Chaat at The Spice Kitchen

In India, particularly in the Northern region of the sub-continent, long queues are often seen at street vendors, waiting to be served their orders for chaat or Indian street food.

Facade of The Spice Kitchen in Taman Bukit Indah
It’s a refreshing but filling snack that locals choose to eat while on-the-go and it’s really no surprise as I’m about to discover because The Spice Kitchen has set up a live-cooking station dedicated to serving chaat.

I’m familiar with The Spice Kitchen renowned for their menu of Indian, Indian-Chinese and Thai cuisine and they take pride in being the first restaurant in Johor Baru to serve chaat.

Their freshly made chaat is as authentic as it comes because their chaat cook, who is from India, is here to share with us the real taste of chaat.

When we are handed the Chaat Menu, my friends and I smile with relieve as it is designed with photographs labeled with the name of the chaat item for us to have an idea of what we are ordering.

A live-cooking station dedicated to chaat
Sumit Kumar, our friendly waiter who is Punjabi from India, is the right person to give some chaat recommendations.

We quiz him about the chaat and he replies to the best of his ability to help us appreciate what Indian street food is all about.

Then Sumit (pronounced: Soomeet) takes us to the live-cooking station where the chaat is being prepared and points to the bubbling pan of gravy made with chickpeas and masala or blend of spices, that would be added as a topping for each chaat serving.

He explains that chaat is a pure vegetarian dish which is free from coconut milk.

Just as they do in India, diners here can pick their choice of a base item like samosa, papdi (round biscuits) or aloo (potato) tiki, for the vendor/cook to prepare into the chaat serving.

Sumit speaks to the chaat cook in a stream of Hindi and in response to this request, we watch as the cook assembles a chaat dish for us.

A serving of Aloo (potato) Tiki Chaat
Using a base item like papdi, round biscuits made from flour, the cook cracks a few biscuits into a deep plate and tops it with the gravy that was bubbling on the stove.

He turns to the other counter where nine other ingredients are hygienically stored in separate dispensers.

Moving with dexterity, he systematically tops the plate with each item, working with the familiarity of an experienced chaat street vendor!

I don’t know about the others, but my eyes and my mind cannot follow what Sumit is saying about the toppings and I’m in a bit of a blur as the cook swiftly completes this serving of Bombay Papdi Chaat.

A serving of Dahi Papdi (round biscuit) Chaat
Unafraid to appear slow and dim, I ask Sumit if he could please tell me again about the multiple toppings that go into making a serving of chaat.

Speaking in Hindi, the longsuffering and smiley Sumit instructs (I guess!) the cook to prepare another chaat item and this time, I’m watching closely again as the cook responds with absolute alacrity.

The next serving is Aloo Tiki Chaat, made with the base ingredient of boiled mashed potato mixed with masala and topped with gravy and those nine other toppings.

This time, I made sure that Sumit slows down enough for me to understand that these toppings include raw chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, sliced green chilli, green chilli sauce, sweet curd (yogurt), sweet chutney sauce, bits of coriander leaves and pomegranate pips to garnish.

A serving of Sev Puri Chaat
The final topping to add to the chaat is bhujia sev, tiny crisps made from bean and gram flour, to give a bit of texture and crunch to the dish.

Satisfied with this repeat demo exercise, I return to our table, eager to have a taste of the chaat dishes.

Silence prevails as our mouths are filled with the first taste of chaat.

A while later, the silence is broken by murmurs of surprise and delight as everyone finds that the taste of chaat is rather agreeable.

Most of us are familiar with samosa so the next serving of Samosa Chaat goes down well with us.

When the Sev Puri Chaat is served, we are pleasantly surprised because it is a serving of six tiny deep-fried puri stuffed with ingredients.

Sumit tells us that the way to eat the sev puri is to pop the entire puri in the mouth to experience an exciting explosion of flavours!

Yes! Pop this entire Sev Puri into your mouth in one go!
We are familiar with the Japanese way of eating sushi – by putting the entire sushi in the mouth – so we are game for eating the whole puri at one go.

Well, at least some of us managed do it quite well but some failed to eat the puri with any degree of grace…

Another version of chaat that uses mini puri is Pani Puri, which is served in a set of six puri with a side of sauce.

The dark sauce has a distinct tangy taste from tamarind and is highly palatable especially when it is spooned into the opening of the tiny puri and then the whole puri should be popped into the mouth.

A serving of Pani Puri with a side of sauce
Once again, it is a feat to accomplish but I assure you that it promises very tasty results.

In India, chaat is usually a snack to savour whenever one feels hungry in between meals.

Here however, there are no particular rules about eating chaat so diners may enjoy chaat for brunch, lunch or afternoon tea and even as an appetizer before dinner.

Sumit tells us that some diners like to order the SK Chaat Platter which comprises four base items so they can savour a range of different items in one serving.

Spoon the sauce into the puri before
putting the whole puri into your mouth in one go!
From my facial expression, he probably saw the wheels turning in my head, planning to come again for chaat so he gently reminds us that the chaat cook has his rest day on Monday.

We are certainly welcome to dine at The Spice Kitchen anytime but he’s reminding us so that we will not to be disappointed when chaat is not available on Monday!

The Spice Kitchen [Halal] is located at No. S3-0120, on the ground level of Wisma S P Setia, Jalan Indah 13, Taman Bukit Indah, 81200 Johor Baru, Johor.

Open daily from 11.30am to 10.00pm.

While the restaurant is open daily, the Chaat live-cooking station is closed on Monday.

For reservations, Tel: +607 – 237 3311.

Going local with weekend Tiffin tea treat

Situated in the heart of Johor Baru and towering over Jalan Trus and Jalan Wong Ah Fook, the Suasana Suites Iskandar not only commands a panoramic view of the city but is also located close to the city’s heritage quarter.

A Tiffin Afternoon Tea set served at Suasana Suites Cafe
exclusively on Friday and Saturday afternoons only
While tourists and visitors to JB may have discovered some of the popular local snacks and delicacies to eat and buy home as takeaways, there are still some traditional treats that only locals know about.

Taking this cue from them, the good people at Suasana Suites Café decided to present these tasty treats all in one place for diners to savour at leisure in a Tiffin Afternoon Tea set, exclusively – only on Friday and Saturday afternoons.

So now there is no need to rush, queue or find your way about the old town because JB’s popular local delicacies are served among eight items, presented in a charming traditional tiffin carrier and served with your choice of hot coffee or tea.

A tiffin carrier hand-painted in a charming lilac shade
While the charming tiffin carriers are served to the table, I hear exclamations of delight as diners admire its colour and designs:

“I like the Yellow colour!” and “The Orange design looks lovely too…” and they went on and on…

Tiffin carriers have a proud tradition in our Asian heritage, and I’m pleased to see that Suasana Suites Café is making use of limited edition, hand-painted tiffin carriers, a signature product of JEIWA, the short-form for NGO, Johor Empowerment of Intellectual Women Association.

A serving of afternoon tea with Chinese Jasmine tea
It’s also good to see our local specialties being featured in this charming Tiffin Weekend Afternoon Tea set which serves two, with a choice of hot beverages like coffee, English tea, Chinese Jasmine tea or Malaysian Teh Tarik or frothy pulled tea.

At the table, the serving staff gently unstacks the tiffin carrier, layer by layer and reveals the contents inside each delicate bowl.

There are no rules as to where to start because the spread is made up of both, sweet and savoury cakes or kueh and local delicacies.

I’m told that the items may change daily so that diners can savour different types of local favourites each time they came for a Tiffin tea set here.

Local delicacies are served from a traditional tiffin carrier
Looking closer, I see that there are two portions of every item so that we can have an equal share to taste every item in this tea set.

Wrapped in banana leaves for an added fragrance, there is a taste of nostalgia in comfort food like Nasi Lemak and Mee Siam.

When the banana leaves are unwrapped, we see that the Nasi Lemak or coconut rice is topped with sambal and half a hardboiled egg, with a side of toasted peanuts and anchovies while the Mee Siam or fried rice vermicelli is topped with sambal and strips of egg omelette.

The local flavour continues in other items found in a separate bowl from the tiffin carrier: I can recognise kueh lapis, kueh serimuka, kueh ketayap and angku kueh.

Banana leaf-wrapped Nasi Lemak and Mee Siam are
among the items in this Tiffin Afternoon tea set
“Apa ini, eh?” a Malay colleague asks with curiosity, pointing to the item in a smaller bowl.

This compels me to share what little I know: It’s Mengkuang Kueh, a Chinese steamed pastry filled with strips of turnip and dried prawns.

The filling was originally bamboo shoots but as this is a rare and pricey item, the makers of this pastry has substituted it with turnip.

This is served with a side of chilli sauce for diners to enjoy an added zing to its mild taste.

The two slices of banana cake in the small bowl really need no introduction because they are the famous must-have Johor Baru delicacy by Hiap Joo Bakery in the heritage quarter!

It’s presence in the Tiffin tea set comfortably completes the delightful afternoon tea experience at Suasana Suites Café.

Crispy crackers [Left] exclusively available from Suasana
Suites Cafe, can be highly "addictive" so just be warned
In addition to the items served from the tiffin carrier, a bag of crispy fish crackers is served on the side as part of this tea set.

Just ask the staff to help cut open the sealed bag when you are ready to have a bite of these popular crispy crackers.

Be warned that these tasty crisps can be highly “addictive” as you crunch your way through the bag, and may wish/desire to have more…

Then it’s good to know that these crackers are also available for sale and takeaways, offered in two bag sizes. Just ask the friendly staff.

Suasana Suites Café is on Level 33A, the rooftop of Suasana Suites Iskandar Johor Baru, an all-suites hotel located at No. 82-C Jalan Trus, 80000 Johor Baru.

Advance booking is required for Tiffin Weekend Afternoon Tea, served only on Friday and Saturday from 2pm to 5.30pm.

Price at RM48 nett per set for two persons.

For reservations, Tel: +607 – 267 0148 Extn: 7717 or +6017 – 283 5226.

For more info on Suasana Suites Iskandar Johor Baru, visit their website and Facebook page.

The Japanese Film Festival is here again!

Movie buffs and fans of Japanese films will be delighted to know that the Japanese Film Festival is kicking off from Sept 19 to 22, at GSC Paradigm Mall Johor Baru.

Poster for Samurai Shifters
Four days of the finest films in various genres are aimed to entertain audiences in JB with shows starting from 7pm on Thursday, Sept 19 and from 5pm on Friday, Sept 20.

On Saturday and Sunday, Sept 21 and 22, shows will be screened from 12pm so don’t miss the opportunity to catch some of the recent Japanese films brought to JB by the Japan Foundation in partnership with Golden Screen Cinemas and other sponsors.

The Japanese Film Festival is a month-long celebration that started with the South East Asian premiere of Little Nights, Little Love, directed by Imaizumi Rikiya on Sept 3, the opening night of the festival in Kuala Lumpur, while the official date for its release in Japan is Sept 20.

A scene from La La La at Rock Bottom
Look out for a special feature on music movies – one of the highlights in this year’s festival – in Farewell Song, Little Love Song and La La La at Rock Bottom.

The annual Japanese Film Festival celebrates its 16th edition this year and is set to light up Golden Screen Cinemas nationwide with a wide collection of current and acclaimed titles across a variety of genres, ranging from family to music and comedy.

This selection of 13 movies are set to capture the hearts and minds of audiences from all ages and will give an opportunity for movie buffs to enjoy the latest and finest Japanese movies on the big screen.

Here’s a list of the movie titles and their screening times at a glance:

Poster for A Banana? At This Time of Night?
Thursday, Sept 19

7pm, Colour Me True

9.20pm, Café Finiculi Finicula

Friday, Sept 20

5pm, La La La at Rock Bottom

7.15pm, Samurai Shifters

9.45pm, Farewell Song

Saturday, Sept 21

12pm, Bento Harassment

2.20pm, A Banana? At This Time of Night?

4.50pm, When I get home, My wife always pretends to be dead.

7.15pm, Brave Father Online – our story of Final Fantasy XIV

9.40pm, La La La at Rock Bottom

A scene from Farewell Song
Sunday, Sept 22

12pm, My Dad is a Heel Wrestler

2.25pm, Little Love Song

5pm, Lying to Mom

7.45pm, Late Nights, Little Love

The Japanese Film Festival 2019 is part of The Japan Foundation, Kuala Lumpur’s 30th Anniversary celebration in Malaysia, since it was established here in 1989.

A scene from, When I get home, My wife always pretends to be dead
Movie-goers are assured that while the films are presented in Japanese, English subtitles are provided. So get ready for a memorable movie marathon!

Tickets at only RM9 each for all the screenings can be purchased via GSC Box Office, GSC Ticketing Kiosks, GSC e-payment at gsc.com.my or GSC Mobile Apps.