We start the day with Laksa Johor for breakfast at Warung Hijau off Linkaran Dalam (a major road).
Warung Hijau is a typical street side stall where JB folk pull their cars over on their way to office. It's an everyday, friendly blissful scene at the warung. Many people from every community enjoying breakfast under the cool of the morning and under the shade of leafy buah cherry trees. Freshly cooked local staples like nasi lemak, mee rebus, kuih muih simply laid out on long tables.
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, there is Laksa Johor at Warung Hijau, a uniquely Johor specialty. Every state in Malaysia have their style of laksa. Laksa Johor has a fascinating story behind it's creation.
The dish was created by Johor's Sultan Abu Bakar over a hundred years ago. When Sultan Abu Bakar traveled to Italy, he fell in love with spaghetti. So, when he returned to Johor, he directed the Palace Chef to prepare laksa with spaghetti. The uniquely Johor dish, Laksa Johor was thus created.
The best Laksa Johor is lovingly homemade for special occasions like Hari Raya, as it is so tedious to make and a bit costly for mass market. The recipe requires fresh Ikan Parang and lots of different vegetables, herbs and spices. Still, Warung Hijau serves a good version of this Johor heritage for RM5 and it is worth a try.
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For lunch, let's go to Hin Hock bak kut teh in Tampoi. No, not for their bak kut teh but for their poached fish. The boss always wants me to try his bak kut teh but it is his fish that I cannot resist.
Hin Hock serves fresh fish from Tilapia to wild sea fish like Ikan Merah from Pontian. Personally, I like his Tilapia best because I feel that this fish suits Hin Hock's style best.
The fresh fish is cleaned and then dunked in a pot of boiling water. When it is cooked, the fish is laid on a large plate and then smothered in a thick blanket of golden brown fried garlic bits. The dish is then splashed with a light soy sauce and oil blend, and garnished with chopped scallion and parsley.
The meaty poached fish is tender and juicy inside with a bit of natural sweetness. There is little, if any, characteristic pond fish earthiness at all. The soy sauce and fried garlic give the dish layers of savouriness that complement the gentle natural sweetness of the Tilapia fish well.
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Pisang Goreng Johor style
In the afternoon, we take a tea break at Pisang Goreng Mawar near Thistle Hotel together with many folks who work around the area :-D Pisang Goreng Mawar has been here for over two decades and chilling here on hot afternoons is a ritual for some of us.
Pisang Goreng Mawar serves the full range of familiar staples like nasi lemak and various traditional kuih muih. Their claim to fame is their deep fried pisang raja and pisang tanduk prepared fresh on site at the stall.
Yes, pisang goreng is commonly found in Malaysia but only in Johor do people eat their crispy fried bananas with soft sweet insides dipped in sambal kicap. And, why not? The natural sweetness of fried bananas is complemented by savouriness from sambal kicap for a more enjoyable taste profile. Perfect with a piping hot teh tarik.
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San Lou bee hoon
For dinner, we shall have san lou bee hoon at Restoran Ah Kaw. Ah Kaw is reputedly the creator of this JB style of frying bee hoon and he is still often seen at his restaurant.
The uniquely JB dish consists of rice vermicelli stir fried with seafood stock. What sets san lou bee hoon apart is the outside of the mound of bee hoon is fried to a slightly stiff browned crisp. Meanwhile inside, the white bee hoon is still moist and each strand of rice noodle is infused with warm savoury sweet seafood stock. When done well, the crisp outside is like a light hat over the bee hoon. When we lift the "hat", a puff of aromatic steam rises up.
Why is this dish called San Lou bee hoon which literally means "Three storey rice vermicelli"? This dish was created in the 1970s at the food stalls operating around the three storey flats along Jalan Stulang Laut. The stalls are no longer there but the three storey flats are still there. As for san lou bee hoon, it is harder these days to get a good rendition of the original dish as the skill to make it is very difficult to master.
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Kacang Pool Johor style
Finally before calling it a night, we shall head to Medan Selera Bomba Larkin for Kacang Pool. The stall Kacang Pool Haji has been around for over 20 years and now it has expanded to several outlets in JB, as well as in Batu Pahat and Kuala Lumpur.
Kacang Pool has it's roots as a Middle Eastern staple - there, it is usually eaten for breakfast and it is a simple dish of stewed broad beans and hard boiled egg eaten with unleavened flat bread.
Pak Haji Makpol practically re-invented the dish. The JB style of Kacang Pool has minced beef with a bit of curry spices in the broad bean stew. It's a delicious beefy savoury gruel. In place of hard boiled egg, Pak Haji Makpol has a cheerful sunny side up with runny golden yellow yolk. It's got a marvellous eggy taste which is stirred into the beefy stew.
Then, instead of bland and stiff unleavened bread, Kacang Pool in JB has a familiar thick brick of spongy white bread slathered with margarine and browned on a sizzling flat iron griddle. Enjoyed with a teh tarik, it's a kind of simple bliss we can indulge in at any time of the day as Kacang Pool Haji opens till 1am.
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Wish you happy eating.
The print version of this article first appeared in the commemorative magazine issued in conjunction with Sama-Sama, Iskarnival from 12-13 Nov 2016.
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