Vanakam India for quality Indian cuisine


It was 2019 when my friends and I savoured some popular North and South Indian dishes at Vanakam India opened in Taman Eko Botani, so I was delighted to accept an invitation to dine at their next outlet in Johor, opened in Taman Mount Austin.


Facade of Vanakam India at Taman Mount Austin

I was pleased that my Japanese friend, Yoshiko, who fondly recalled our dining experience at Vanakam India in Taman Eko Botani, was with me at their Taman Mount Austin restaurant for another taste of quality Indian cuisine.


The moment we stepped through the front door, our eyes were riveted to the mural painted on the back wall of the restaurant.


It was a sketch of the portrait of a lovely lady with her palms pressed together and raised to her lips to express, Vanakam, a greeting in Tamil which simply means, Hello!


Refreshing cool drinks: Passion
fruit Mojito [Left], Blue Lagoon
Lemonade [Right] with
Mango Lassi in the back row

As I turned the pages of the menu to look at the lists of dishes that ranged from starters, rice and gravies to dessert and drinks, I smiled when I saw a replica of this sketch on the back cover of the menu.


Since my previous dining experience at Vanakam India, I learnt that their team of chefs were handpicked from India, each for their skills in preparing North and South Indian specialties.


They insist that dishes must be prepared with fresh ingredients and masala or blend of spices, are ground from own recipes to create authentic cuisine at Vanakam India.


The very thought of own recipes and fresh ingredients was making my mouth water in happy anticipation of tasting the popular dishes in this restaurant.


While waiting for the appetizer, we enjoyed refreshing cool drinks dubbed Blue Lagoon Lemonade, Passionfruit Mojito and a familiar Mango Lassi.


Freshly made and served warm: [Clockwise]
Chicken Butter Masala, Kasmiri Pulao, Palak
Paneer, Hyderabadi Dum Biryani Chicken 65,
Bindi Kurkure and Cheese Garlic Naan

I liked the crispy appetizer of Bindi Kurkure. These are thinly sliced okra or ladies’ fingers coated in a thin layer of batter made with chickpea flour and spices, then deep-fried.


When two popular choices of rice were recommended, I did not hesitate to say, “Yes, please.”


The rice items were Kasmiri Pulao, long-grained flavoured basmati rice fragrant with a mix of spices, onions and dried fruits like raisins, and Hyderabadi Dum Biryani topped with Chicken 65, served with a side of curry gravy and raita.


Sizzling and spluttering Prawns
served on a hotplate

There were also freshly baked Cheese and Garlic Naan bread that tasted just right drowned in popular gravies of Chicken Butter Masala and Palak Paneer, bit of cottage cheese in minced spinach.


Listed under the section called, Chef Special Sizzlers, items served on a sizzling hotplate of gravy included choices of Chicken, Fish, Mutton, Crab, Prawns or Vegetables.


Our choice was Sizzling Prawns Masala, peeled prawns in a sizzling hotplate of rich sauce made with coconut milk, spices, onions and coriander.


Once again, it was our Japanese friend who decided that it was time to order glasses of water all around to help clear our palates before we tasted the next item.


A steaming hot and spicy bowl of
Nandu Rasam, Crab Spicy Soup

Then we were ready for a taste of the popular Nandu Rasam or Crab Spicy Soup.


This steaming bowl of soup, brewed with ginger, garlic, black pepper, tomatoes, mint, coriander among other spices, was served with pieces of a whole flower crab.


While Yoshiko felt that the soup was just too spicy for her taste, this Rasam was both familiar and comforting to me.


A serving of Rasmalai

When I read the final phrase in the description listed under Nandu Rasam on the menu that said, Good for cough and cold, it made me smile because rasam is a trusted traditional remedy in the Indian community.


I liked that Vanakam India provided a brief description of each item in the menu that will help diners better understand the ingredients in the dishes before they placed their order.


Having enjoyed such a hearty meal, we sat back and looked forward to the recommended dessert items to savour with a brew of hot Masala Tea.


I know that the menu listed popular Indian sweets like Gulab Jamun and Kesari, but I wanted to taste another dessert that was popular among diners.


Can you see the cardamom floating
on this hot brew of Masala Tea?
This turned out to be Rasmalai, a dessert that originated from Bengal.


Served in a glass bowl, this dessert is made of soft and spongy cheese dumplings cooked in syrup and then soaked in creamy cardamom-saffron milk.  


The delicious fragrance of cardamom continues to prevail as we sip hot Masala Tea. Just a friendly word of warning: Enjoy the flavour and fragrance of cardamom but do not chew it.


With Deepavali just around the corner, I am already planning ahead for another agreeable meal at Vanakam India. When I asked, I was delighted to learn that all the Vanakam India restaurants will be open as usual during the coming festive season.


Vanakam India at Taman Mount Austin is at No. 39, Jalan Mutiara Mas 2A, Taman Mount Austin, 81100 Johor Baru, Johor. [No pork or lard are used in the kitchen.]


Open daily from 11.30am to 10.00pm.

For reservations, Tel: +6014 923 1330


Besides serving authentic Indian cuisine at their Taman Eko Botanic and Taman Mount Austin restaurants in Johor and from another restaurant in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur, Vanakam India also provides catering services for private events.


Email to: for catering enquiries and for more info, visit website:

Fun stays at LEGO Friends rooms


Families at LEGOLAND® Malaysia Resort will not only meet the new generation of LEGO® Friends characters in the park but may continue their experience with hotel stays in rooms designed in the LEGO Friends theme.


There was even a tree to climb in the kid's
section of the LEGO Friends room

In 2019, my friends, Wei Leng and Florence, and I had the privilege to share a park experience with a most memorable overnight stay at the LEGOLAND Hotel.


This was followed by many more visits to the park for various events including being introduced to the new generation LEGO Friends, namely Autumn, Paisley, Liann, Nova, Olly, Leo, Aliya and Zac, in March 2023.


As these dynamic characters embark on their school adventures in Heartlake City, they exemplify distinct personalities and interests that foster a sense of inclusivity and representation during playtime.


Bunk beds with a pull-out
trundle bed for up to three kids

And here we are again at LEGOLAND Malaysia to enjoy the miniature models at Amazing Malaysia Miniland and visit LEGOLAND Hotel to see the recently refurbished rooms in the LEGO Friends theme on Level Two of the hotel.


As a cherished part of the LEGOLAND Hotel themed rooms, the LEGO Friends rooms join the beloved PIRATE, KINGDOM, ADVENTURE, and LEGO NINJAGO® themed rooms at LEGOLAND Hotel.


From October 6, families and fans can immerse themselves in the vibrant world of Heartlake City as they play and stay in these enchanting LEGO Friends rooms.


Designed to cater to modern-day adventurers, the revamped LEGO Friends-themed rooms offer a fantastic opportunity for guests to embrace the spirit of friendship while indulging in a unique and unforgettable experience.


A box below the television
holds LEGO bricks for hours
of brick-building fun

Each LEGO Friends room has two distinct sections, specially tailored to accommodate adults and children.


The spacious and comfortable king-sized bed ensures a restful night for parents, while the separate children's area provides a lively setting for up to three youngsters.


The kids' area boasts a delightful bunk bed, pull-out trundle bed, and a dedicated television that ensures endless entertainment and comfort for the little ones.


A box designed below the television is filled with LEGO bricks, provided for the youngsters to create their own masterpieces in the comfort of the room.


While the bricks may look familiar, this collection of colourful bricks in the LEGO Friends room has the distinct difference of having unique lavender-coloured bricks among them.


A large poster for doodles and writing notes

Meanwhile, a large poster in the parents’ bedroom is specially provided for young guests who enjoy drawing doodles and to write out a precious memento of their stay.


To add more in-room excitement, children are welcome to anticipate unlocking a hidden treasure chest within their room by completing a puzzle that will help to reveal an exclusive LEGO® Gift that will surely spark their imaginations and creativity.


As LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort remains committed to providing exceptional and one-of-a-kind experiences, CS Lim, Divisional Director at LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort, shared his enthusiasm for the new rooms. He said:


Complete the puzzle for clues
to unlock this treasure chest!

"The LEGO Friends themed room at LEGOLAND Hotel embodies the values of friendship, individuality and diversity that are at the heart of the LEGO brand.


We are excited to bring this experience to our guests, allowing them to have a blast while learning about the importance of inclusivity and camaraderie".


"We believe in creating memories that last a lifetime, and the LEGO Friends-themed room is another step towards achieving that goal.


By continually introducing fresh attractions and innovative offerings, we ensure that each visit is brimming with excitement and novelty," he added.


In the spirit of friendship and togetherness, guests now have the opportunity to make more memories and strengthen their bonds while sharing the magic of the LEGO Friends characters with loved ones.


So don't miss out on this extraordinary experience. Just secure your booking for the limited LEGO Friends-themed rooms at Friends Premium Room | Hotel | LEGOLAND® Malaysia Resort.


For more information about the LEGO Friends-themed rooms and promotions, fans can follow LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort on Facebook and Instagram.

MINILAND Amazing Malaysia at LEGOLAND


As its name implies, Miniland is an attraction in LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort where the exhibits are presented in a showcase of miniature tableaus.


Back to Nature in Sarawak creatively
crafted in LEGO bricks

The newest attraction here dubbed, MINILAND Amazing Malaysia, was launched in September 2023 and the completed exhibit was recently unveiled to the media in an exclusive event.


Crafted with over 1.38 million LEGO Bricks, MINILAND Amazing Malaysia is a tribute to Malaysia’s rich heritage and a testament to the resilience of the country’s tourism industry.


Divided into sections that honor East Malaysia, West Malaysia and the South China Sea, this exhibit invites guests to explore the 381 square-meter LEGO wonderland in miniature that feature 126 meticulously crafted LEGO models.


Canopies provide shade for
the comfort of guests here
Designed in intricate detail, these LEGO creations that transcend generations, aim to attract interest and inspire guests to explore the real-life wonders they discovered in miniature form here.


Among the exciting scenes presented in MINILAND Amazing Malaysia were familiar landmarks at historical Melaka like Jonker Walk, the Clock Tower and A’Formosa fortress.


Meanwhile the Georgetown skyline was outlined by the towering KOMTAR building which was made at the height of 350 LEGO bricks while the Batu Caves and Ipoh were designed within limestone hills.


Look out for the Nature attractions in Sabah and Sarawak and check out the many scenes that were created with live animation located at various scenes in the exhibit.


Interesting animations happen at Miniland
at the push of a button

Some of the interactive highlights were buses and trucks that moved along tracks, lion dancing, Wayang Kulit or shadow puppet dancing, sailing boats and other interesting animations that will happen at the push of a button.


At MINILAND Amazing Malaysia, guests will be transported into the heart of Malaysia with more than just enjoying a visual delight but also an educational journey.


By exploring the interactive displays, guests may get glimpses into local legends and Malaysia’s rich cultural tapestry that fosters a sense of curiosity and appreciation for the nation’s heritage.


A typical tableau at Batu Caves
during religious festivals

As I observed our media partners and other guests while they explored the attractions in MINILAND Amazing Malaysia, I could not help but felt rather emotional.


This was because Miniland in LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort is now covered by a series of gigantic canopies to protect guests and the displays from the scorching sun and seasonal rains so people may now stay outdoors in relative comfort in our tropical weather.


To me it was simply a fulfillment of what was discussed at the groundbreaking event for LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort in 2009.


You see, I was among the media who witnessed the groundbreaking ceremony to kick off the construction of LEGOLAND Malaysia on that brown field and I distinctly remembered that among the issues discussed in the Q&A session was the park maintenance and keeping the park comfortable for guests in our tropical weather.


Welcome address by C S Lim

Many LEGOLAND fans have had the privilege to enjoy the park at locations with cool climates so it was like being outdoors in natural air-conditioning at LEGOLAND opened in Denmark, England, California, Germany and Florida. But with our tropical weather, it would certainly be a different park experience in Malaysia.


I also remembered the response from the LEGOLAND representatives who said that they will address these issues and build canopies across the park to keep guests comfortable.


So it was momentous (at least to me!) that in October 2023, what was mentioned in 2009 during the groundbreaking ceremony, officiated by the then Johor Menteri Besar, was finally a reality at MINILAND in LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort.


When I met with CS Lim, Divisional Director of LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort and Director of Sales & Marketing, Thila Munusamy, under the canopies that shaded MINILAND Amazing Malaysia, I did not hesitate to share my sentiments with them.


MINILAND Amazing Malaysia can be
enjoyed by children of all ages!

"At LEGOLAND Malaysia, education and entertainment go hand in hand. MINILAND Amazing Malaysia was created with the LEGO DNA of learning through play in mind.


This is so learning becomes an adventure as guests explore the meticulously crafted scenes depicting Malaysia's past and present essence,” said CS Lim.


“Families can marvel at the intricate LEGO creations, participate in collaborative building challenges, and build memories that will be cherished for years to come.


It is hoped that guests will get a taste of Malaysia's wonders with this one-stop visit at LEGOLAND Malaysia, sparking the desire for more adventures within Malaysia, and in turn boosting the nation's tourism," he added.


The team of cool LEGO Model Builders who
made LEGO magic happen at Miniland

The MINILAND Amazing Malaysia exhibit, created by the skilled hands of the team of Malaysian LEGO Model Builders, was clearly a labour of love.


I was privileged to have a behind-the-scenes experience to see where the LEGO magic happened when I visited the Malaysian chapter of Merlin Magic Making (MMM) Studios, the Global Creative Division of LEGOLAND opened in I-Park, Indahpura near Kulai in July 2018.


So it was fun to meet with the team of cool LEGO Model Builders who were involved with the creation of MINILAND Amazing Malaysia.


A gigantic legendary croc AKA Bujang Senang 
The team included Leina Rahim, ASIA Senior LEGO Model Production Manager and Khadzlan Hairani, LEGO Project Designer, who confirmed that the task involved over 14,000 hours of construction time.


Khadzlan was happy to tell me more about the items featured in the eight streets and National Parks that made up MINILAND Amazing Malaysia.


He also shared about the storytelling aspect of the exhibit which was designed with layers to be discovered in the various scenes to discover the wealth of Malaysian heritage.


These included obscure details from Malaysian pop culture like the legend of Bujang Senang with Iban origins in Sarawak. [Hint: Look for a gigantic crocodile!]


The LEGO model of Khadzlan's family home
and the figure of a child playing inside a box!

Khadzlan was also thrilled to show me the LEGO model of his family home and the figure of a child playing inside a structure which he said was a replica of cardboard box that his brother used to play in. [He even showed me a photograph of him in that cardboard box, from his phone!]


Another fun thing to look for at Miniland is the time displayed on the Melaka Clock Tower which reads as 09.37. Why? Because when these digits were turned up-side-down, it will read as, LEGO.


So make your way to LEGOLAND Malaysia to explore MINILAND Amazing Malaysia which is set to be a landmark attraction that brings Malaysia to the world and invites the world to experience the wonders of Malaysia in charming miniature models.


For more information on MINILAND Amazing Malaysia, head over to the official website at or LEGOLAND Malaysia social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.

Of reading habits and happy reunions


Since the first Drum Up JB! shows which kicked off in January 2023, audiences have enjoyed an entertaining and exciting, family-friendly showcase that was created as a catalyst to reach out and unite the community through the language of drumming, percussion and music.


Signing my books for Tan Sri Datuk Hajah
Norliza Rofli at the Drum Up JB! show

This outreach through the drum shows has met with a measure of success as people from different race groups have been enjoying the shows presented in the past months at the Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House.


In addition to the throngs of drumming fans, there were Chinese expatriates who work with Chinese ventures here as well as European expats from the teaching faculties of international colleges and universities here.


There were groups of students, both local and foreign, from these international colleges and universities, as well as familiar foreign people who settled here after they married locals.


With the two ladies who bought Book Three
to complete their collection of My Johor Stories

I am privileged to partner with Drum Up JB! to have a pop-up store for My Johor Stories at the lobby of the Opera House, as my stories on the co-founder and the art of the 24 Festive Drums documented in my books, will enhance and complement the audience’s pleasure of watching the drum show.


After being wowed by the drumming performances, many bought my books to learn more about this dramatic art of drumming that was founded in Johor Baru by Johoreans.


From the first drum show in January, I have met with many people who are keen on reading and they included members of the Johor royal family who watched the show and bought my books to read and continue their pleasure of learning more about this Johor-born art of drumming.


Then there were people who watched the drum show for the very first time and told me how pleasantly surprised they were to discover that the art of the 24 Festive Drums had its origins in Johor Baru and that they were thrilled to share the pride of being Johorean too.


Mother and daughters who were
keen on My Johor Stories

There were yet others who were delighted to discover that I have documented the stories in English because in the past, reports on the 24 Festive Drums were mainly published in Chinese, a language which they do not read.


So the Chinese people who do not read Chinese did not have the opportunity to learn about this dramatic art of drumming until my stories on this proudly Johor performing art, were published in English.


When the audience arrived for the 8pm show on Saturday, October 14, I could not help but noticed the various races among the Chinese who entered the lobby to head into the theatre.


While many walked directly to the theatre entrance, some paused to browse around for show souvenirs at the stalls set up in the lobby.


Two ladies paused to look at my books with interest and finally picked up one copy of My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now, the third and final instalment that completed the trilogy of My Johor Stories.


A young lady who was ready to
read My Johor Stories

As I was curious to know why they chose only one book from the set of three books, the ladies told me that they already have Book One and Book Two, and only wanted Book Three to complete their collection.


I can understand their delight in discovering Book Three here because this book was published after the two challenging years of uncertainty during the global pandemic.


And during the long lockdown period, all the MPH bookstores in the city, including the one at the airport, had no alternative but to cease operations. As such, readers keen on buying books from MPH had to go online to browse through the catalogue to order books online.


After Book Three was launched in December 2022, I had permission from MPH to keep a small stock of my books to sell from pop-up stores at events such as the Drum Up JB! show.


While it is a bit more work, I wanted my books to be conveniently available because I understand that many readers liked to hold the physical book, flip through the pages and see its Contents for themselves before they bought any book.


So fans of the art of 24 Festive Drums had the added bonus of buying my books at the drum show to treasure as collectors’ items and as gifts to present to others.


Thy will have the pleasure to read the story of Tan Chai Puan, co-founder of the art of the 24 Festive Drums, as an exclusive piece under Portraits in my 2017 MPH Non-Fiction Bestseller, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.


The story of the 24 Festive Drums, a distinctly Johor brand was published in, My Johor Stories 3: Proudly Johor, Then and Now, along with other brands that were established in Johor and spread across the nation, with some even exported abroad.


Thanks to the parents who start
their children in the reading habit
from a young age

I must commend all the parents who were keen to encourage their children in cultivating a reading habit because many bought the trilogy of My Johor Stories, not only to read about the art of the 24 Festive Drums but also to learn more about Johor culture and heritage.


It was very encouraging that the former Director General of the National Culture & Arts Department, Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia, Tan Sri Datuk Hajah Norliza Rofli, came all the way from Kuala Lumpur to watch the drum show.


She shared her comments with the organisers after the show and among other things, she said (and I quote!), “I am so glad I came. I enjoyed the show tremendously… Congratulations to your team and keep up the good work!”


I had the pleasure to meet her when she bought the trilogy of My Johor Stories to discover more from the precious nuggets I had documented on people and places in Johor. When I autographed my books for her, she told me to write her name simply as, Norliza.


With Nor'Aini and Normah
of the "N family"

When I joined the audience to watch the show again that evening, I was later told that Normah and Nor’Aini tried to look for me at my pop-up store – and did not see me there – so they made it a point to find me after the show.


Normah and Nor’Aini along with Narimah are sisters with an only brother, Norman. They are family friends fondly known as the “N family” because they are the children of Uncle Nyeh and Aunty Nora, all given names that started with the letter, “N”.


Uncle Nyeh and my dad were former colleagues in the Johor Baru General Hospital who shared the same hobbies like swimming, music and dancing. Meanwhile, mum and Aunty Nora were also former colleagues in the Maternity Department.


With Normah [next to me] and Nor'Aini, 
her daughters and granddaughter

In a bygone era when people made their own entertainment, my dad and Uncle Nyeh played (self-taught!) musical instruments and enjoyed making music and singing, and I am sure, they had their fair share of fun escapades since their bachelor days.


The last time I met with Normah and Nor’Aini was probably in 2010 for Hari Raya in their family home, so meeting them again at the lobby of the Opera House (at least to me!) was truly a reunion of epic proportions. 


I was introduced to two of Nor’Aini’s daughters and one granddaughter who were there for the drum show so after 13 years, nothing had changed except the advancing of age and additional members to the “N family”.


Out of sheer curiosity I asked, and I was not surprised when I was told they were also given names that started with the letter, “N”.


Sharing a photo of my brother with Nor'Aini
and Normah, from my handphone

Needless to say, there was plenty to chit-chat with Normah and Nor’Aini and as we gushed on with our catch-up, I could not help but observed how the younger ladies watched us with wonder – curious to figure out what was going on among us – so I guess they will have plenty of questions to ask their mother and aunt, later.


We could have chatted on into the night but because it was a school day for Nor’Aini’s granddaughter the next morning, they should take their leave soon.


So it was farewell for now as we made plans to meet up again for a fun time of reminiscing together since our wonderful reunion after the Drum Up JB! show.


Don’t miss the final two Drum Up JB! shows for this year scheduled at 2pm and 8pm on Saturday, December 30, so get your tickets now.


Tickets are available from


Drum Up JB! is an initiative under the Downtown Johor Baru Grants Programme: Arts, Culture and Heritage, a collaboration between Iskandar Regional Development Authority and Think City, supported by Majlis Bandaraya Johor Baru, R&F Princess Cove and Malaysia Digital Districts.

This Drum Up JB! show was proudly presented in partnership with ArtsFAS, Yayasan Hasanah and the Ministry of Finance, Malaysia.

Note: A small stock of My Johor Stories books are available in two outlets in Johor Baru, from JARO and YSpace.