There is no place like home. Just ask any Johoreans and they will tell you of its unique heritage and culture that have them proud to call Johor home. From charcoal-baked banana cakes to Laksa Johor, these are the ten places you should explore this long weekend for a truly Johorean experience.
By Khalil Adis
Additonal reporting by Nurul Rustam
As Iskandar Malaysia celebrates its tenth year anniversary last year and 60th anniversary of Malaysia’s independence this year, one cannot help but marvel at the rapid progress this Johorean state has made in a decade.
Located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsular, this state, famed for its Mi Bandung and Laksa Johor, has gone on to become the most successful out of the five economic corridors in Malaysia. Figures from Iskandar Regional Develoment Authority (IRDA), showed that Iskandar Malaysia recorded a total cumulative committed investment of RM227.67 billion from 2006 to 31 March 2017.
From murals in the old CBD with hashtags showing ‘#tanahairku’ to the gleaming newly completed residential buildings overlooking the Straits of Johor, exploring Iskandar Malaysia is never a dull moment. Here’s our top ten picks to check out the “die-die-must-try” foodie joints in Johor Bahru.
#1 Hiap Joo Bakery and Biscuit Factory
13, Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, 80000 Johor Bahru
+60 7 223 1703
Opening hours: Open daily from 8am to 6pm except Sundays.
What is high tea without any desserts or biscuits? While the English would usually have their tea time with scones of cupcakes, we Malaysians will usually rely on our biskut kering (dried biscuits). Well, those days are over as this once British owned bakery has a strong local and Singaporean following.
Located in the hip section of old downtown Johor Bahru, Hiap Joo Bakery and Biscuit Factory is one of Johor’s best kept secrets and (apparently) counts the Sultan of Johor as among its regular customer. Steeped in history and tradition, the bakery has been in operation since 1919 and still retains the old school baking method that has made its pastries very much sought after.
Lunch time is especially busy where office workers will make a quick dash to take away its famous banana cake and red bean bun cooked over wood fire in a kiln. This unique way of cooking has made its banana cakes so special with a surprisingly yummy aftertaste of charcoal. Using bananas sourced locally and with no added preservatives, the cakes still managed to remain moist and fluffy. The cakes and buns tend to run out early. The best time to get them is at 12 noon when it is still fresh from the oven.
#2 IT Roo Cafe
17 Jalan Dhoby, Johor Bahru 80100
Tel: +60 7-222 7780
Opening hours: Opens daily from 10am to 9.30pm
Located at the junction of Jalan Dhoby and Jalan Pahang in old downtown Johor Bahru, IT Roo prides itself for serving “The Best Chicken Chop in Malaysia”by The Star in 2003. Situated at the rustic and charming historical rows of shophouses, IT Roo seems packed during lunch and dinner time. Attracting a good crowd from different ethnicities, IT Roo is a “halal” certified café helping it to draw the Friday’s prayer crowd from the mosque nearby at Masjid India. At night, it draws a good mix of executives and locals wanting to let their hair down.
The chicken chop is priced at RM15 and it comes with either a choice of black pepper or mushroom sauce. The chicken chop arrived with generous amount of coleslaw two slices of tomatoes and cucumber each. The chicken chop is served flattened with generous amount of sauce. It is best to come here on an empty stomach as the portions are quite filling.
IT Roo serves a mean Root Beer (RM6.90) float that serves as the ideal thirst quencher after having crossed the causeway under the scorching sun. Best time to go is on a weekday slightly before 12 noon or after the peak lunch hour crowd has left.
#3 Kam Long Restaurant
74, Jalan Wong Ah Fook, Bandar Johor Bahru, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Tel: +60 1-6752 8382, +60 1-6796 2228. +60 1-6205 1610
Opening hours: Opens daily from 8am to 4:30pm
Having been in the business for more than 30 years, Kam Long Restaurant has built a strong following among Singaporeans and Johoreans who swear by their red snapper curry fish head. Served in a claypot, Kam Long Curry Fish Head comes in various sizes ranging from small (RM18) to huge (RM44). You have the option of just eating the curry fish head on its own, with rice or bean curd. Since it will be a long weekend, we do suggest you to come here early as the long snaking queue usually will start from around 10am just to have lunch!
#4 Cafe Al-Fayeed
30 Jalan Ibrahim, off Jalan Pahang, Bandar Johor Bahru, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Tel: +6019-785 8030
Opening hours: Opens daily from 7pm to 3
Facebook: Al-Fayeed Cafe
Located within a stone throw’s away from Pasar Karat, Al-Fayeed has become the uber cool hangout destination among young Johoreans thanks to its delicious but affordably priced Western and local cuisines that starts from around RM5. This, combined with its RM10 shisha, hip servers with orange-dyed hair as well as an eclectic mix of music selection ranging from downtempo and contemporary hits, have injected vibrancy in its heritage areas. The crowd is young, hip and artsy. This is the place to see and be seen on a weekend!
#5 Hookah District
Lebuhraya Sultan Iskandar, Bandar Johor Bahru, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Operating hours: Opens daily from 7pm to 2.30am
Facebook: Hookah District
Hookah District is located at the open car park just down the road from Al-Fayeed Cafe and within walking distance from Hiap Joo Bakery and Biscuit Factory. Featuring a sleek industrial bright red exterior, Hookah District has fashioned itself from an unused shipping containers that has become ubiquitous in trendy cafes all over Malaysia.
You have the option to sit by the bar or at the tables available at the open car park where you can indulge in some of their very own shisha concoctions ranging from double apple to strawberry. The affordably priced shisha at RM10 has attracted quite a strong following from Singaporeans who need their regular shisha fix (the Lion City banned this recently). The shisha could be better though. Food-wise, you can choose from a wide selection of local cuisines like nasi goreng to Western favourites like chicken chop.
#6 Danns’ Cafe
42, Jln Sagu 15, Taman Daya, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
+60 7-352 5082
Opening hours: Opens daily from 10.30am to 6.30pm
This is apparently the place to try Laksa Johor when you are visiting the state, according to locals. Laksa Johor is pretty much different from the usual laksa you get up north as they use spaghetti instead of white noodles for the laksa. Located in Taman Daya, locals swear you will taste the richness of the fish as well as the savoury combination of the sweet, sour and spicy tastes in their bowl of Laksa Johor. Another best-seller is their nasi briyani.
#7 Fendi’s Roti Canai
Jalan Persiaran Teratai (at Flat Cempaka 5), Taman Cempaka, Johor Bahru
Tel: +60 1-9784 9600
Operation hours: Opens daily from 6am to 11am.
Breakfast in Malaysia is not complete without your roti canai. And since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, why not you start it with a plate of happiness? Located in Taman Cempaka, Fendi’s Roti Canai stall starts its operations from as early as 6.30 am. Owned by its owner, Encik Fendi, the roti canai is personally spun by him and his assistant using a special spinning technique. This technique ensures the outer layer of the roti canai is crispy yet soft on the inside, making their roti canai is the best in JB! Many locals who have grown up eating Fendi’s Roti Canai swear by its delicious taste and say the eatery will have a soft spot in their heart. Truly an icon.
#8 ABC Special Azmie Wawa Kg. Majidee
21A, Jalan Masjid, Kampung Melayu Majidee, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Malaysia experiences summer all year round. As such, it is important to keep yourself hydrated as our weather can get too hot at times. If you need something refreshing and have a sweet tooth, why not pop over to ABC Azmie Wawa Kg. Majidee for a delicious bowl of Air Batu Campur (Mixed syrup with ice)? Located all the way in Kampung Melayu Majidee, ABC Azmie Wawa Kg Majidee is where locals have been patronising to get their regular ABC fix as they remain affordably priced at RM3. Best of all, it is located just 10 minutes away from Seri Austin!
Medan Selera Larkin, Susur 5, Jalan Tun Abdul Razak, Johor Bahru
Tel: +60 1-3571 2374
Operation hours: Opens daily 7am to 1am
Another famous signature dish that you can only find in Johor Bahru is this famous kacang pool haji. Located in Medan Selera Larkin, this kacang pool haji can be eaten at all hours of the day. For instance, you can either have it for breakfast or as a side dish during lunch or dinner. Comprising ground nuts, broad beans and minced meat and various spices, the kacang pool is best eaten with a thick toasted bread to savour its gravy. You can also enjoy the kacang pool by simply dipping the bread into a bowl of kacang pool until it is fully soaked.
#10 Restoran Hua Mui
131, Jalan Trus, Bandar Johor Bahru, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Tel: +60 1-13505 8916
Operation hours: Opens daily from 8.30am to 6pm
Restoran Hua Mui is located within the JB Heritage area enclave in an old shophouse near Chinatown at Jalan Trus. Opened since 1946, the vicinity is now home to various hip cafes, indie fashion boutiques and quirky hotels. This is where you can see colourful street art that adorn the walls. I
The vicinity is also home to some of the best food Johor Bahru has to offer. Restoran Hua Mui is noted for its local-style chicken and egg sandwich which goes well with the Lingham chili sauce. The eatery also has a wide selection of Western and local dishes. Among its signature dishes is the Hainanese fried chicken chop. The best time to get here is in the morning as it may get too packed during lunch time.
Why not you drop by D’lagoon’s sales gallery in Seri Austin Johor right after enjoying all these foods? This new luxury apartment is strategically located within the popular growth corridor at Tebrau hotspot in the centre of Iskandar Malaysia. For more information, visit their website here