Johor Kaki Travels for Food

johorkaki@gmail celebrates retirement in Singapore, travels to Johor Malaysia & worldwide for food

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

What to Eat in Singapore Johor Malaysia


Ais Kacang Ice Kacang is often referred to as air batu campur or affectionately as ABC. This popular Malaysia/ Singapore cold dessert consists of a ball or bowl of shaved ice. In the old days, ice blocks were shaved with a hand cranked ice shaver and ABC is served in the form of an ice ball, hence ABC. Hand shaved balls are irresistible but nowadays, motorised ice shavers are often used and ABC comes in a rice bowl. The mound of coarsely shaved ice buries (or topped with) boiled sweet corn kernels, red beans, kidney beans, gingko nuts, cincau (black grass jelly), cendol (pandan "worms"), buah atap (fruit of the nipah palm), soaked basil seeds etc. The ice mound is splashed with various coloured syrup, and evaporated or condensed milk. It is commonly topped with roasted peanuts and ice cream. In Johor, at Joo Yee stall, it is uniquely topped with chocolate syrup.

Ikan Asam Pedas

Asam Pedas is fresh fish served with a sourish spicy savoury broth made mainly with tamarind juice, chilies and spices. Each asam pedas stall or shop have their own secret recipe - many are heirloom formulations passed down the generations. A key to great Ikan Asam Pedas is fresh fish. Fish commonly served with sloshy asam pedas broth are Ikan Pari, Ikan Kembung, Ikan Merah, Ikan Tenggiri, and Ikan Jenahak. There are regional variations with the Muar and Batu Pahat varieties being the most famous in Johor.


Ayam Penyet - Originally from Indonesia, the large piece of crispy deep fried chicken is flattened by a sharp smack with the side of a chopper blade before serving. The other key components to this popular dish is the spicy sambal chili sauce, while other accompaniments include sliced cucumbers, fried tofu and tempeh (soy bean cake). It is often served on a traditional wooden plate and eaten with white rice.

Bak Kut Teh

Bak Kut Teh or 肉骨茶 literally Meat Bone Tea in Hokkien is popular among Johor Chinese, hence there are many bak kut teh shops here. The Johor variety of bak kut teh has a darker broth with varying balances of soy sauce and Chinese herbs such as dang gui. Some broth are more salty/ savoury while others are more herbal. Every bak kut teh shop have their own blend and all have their own loyal following. The broth is served in small ceramic bowls or in clay pots. There are ribs, pork belly, pork intestines, pork kidney/ liver, meat and bones, or lean meat. Common side dishes are preserved vegetables, braised groundnuts, braised tau pok, braised pork trotters and so on. Most shops also serve you char kway (Chinese fried dough crullers) which is eaten by dipping in the bak kut teh broth. 

There is also a "dry" version of bak kut teh originally from Klang (Selangor state) which has found it's way around Malaysia and Singapore. Here, the pork ribs are stir fried in a gooey dark soy sauce, dried chili and cuttlefish blend.

Bak Kut Teh (Singapore Teochew style)

Bak Kut Teh (Singapore Teochew style) 新加坡潮州肉骨茶 - Singapore Teochew style bak kut teh is simply pork ribs boiled in water with garlic cloves and peppercorn. With skill in heat control and timing, the resulting clear pork broth is rich in porcine and garlicky peppery flavours. The naturally sweet pork is tender, juicy yet still has some bite and falls off the bone easily. Bak kut teh is usually eaten with side dishes like braised preserved vegetables, braised fried tofu and Chinese fried crullers. Enjoying a pot of Chinese black tea is also part and parcel of a bak kut teh meal in Singapore.


Banana Cake (Hiap Joo style) - A spongy cake made mainly with wheat flour and real bananas. Uniquely in Johor, Hiap Joo bakery's banana cakes are still baked in their nearly century old wood fired oven. The aromatic, moist and bouncy sweet cake has a deep brown sheen outside and a smokey flavour from the burning wood. Needless to say it is extremely popular and is sold out everyday.


Beef Noodles (Hainanese style) is either served in a beefy tea coloured broth or "dry" splashed with gooey brown sauce made with starch thickened beef broth. The soupy broth is savoury and beefy with subtle herbal notes. Beef, tendon and tripe are served in slices or chunks with noodles. The "dry" version is topped with slices or tender chunks of beef with a small bowl of beef soup served separately. "Lai fun" 瀨粉 a hand made, tender, thick stubby rice noodle is traditionally used with Hainanese beef noodles but it is rarely seen today. Flat rice ribbon noodles or kway teow is usually used nowadays.


Beggar Chicken - A dish originally from Jiangsu, China. A fresh chicken is stuffed with herbs, encased in clay, and roasted in an oven or a bed of hot coals for up to 8 hours. The chicken cooks in it's own boiling juices together with the herbs sealed in a pod of clay. The resulting dish is tender flesh deeply infused with the aroma and flavours of Chinese herbs. Ban Heong Seng in Johor Bahru is one of a handful of restaurants in Malaysia that still cooks beggar chicken in a bed of charcoal.


Biryani also known as baryani, biriyani or biriani, is a heavily spiced rice dish originally from the Indian subcontinent. It is popular throughout the subcontinent and among the Indian diaspora including in Malaysia and Singapore. It is made with aromatic spices, basmati rice and meat like beef, mutton and chicken. There are many regional variations of biryani. Common forms in Malaysia and Singapore are nasi briyani gam and nasi briyani Johor.  In nasi briyani gam, the rice, meat and spices are cooked together thus infusing the rice with the meat's natural juices. In nasi briyani Johor, the spiced basmati rice and spiced meat are cooked separately (but served together). Nasi briyani Johor is created by Roslin Beriani House and can be found also in Batu Pahat at Mohd Shah. The basmati rice is well flavoured by boiling with spices and the meat cooked rendang style is tender and juicy with it's every fibre saturated with spice perfume.


Black Pepper Crab - One of the three most popular ways that crab is served in Malaysia and Singapore (the other two are chili crab and salted egg yolk crab). Hard-shell mud crabs chopped and cleaned are stir fried with a black pepper based sauce. The mildly spicy peppery sauce accentuates the fresh ocean sweet flavour of the crab meat.

Bitter Gourd Soup

Bitter Gourd Soup 苦瓜湯 is a Hakka dish found in Johor Bahru (and also in Kulai where it came from). The Chinese community in Kulai is mostly Hakka. It's a home cooked dish brought to stalls and restaurants to make a living for the stall holders. Fresh bitter gourd sliced thin and lightly cooked is served with pork bone broth. Some pork and liver slices are added to the broth. Bitter gourd slices are more sweet than bitter and have a slight crunch like sliced apple. The broth is light bodied and has a nice gentle savoury sweet flavour with very subtle bitter notes. Kah Kah Loke is one of the restaurants that popularised this dish in Johor Bahru.

Braised Chicken Claw

Braised Chicken Claw 焖鸡脚 - Yes, many of us in Malaysia and Singapore love our braised chicken claws. The chicken claws are cleaned, nails clipped, deep fried and then braised in a savoury blend of soy sauce, black mushroom, spices and herbs till it is soft to the bone. Braised chicken claws are eaten with noodles (at wanton noodle stalls), as a dim sum dish, appetiser in restaurants or a side in bak kut teh shops.


Braised Duck - Fresh duck cooked in a braising sauce of a blend of soy sauce and herbs. The best braised ducks are well browned outside by the colour of the braising sauce. It is tender and juicy with the natural gamely sweet duck flavour subtly underlying the herbal flavours infused in the flesh. Good braised duck masters also cut their duck skilfully in thin slices that accentuates the tenderness and juiciness of the flesh, thus enhancing our enjoyment. Served with a splash of braising sauce, and uniquely in Johor, eaten with kway teow kia or slender flat rice noodle.

Catfish (Johor style) - Cubes of tender, juicy river catfish with skin on are stir fried in a clay pot with gooey dark soy sauce blend with dried chili peppers and slivers of ginger. The catfish cubes are blackened by the savoury sweet spicy sauce which combines well with the sweet catfish meat and skin (no muddy taste at all). 

Cathay Laksa

Cathay Laksa (Johor Bahru style) is one of the well loved old styled curry laksa brands in Johor Bahru. There are two stalls using the "Cathay Laksa" brand. One at Jalan Lumba Kuda and the other at an alley known as Siak Hong off Jalan Tebrau. The phrase Cathay Laksa came from the name of the Johor Bahru's most famous cinema in downtown JB, The Cathay, before it was demolished to make way for the CIQ (Immigration Complex) building. The curry laksa stall was named after Cathay cinema as it was located near to it. The cinema is gone but the Cathay Laksa stall is still there to remind us of where The Cathay once stood.


Cendol - Green coloured "worms" made from mung bean or rice flour. The green colour and floral aroma of cendol come from blending fragrant pandan leaves with the flour. Served with chilled fresh coconut milk and gula Melaka (caramelised palm sugar), cendol is a popular sweet dessert in Malaysia and Singapore. Boiled sweet corn and red beans are often added into the serving. There are lots of regional variations e.g. in Malacca, mashed durian is a popular topping for cendol.

Chai Tow Kway

Chai Tow Kway 菜头粿 - This common street food usually eaten at breakfast is made with steamed rice flour and Chinese radish. The large rectangular slabs of chai tow kway are cut into small bite size pieces on a hot wok and stir-fried with eggs, chopped pickled radish, and seasonings like dark soy sauce.


Char Kway Teow - 炒粿条 or seemingly simple fried rice noodles is a popular iconic street food dish in Malaysia and Singapore where the top fried kway teow hawkers have an almost cult following. Flat rice noodles are stir fried with bean sprouts, shelled prawns, eggs (chicken or preferably duck), chives and thin slices of lup cheong (Cantonese wax sausages). The top char kway teow stalls always have fresh blood cockles and lard cracklings. Some of the lesser stalls have relegated these to options deferring to changing taste preferences and perceived health concerns. The keys to the best CKT are intensity of the wok heat 鑊氣, the stall's secret blend of savoury sauces and the frying skill of the hawker.


Char Siew (Char Siu) 叉燒 literally means fork or skewered roast in Cantonese. It is thick ropes of lean pork or lean and fat cut (such as collar or jowl) marinated with a robust savoury sweet sauce and roasted over charcoal till it is slightly charred outside at the edges. Good char siew is tender and juicy, sweet savoury with a slight smokey taste. Nowadays, char siew is often roasted with a gas flame, grilled in an electric oven or even boiled in a bath of sauce and food colouring. Char siew purists insist that only fatty "crystal" char siew roasted over charcoal are authentic.


Chee Cheong Fun - Originally from Guangzhou, China, CCF is a form of rice staple. Made with a viscous blend of rice flour and water, this liquid mixture is poured onto a big flat pan, covered and steamed to produce the paper thin, broad rice sheets. In it's most basic form, the steamed rice sheets are simply served rolled and slathered with various savoury sweet sauces. Fillings are often rolled between the rice sheets. Common fillings are diced roast pork, minced pork, shrimps, fish paste etc. Common sauces are sweet fermented bean paste sauce, chilli sauce and light soy sauce sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. In Malaysia, spicy curry sauce is also used. In the Kampar (Perak, Malaysia) style, chee cheong fan is hand cut into slender strips like kway teow noodles and eaten with side dishes.

Chicken Rice

Chicken Rice  鸡饭 - It is no exaggeration to say that chicken rice is found in every corner of Singapore and Malaysia. The best chicken are poached till they are just done so that the flesh is tender and juicy, and retains the natural flavours of the bird. The chicken is served drizzled with blended light soy sauce and often sesame oil (I like). Of course, chicken rice is served with rice :P - in a plate or a small rice bowl. Good chicken rice is boiled with real chicken stock, chicken fat, fragrant pandan leaves, garlic, ginger and lemon grass (serai). You can just imagine the resulting steaming aromatic fluffy rice that comes out of the pot. Also important are the dips. Freshly ground blend of red chili and garlic, and ginger are the best. Some people also like to eat chicken rice with tacky, savoury dark soy sauce.

Chili Crab

Chili Crab 辣椒蟹 - A popular dish in Singapore and Malaysia. It's made with mud crabs from tropical mangroves (of Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka etc) - large live ones of over 500 grams are preferred. The cleaned and quartered crabs are fried in oil and then drenched in a thick complex blended gravy of tangy, sweet, savoury and spicy flavours. Each eatery has their own proprietary recipe for the gravy. Eggs or egg white are often added into the gravy for egginess, body and smoothness. Besides eating the crab flesh, the gravy is also enjoyed by dipping with bread or Chinese style fried buns.


Chwee Kueh are steamed rice cakes made by blending rice flour and water together to form a watery viscous mixture. The liquid is poured into small clay or aluminium containers that look like sauce dishes and steamed, forming the signature little bowl shape when cooked. The tender rice cakes are topped with diced soft-crunchy savoury preserved radish boiled in oil (often lard) and served with optional chilli sauce. It is a popular, affordable breakfast in Malaysia and Singapore.


Claypot Chicken Rice - A Cantonese rice dish served with meaty chunks of savoury marinated chicken, Cantonese waxed sausage slices and fresh choy sum (a green vegetable). The rice is cooked in the claypot first and the other ingredients are added in later on top. Traditionally, the cooking is done over charcoal fire. Done skilfully, a layer of brown crust forms at the bottom of the claypot. The crispy brown crust, cooked ingredients, gooey black soy sauce blend, and steamy white rice are stirred and tossed inside the claypot before serving in individual bowls. A cube of salted fish is provided if you like another layer of savouriness in your claypot chicken rice. The distinctive savoury sweet smokey flavour and interesting soft with crisp texture is a joy to experience in this disappearing dish, especially when cooked the traditional way.


Choy Ban 河婆客家菜粄 is a traditional Hakka dumpling dish. Various different types of fillings like leek 韭菜 and Chinese turnip (known as mangkuang 芒光 locally) are most popular. The skin wrap is made with hand kneaded flatten rice and tapioca flour dough. The fillings are pre-cooked by stir frying minced pork, diced tofu and lard with savoury sauces. The dumplings are hand made and the pieces are finished by steaming in large steaming trays. The best place in Johor to try choy ban is in Kulai which has a large Hakka community.


Congee or Porridge is a rice gruel which is a common comfort dish among Chinese communities. The Cantonese like their congee cooked to a "cottony" wet paste described as 绵绵. Various ingredients like minced pork, pork liver and "Century" egg etc are cooked with the congee during the finishing stage with high heat. A raw egg is sometimes thrown into the scathing hot congee just before serving. Light soy sauce and white pepper powder are used to perk up the flavours as desired. Hainanese style congee like the Cantonese style has the ingredients cooked inside the porridge but the grains are not reduced to paste. The grains are soft, suspended in the porridge but they remain discrete and visibly separate. The Teochews, on the other hand, cook their porridge till the rice grains are soft but still whole and settled at the bottom of the pot separate from the cloudy water. The Teochews eat their porridge with a wide range of side dishes like steamed fish, braised duck, braised offal, and various stir fried vegetables. But, unlike their Cantonese or Hainanese compatriots, the side dishes are not thrown into the porridge during cooking but cooked separately.


Curry Fish Head 咖喱鱼头 - A popular curry dish starring the head of a fish (usually a red snapper known locally as "ikan merah"). In the Chinese style, the fresh fish head is cooked by first dunking it in boiling water. The curry fish head dish is then finished by further cooking it in a sweet spicy curry broth together with vegetables like tomatoes, crunchy lady's finger, long beans, cabbage and spongy brinjal. Fried bean curd skin is often served with the dish presented in a claypot or large soup bowl. Curry fish head is eaten with white rice, heaps of it as it soaks in the spicy curry balancing it's alluring complex flavours with sweetness.


Curry Boar - Wild boars are abundant in the vast rainforests and oil palm plantations of Malaysia. It is a common meat eaten by Orang Asli and there is also a niche market for it. Wild boar meat is often cooked till tender in pungent spicy curry to mask the gamey taste in the game meat.

Curry Fish Head

Curry Fish Head (Chinese Style) - Curry fish head is a popular dish in Singapore and Malaysia, available in various styles. In the Chinese style, the fresh fish head is kept chilled until an order is received. The fresh fish head is then poached by dunking it in boiling water. The curry is cooked separately with coconut milk, ground dried shrimps and various spices such as turmeric, dried chili and so on. The poached fish is transferred to a claypot which is then filled with curry and cooked for a few more minutes. Fresh vegetables such as Lady's Fingers, eggplant, long beans and cabbages are cooked together with the poached fish and curry. The popular curry fish heads have tender and sweet flesh, and the gelatinous tissues around the mouth and eyes are still soft and slippery. The vegetables are crunchy and the curry is mildly spicy.

Curry Laksa

Curry Laksa - A Southeast Asian fusion with many variations found in Malaysia and Singapore. In one version popular in Johor Bahru, the curry base is made with anchovy and soy bean broth the same way as the soup for kway teow soup or wanton mee is made. To this broth, coconut milk and a mix of curry spices such as dried chilis and turmeric are added. Curry laksa is served with fresh and fried toufu, fish balls, fresh cockles, bean sprouts and other ingredients. Curry laksa is eaten with yellow noodles, and both the thin and thick versions of bee hoon.

Cze Char - A street side or shop lot eatery serving the same type and range of Chinese seafood, meat, poultry and vegetable dishes as well appointed Chinese restaurants but in more humble settings and at more affordable prices. Cze char 煮炒 literally means "boil and fry" but the cze char stalls actually use the full range of Chinese cooking techniques from stir fry, deep fry to steam to braise and double boil, just to name a few. The best cze char chefs have their own loyal following and may rival big name restaurant chefs in skills. Other English spellings for 煮炒 include zhi cha, zi char, tze char.


Dim sum 點心 is a popular style of Cantonese cuisine served in small bite-sized portions, traditionally presented in small cane steamer baskets or on small plates. Dim sum is traditionally placed on wheeled trolleys and pushed around the restaurant - customers just lift off the dishes they want. Dim sum trolleys are rarely seen nowadays. Most places now serve dim sum off an ala carte menu, though some places still present their food in large serving trays carried around by wait staff. Popular dim sum dishes are dumplings, congee, steamed buns, rice rolls (chee cheong fun), custard tarts, glutinous rice, steamed ribs, braised chicken feet, spongy cakes, sweet desserts, and many, many more. One of main attractions of dim sum restaurants is the opportunity to try tasting portions of many dishes over Chinese black tea with family and friends. That's why in Cantonese communities "go eat dim sum" is referred to as "go drink tea". Dim sum restaurants can be noisy with everyone trying hard to be heard above the droning ambient noise.

Epok epok

Epok Epok - A kind of samosa common in Singapore and Malaysia at street side stalls or old style coffee shops. The flour and oil wrap encases curried mushy potatoes, curried tender diced chicken, vegetables or mashed sardines. Epok epok differs from it's close cousin, curry puffs which has a buttery crumbly flaky crusty wrap due to addition of butter. The epok epok skin is thinner, slightly stiffer and has a light chewy bite.


Fish Ball Noodles - Fish balls are made of fresh fish meat ground into a paste. The best fish balls are 100% fish meat with a little salt added to accentuate the natural fish flavours (no starchy binders and fillers). Commonly made with minced flesh of wolf herring fish, yellowtail fish and even sea eels, the fish paste is hand squeezed into little irregular shaped balls. The bouncy fish balls which have a light spring to the bite are often eaten with noodles (yellow, rice vermicelli or flat rice noodle). The noodles are either served in a soup with fish balls and noodles together or "dry" where the noodles are tossed in a savoury greasy sauce and the fish balls presented in a separate bowl of broth.


Hokkien Mee (Kuala Lumpur style) - The iconic dish developed in Kuala Lumpur a century ago by Kim Lian Kee in KL's Chinatown consists of fat yellow noodles vigorously stir fried with thick black soy sauce and lard. The dish is characterised by the black tar like lard and soy sauce blend heat seared onto fat yellow noodles by a super heated charcoal fired wok. The scathing hot noodles taste savoury sweet from the soy sauce and lard, with a smokey flavour from the wok hei (literally "breath of the wok").

Hokkien Mee (Singapore style)

Hokkien Mee (Singapore style) 新加坡炒福建麵 - This is a uniquely Singapore style of fried Hokkien noodles which is seldom seen outside of the island state. The dish consists of rice vermicelli (bee hoon), yellow noodles, and bean sprouts fried and braised in robust prawn and bone stock, with lots of pork lard. It is garnished with small strips of pork belly, squid and prawns. A good Hokkien mee Singapore style has soft noodles enveloped in a smothering crustacean and porcine gravy. The dish is a fine balance of rich layered savoury and sweet flavours.


Hokkien Mee (Penang style) - Penang style Hokkien mee is usually referred to as Penang prawn mee outside of Penang. It is a noodle dish with the yellow noodles and/or bee hoon in a savoury prawn and pork bone broth. The noodle and broth are traditionally topped with small shrimps, lean pork slices, and stalks of kang kong greens. The soul of Penang Hokkien mee is in the crustacean savoury broth made by boiling prawn shells and heads with pork bones. Equally important is the sambal chili served with the prawn mee. Nowadays, in Penang, Hokkien mee is often topped with substantial extras like roast pork belly, pork knuckle, large fish balls, etc. 


Hor Fun or sha hor fun are flat broad white ribbon noodles made with milled rice and water. It's a versatile noodle which is usually fried in a hot wok as in fried hor fun or drenched in curry as curry hor fun (in Malaysia). When I have guests from China or Hong Kong, I like to surprise them with curry hor fun which is something they would not expect of this familiar noodle originally from the Sha Hor 沙河 area in Guangzhou.

Ikan Bakar

Ikan Bakar 烧鱼 - Literary means grilled fish. Ikan Bakar stalls both Malay and Chinese not just grill fish - they also grill other seafood like squids, shellfish and vegetables. The most popular are grilled stingrays. In Malaysia and Singapore, the fresh fish is laid on a banana leaf and cooked on a greasy flat gas fired iron griddle, often oiled with margarine. When nearly cooked, the fish is topped with a blanket of sambal, covered and allowed to simmer for a few minutes. Every stall have their special blend of sambal made with chili, onions, and other spices. Often, besides the freshness of the seafood, it is the sambal that differentiates the stalls. So the sambal recipe is a closely guarded secret. The better stalls use over 20 ingredients to make their sambal. Good Ikan Bakar is flavourful and the seafood is cooked to just done. The fish's sweet juices are still intact and the flesh remains moist and tender.


Kacang pool - The Johor version of this Middle Eastern staple developed by Haji Mak Pol Saimon consists of a stew dip made with mashed broad beans (known also as fava beans or ful medames), minced beef, and spices topped with a sunny side up egg. The stew dip is garnished with chopped onions, green chilies and a wedge of fresh calamansi lime. The stew dip is eaten with inch thick white bread which is slathered with margarine and fried on an oiled flat griddle till golden brown.

Kia Teow Kia

Kia Teow Kia 粿條仔 is a Teochew staple commonly found in Johor Bahru but rarely found elsewhere. There is not even one KTK stall, just across the Causeway in Singapore. Kia Teow Kia is pork innards cleaned and braised in a braising sauce of soy and herbs. Each Kway Teow Kia stall or shop have their own braising sauce with different balance of soy and herbs - some more savoury, others more herbal - all have their own loyal fans. The intestines, lungs, stomach, tongue and skin are braised till tender and eaten with slender flat rice noodles known as kway teow kia which is the name of this dish.


Kopitiam - 咖啡店 Hokkien phrase for coffee shop in Malaysia and Singapore. The word "kopi" is the Hokkien term for coffee and "tiam“ is the Hokkien term for shop. Kopitiam owners usually operate the beverage stall in the shop which serves a variety of hot, cold and bottled/ canned drinks. The stall also serves charcoal grilled toast slathered with butter and kaya (coconut jam). Soft-boiled eggs and nasi lemak are usually sold. The kopitiam owners also sublet space in the shop to stall owners serving a range of local fare like wanton mee, mee rebus, mee siam, kway teow soup, chicken rice, nasi padang and many more. A kopitiam is often the informal community hub where folks gather for a drink and meal, as well as catch up with the neighbours and on what is going on about town :-D


Kopitiam (Coffee Shop) Lexicon - The Chinese (often Hainanese) coffee shops of Singapore and Malaysia have evolved a range of unique phrases for ordering beverages.

Kopi - Coffee with condensed milk (sweetened with sugar)
Kopi siew tai - Coffee with condensed milk (sweetened with less sugar)
Kopi kah tai - Coffee with condensed milk (sweetened with extra sugar)

Kopi peng - Coffee with condensed milk (sweetened) and iced
Kopi peng siew tai- Coffee with condensed milk (sweetened with less sugar) and iced
Kopi peng kah tai- Coffee with condensed milk (sweetened with extra sugar) and iced

Kopi oh - Hot black coffee (with white sugar)
Kopi oh siew tai - Hot black coffee (with less white sugar)
Kopi oh kah tai - Hot black coffee (with extra white sugar)

Kopi oh peng - Black coffee (with sugar) and iced
Kopi oh peng siew tai - Black coffee (with less sugar) and iced
Kopi oh peng kah tai - Black coffee (with extra sugar) and iced

Kopi oh kosong - Hot black coffee (unsweetened i.e. no sugar)
Kopi oh kosong peng - Black coffee (no sugar) and iced

Kopi 'c' - Hot coffee with evaporated milk (with "Carnation" milk and sugar)
Kopi 'c' siew tai - Hot coffee with evaporated milk (with "Carnation" milk and less sugar)
Kopi 'c' kah tai - Hot coffee with evaporated milk (with "Carnation" milk and extra sugar)
Kopi 'c' kosong – Hot coffee with evaporated milk (with "Carnation" milk and no sugar)

Kopi 'c' peng – Iced coffee with evaporated milk (with "Carnation" milk and sugar)
Kopi 'c' peng siew tai – Iced coffee with evaporated milk (with "Carnation" milk and less sugar)
Kopi 'c' peng kah tai – Iced coffee with evaporated milk (with "Carnation" milk and extra sugar)


Teh - Tea with condensed milk (sweetened with sugar)
Teh siew tai - Tea with condensed milk (sweetened with less sugar)    
Teh peng – Iced milk tea (sweetened with sugar) 
Teh peng siew tai – Iced milk tea (sweetened with less sugar) 
Teh peng kah tai – Iced milk tea (sweetened with extra sugar) 

Teh oh - Hot tea (no milk, sweetened with sugar)  
Teh oh siew tai - Hot tea (no milk, sweetened with less sugar)
Teh oh kah tai - Hot tea (no milk, sweetened with less sugar)

Teh oh peng - Iced tea (no milk, sweetened with sugar)
Teh oh peng siew tai - Iced tea (no milk, sweetened with less sugar)
Teh oh peng kah tai - Iced tea (no milk, sweetened with extra sugar)

Teh oh kosong - Hot tea (no milk, no sugar)
Teh oh kosong peng - Iced tea (no milk, no sugar)

Teh 'c' – Hot tea with evaporated milk (sweetened with "Carnation" milk and sugar)
Teh 'c' siew tai – Hot tea with evaporated milk (sweetened with "Carnation" milk and less sugar)
Teh 'c' kah tai – Hot tea with evaporated milk (sweetened with "Carnation" milk and extra sugar)

Teh 'c' kosong – Hot tea with evaporated milk (with "Carnation" milk, no sugar)
Teh 'c' peng – Iced tea with evaporated milk (with "Carnation" milk and sugar)
Teh 'c' peng siew tai – Iced tea with evaporated milk (with "Carnation" milk and less sugar)
Teh 'c' peng kah tai – Iced tea with evaporated milk (with "Carnation" milk and extra sugar)

Cham - Coffee and tea blend (sweetened with condensed milk and sugar)  
Cham peng - Iced version of Cham (sweetened with condensed milk and sugar)

Tiaw Yu - "釣魚 Fishing" or dunking a tea bag in hot water.

Yin yong or yuan yang - same as Cham

Tat kiu - 踢球 Hokkien for "kicking a ball" refers to Milo (a cocoa beverage) which comes in vintage green tins featuring a soccer player kicking a ball

Michael Jackson - name for the mixture of soy bean milk (white) and grass jelly (black) inspired by MJ's hit song "Black or White".

Yeah, it's complicated. It just reflects how seriously people in Malaysia and Singapore take their daily cuppa ;-D

Kway Teow Soup

Kway Teow Soup or Teochew kway teow thng 潮州粿條湯 is to Chinese Johoreans what bak chor mee is to Chinese Singaporeans. Kway teow thng is a Teochew staple and is a very popular breakfast and lunch meal. The majority of the Chinese community in Johor Bahru are Teochews, hence the city is sometimes referred to as "Little Swatow". The thng or broth is mainly made by boiling pork socket bones. The basic kway teow thng is eaten with flat rice noodles, and pork, kidney and liver slices. Some shops serve fresh fish slices with kway teow thng. Many shops also serve the traditional rice noodles with optional premium ingredients such as oysters and abalone. There is also the "dry" version where the noodles (tossed in a blended sauce) and the soup are served separately.

Laksa Johor

Laksa Johor is a truly unique Johor dish. It is spaghetti, yes that Italian pasta, soaked and blanketed in a thick, gritty gravy made with ground fish such as Ikan Parang and a complex blend of herbs, vegetables, fresh juices, dried shrimps and spices. Good Laksa Johor has the al dente bite of good spaghetti. The gravy is fragrant from all the herbs and spices. The taste is savoury from the ground fish and it has juicy, crunchy bits like salad. There is a touch of tanginess and mild spiciness. According to legend, Johor Laksa was created by Sultan Abu Bakar in the 1800s. During the Sultan's visit to Italy and Europe, he fell in love with Bologna's spaghetti. When Sultan Abu Bakar returned to Johor, he instructed the Palace chefs to make laksa with spaghetti and presto, Laksa Johor was invented.

Lei Cha

Lei Cha 擂茶 is a Hakka staple which is eaten at Hakka homes regularly, if not daily. Lei Cha stalls are more common in Johor than in Singapore due to the larger Hakka community here. Lei Cha comes in two parts. A bowl of steamed white rice or brown rice, which is blanketed by chopped vegetables, crushed roasted peanuts, seeds and diced preserved vegetables. This is accompanied by a bowl of vegetable broth/ gruel made by grinding and then boiling vegetables, seeds, tea leaves and herbs. The "tea" is green in colour as it is made mainly with pounded and grounded leaves. Lei Cha lovers enjoy the crunch of the vegetables and the delicious "tea" which often have a subtle minty flavour. Lei Cha sounds like "thunder tea" but in Hakka language it means "grounded tea" and has nothing to do with wet weather. Hakka people also usually refer to Lei Cha as Ham Cha 咸茶 or "savoury tea". Lei Cha is often eaten with Hakka yong tau foo which is another iconic Hakka dish.


Lekor Lekor or Keropok Lekor originates from Peninsula Malaysia's northeastern states of Terengganu and Kelantan. Lekor lekor made by combining sago flour batter with fresh minced fish. The greyish colour rolls are deep fried to a brownish crisp outside. Lekor can also be sliced into thin "chips" and deep fried till crispy. The "chips" are known as lekor keping. It can also be eaten steamed as a roll known as lonsong. Lekor lekor is usually eaten with a spicy chili dip.


Lontong Sayur is a popular vegetable curry dish eaten with tender compressed rice cake. The vegetables like cabbage are stewed in coconut milk with curry spices till soft. Tofu is often included in the rich mild curry. The mildly spicy vegetable curry is poured over the rice cake completely smothering it before serving. Many people eat their lontong with a splash of sambal chili.

Lor Mee

Lor Mee 鹵麵 - Yellow noodles served in a starchy savoury gravy made with prawn and bone broth. It is the same umami flavoured broth as that in Penang prawn mee but with starch added to produce the gooey gravy. Garnished with shelled prawns, boiled egg, ngo hiang (Hokkien meat roll) and slices of braised or boiled pork. Eaten with black vinegar, chopped garlic or cut fresh chili as condiments.

Mee Hoon Kueh

Mee Hoon Kueh 面粉粿 is a Chinese (Hokkien) dish. The kueh are irregular, hand torn, translucent pieces of dough made mainly with hand kneaded wheat flour with eggs. The texture of the best mee hoon kueh has a gummy, tender outside with a subtly stiff core inside. It is served in soup or in dry form tossed in a soy based sauce with shallot oil and chili paste. Good mee hoon kueh soup is made by boiling large stock pork bones (e.g. socket joints) and anchovies for many hours. The soup has good body and a seductive umami  (savoury) flavour. Mee Hoon Kueh is served with pork balls, fried anchovies, sayur manis (a leafy green) and often with a raw egg thrown in.

Mee Rebus

Mee Rebus is simply boiled yellow noodles slathered with a thick flowing golden yellow sauce make mainly with sweet potato starch and curry spices. The bowl of noodles is garnished with hard boiled egg, bean sprouts, fried tofu (tau kwa) and a sprinkle of fried crackles. It is eaten with sambal chili (paste), crunchy chopped green chili peppers and a squeeze of lime to taste. Every mee rebus stall have their own secret recipe for the thick sauce, some adding groundnut puree, beef, chicken and/or mutton into the broth. The flavour is a blend of savoury, sweet and spicy. In Johor, mee rebus is often eaten with boiled lamb shank (known as tulang in Malay). Many people like to eat the creamy bone marrow with a drinking straw provided with the mee rebus. Hj Wahid is a famous brand of mee rebus in Johor.

Singapore-Ambeng-Cafe-By-Ummi-Abdullah Johor-Bahru-Nasi-Ambang

Nasi Ambeng or Nasi Ambang is a communal style of eating from Java (Indonesia) where many meat, fish, chicken and vegetable dishes are eaten with rice and sambals. All the food are laid out on a mat of fresh banana leaves or on a large serving tray known as a dulang. Everybody eats together traditionally with hands and sitting on the floor - it's a great bonding heritage. Served during festive occasions, often the whole village is invited. At restaurants, nasi ambeng is often still served in dulang style with different combinations of side dishes. At street side stalls or hawker centres, nasi ambeng is usually served packed in small triangular parcels made with banana leaves. Sometimes, plates are used (which is a departure from tradition).

Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak - A popular favourite, nasi lemak is rice cooked in coconut milk and often enhanced with fragrant herbs and spices like pandan leaves. Nasi lemak is usually eaten with sambal chili, an egg, slices of cucumber, fried peanut and anchovies. It is common to eat nasi lemak with side dishes such as fried chicken, fish, cuttlefish and beef rendang. Traditionally served wrapped in a small triangular parcel with banana leaf which adds another layer of flavour, it is more often served on plates nowadays.


Nasi Padang stalls serve a wide variety of dishes of every kind from meats, chicken to fish and vegetables usually cooked with hot spices and curry. Iconic nasi padang dishes are beef rendang, fried beef lung, fried tempeh (soy bean cakes) and many more. The best nasi padang stalls offer several different types of spicy sambals with varying degrees of spiciness. The dishes and sambals are eaten with boiled white rice. Originally from the West Sumatra town of Padang where nasi padang is served "hidang" style with all the dishes presented together at once at the customer's table, the patrons paying only for the food eaten. Here in Malaysia and Singapore, the dishes are on display in warming trays and customers or a server will scoop out portions of the chosen dishes.


Oyster omelette dish is originally from Taiwan and Fujian (China), and is found at food centres and street side stalls in Singapore and Malaysia. The dish is loved for it's rich ocean savoury flavour. There are a lot of regional variations to the basic oyster, egg and tapioca/ potato flour recipe (so it is known by various names such as oh chien and oh luak etc). Some people like the crispier version with the flour batter fried to a crisp, wrapping the soft beaten eggs and wet juicy fresh oysters in a crispy envelope. Others prefer a softer version almost like fat oysters stuffed in an eggy pillow. Crispy or pillowy, purists like the ocean taste of fresh plump oysters with the rich farmhouse flavour of eggs cooked in sizzling greasy lard.

Otak Otak Muar

Otak Otak Muar is made with minced fresh Mackerel fish, prawns or squid blended with coconut milk, hot and aromatic spices wrapped in banana and steamed. Otak Otak Muar is often packed in thick slabs wrapped in banana leaf (instead of the skinny strips in attap or coconut leaves in other places). Otak Otak Muar is kept frozen and steamed before serving. The juicy tender fresh Mackerel/ prawn/ squid meat, coconut milk and curry spices give Otak Otak Muar it's sweet and mildly spicy flavour. Steamed Otak Otak Muar is often served as a dish at Chinese restaurants in Johor - look out for it in the menu or ask for it. (Known as Otah Otah in Singapore.)


Petai - A flat and thumbnail sized green coloured bean. It has a pungent smell hence it is known as "Smelly Beans" 臭豆 in Chinese. It's taste is slightly bitter and it's texture crunchy and slightly waxy. An acquired taste that is well loved locally, it is eaten raw with sambal chili dip or stir fried with sambal, onions and anchovies (as in the picture).


Pisang goreng is a common snack sold by street vendors all over Malaysia, Singapore and also Indonesia. In it's basic form, it is flour battered bananas fried to a golden brown crisp outside with slightly melted pulp which tastes sweet and sometimes with a slight tanginess. What sets Johor apart is that here, pisang goreng is eaten with a savoury sweet dip or a savoury spicy dip. Pisang goreng stalls usually also sell other fried items like cempedak, sweet potato, tapioca, mashed mung bean, tofu and even mushrooms.

Poached Fish

Poached Fish - A dish named after it's cooking technique - which is to dunk the fresh fish in a large pot of boiling water. The cooked fish is then drenched in a drippy light soy sauce and shallot oil based gravy. The tender and sweet fish is next topped with a generous shower of fried chopped garlic and a sprinkle of fresh spring onions. So far in JB, I know only of Hin Hock that serves this delightful dish.


Putu Piring - The traditional Malay sweet snack is a small saucer shaped steamed cake made of rice flour dough, with caramelised palm sugar filling. The rice cake is eaten with lightly salted shredded coconut. Cumin powder is sometimes added to putu piring giving it a light yellow colour.

Beef Rendang

Rendang - Rendang is made with beef or chicken. The meat is slow cooked in coconut milk and spices until the liquid is reduced to a thick, spicy, savoury gravy. Most of the ingredients are infused deep into the meat fibres. Good rendang is tender and the meat is perfumed with the aroma of coconut and spices. Rendang is usually eaten with rice at nasi padang stalls.


Rojak Buah is a traditional salad dish made with pieces of cut fruit slathered with a gooey dark sauce made with a blend of fermented shrimp paste, sugar, chili sauce, lime juice etc. The salad is often topped with a sprinkle of crusted roasted peanut. Every rojak man have their own secret sauce recipe. The best rojak man are masters in fruit cutting so that the sweet juices stay in the cut pieces and do not leak out. The sauce is laid on the cut fruits and allowed to sink into the pile and coat the individual pieces. Tossing is avoided as that would make the juices leak from the fruit and turns the salad wet and soggy.

Roti Canai or Prata

Roti Canai - Known as roti prata in Singapore, this is an Indian pancake made with wheat flour. The dough oiled with ghee or margarine is stretched by tossing and flipping. The stretched dough is then folded and fried on a flat iron griddle. Good roti canai is crispy on the outside while the folds inside are softer. Roti canai is eaten by dipping in curry and in Malaysia, a dollop of sambal chili is often added.

There are a host of variations of this basic classic. A few examples include roti telur (stuffed with eggs), roti bawang (stuffed with thinly sliced onions), roti pisang (stuffed with banana slices), roti plaster (topped with fried egg), roti telur gedik (chopped roti, slathered with curry and topped with sunny side up) and other variations.

Roti Jala

Roti Jala or Net Bread is made with a batter of flour, coconut milk, eggs and turmeric powder (which gives the net bread it's attractive yellow colour). The batter is scooped in a three holed ladle and allowed to dribble onto a flat hot iron griddle. The resulting lacy bread looks like spider web or net, hence the name net bread. Roti Jala is hand rolled into a roll and eaten by dipping it into chicken curry. The texture of Roti Jala is tender, spongy and bouncy, and it has a slightly sweet flavour. The chicken curry sponged up by the net bread gives the popular dish additional savoury, spicy hot flavours.


Sambal is a spicy, stinging hot paste made by pounding with pestle and mortar a mixture of various chili peppers with other ingredients like fermented shrimp paste (belachan), fermented fish sauce, garlic cloves, ginger, shallot cloves, scallion, calamansi lime juice, anchovies, rice or other vinegars and palm sugar - the possibilities are plenty. Nowadays, sambal is often made using an electric blender which results in an inferior product where the pulp and moisture are separated. The best sambals are always made with pestle and mortar, and have layers of spiciness from mixing together chili peppers of different intensities of spiciness. There are many regional variations of sambal throughout Southeast Asia and there are different sambals for eating different dishes.

San Low Bee Hoon 三楼炒米粉

San Low Bee Hoon 三楼炒米粉 is a unique dish invented in Johor Bahru. It is really a variation of the ordinary fried bee hoon executed with mastery of wok fire that makes it special. San Low bee hoon is presented flattened and the outer layer of the bee hoon is slightly charred. Overall, the bee hoon is dry but not stringy. The savoury bee hoon is fried in seafood broth with small pieces of shrimps, squid, lean pork, eggs and choy sum (green vegetable). The inner bee hoon strands retain a little moistness from the seafood broth it is fried in. Served with chili paste blended with dried shrimps (sambal).


Satay or Sate is one of Malaysia and Singapore's most popular dishes. Satay is made with marinated beef, mutton, chicken or pork pieces skewered with skinny wooden sticks grilled over red hot charcoal embers. The juicy tender and slightly charred meat is eaten with ketupat which is a traditional boiled rice cake wrapped with small coconut leaf parcels. Cut raw onions, cucumber slices, and a spicy sweet nutty crushed peanut dip complete the dish.


Soft-boiled Eggs are a staple of Malaysia and Singapore kopitiams (coffee shops). It's usually a couple of chicken eggs skilfully half cooked yielding runny soft boiled eggs. The runny smooth eggs are served in a saucer. It is eaten with a dash of light or dark soy sauce and a dash of white pepper. The runny egg is beaten and eaten with a tea spoon. It can also be eaten by slurping it up directly from the edge of the saucer (if you are comfortable. I am :-D ) Some kopitiams serve kampung chicken eggs (at a slight premium in price). Kampung chicken eggs are sought after for it's denser texture and more pronounced flavour.


Soto is a traditional Indonesian meat soup made by boiling mutton, beef or chicken. Soto is often seen as Indonesia's national dish enjoyed throughout the archipelago and also in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore. It's a very democratic dish found in warungs (street side eateries) as well as fine dining restaurants. The most common soto in Malaysia and Singapore is made with chicken or soto ayam. The savoury mildly spicy broth with shreds of chicken meat is eaten with noodle or rice cake. Soto is served with a blend of dark soy sauce and chili sauce usually with a sharp sting which greatly spices up the broth.

Soya Sauce Chicken

Soya Sauce Chicken 酱油鸡 - a variation of the "white" Hainanese style chicken brought to Singapore by Hong Kong immigrants. Instead of poaching the chicken in plain water as in the Hainanese style, here the chicken is poached in a savoury blend of dark soya sauce, herbs and spices. The result is the same tender juicy chicken complemented with the savoury sweet flavour of soya sauce and herbs. Chopped and served in large chunks, and eaten with egg noodles or rice.


Sup Kambing or Mutton Soup (Indian style) - A thick creamy soup made by slow simmering mutton bones and meat with aromatic herbs and spices. Served in bowls of soup garnished with fried crispy shallots, fresh cilantro and a wedge of calamansi lime. You may add a puff of powdered white pepper for a peppery kick. Some may squeeze in a dash of dark soy sauce (kicap) for added savouriness. There's also sambal chili to spice things up even further. The heavy bodied soup is served with various cuts of meat or parts like eyes, tongue, tail, shank, ribs, stomach and brains, just to name a few.


Sweet & Sour Pork - 咕嚕肉 Ku lo yuk is a classic Cantonese dish. Boneless pork loin is cubed and battered with eggs and flour, and then deep fried. A sweet, savoury and sour sauce is prepared separately. Once the crispy deep fried pork cubes which are juicy and tender inside are ready, they are drenched with the gooey "sweet and sour" sauce and served garnished with tomatoes and crunchy cucumber.

Teh Tarik

Teh Tarik - Literary "pulled tea". For many people, a teh tarik is a must have with mee rebus, roti canai, nasi lemak, satay or just about any Malay or Indian dish. Teh tarik is brewed from dried tea leaves, add a large dollop of condensed milk and then pulled by transferring it between containers to naturally aerate the tea. The longer the tea maker can stretch the tea, the better it is aerated. Good teh tarik is served fragrant, hot and frothy.


Thosai also known as tosai or dosa is a kind of flat bread made with fermented batter of rice and lentil flour. Thosai is a South Indian comfort dish and popular all over the Indian subcontinent and Indian communities around the world. It is the staple of 24-hour Mamak restaurants commonly found in Malaysia. Thosai is eaten plain, stuffed with curried potatoes, chopped onion, minced mutton or chicken and other fillings. Thosai is served hot and freshly prepared along with chutney dips and curries. I like plain Thosai's blend of soft and crispy textures, and sweet sourish flavours, which go well with the zesty flavours of chutney dips and the spicy taste of curry. Thosai is often enjoyed with a hot glass of freshly brewed teh tarik.


Toasts (kopitiam style) is white bread cut into slices and toasted over charcoal embers. (Nowadays, electric toasters are usually used.) The browned toast is slathered with various spreads and served as a sandwich. Kaya or coconut jam with a slice of butter is most popular. Other common spreads include margarine and peanut butter. Some kopitiams serve toasts with a spicy sambal chili spread (which often contains anchovies).


Toddy -  A fermented beverage popular in southern India and Sri Lanka made with sap tapped from coconut palm stem. Once commonly found in Malaysia and Singapore but now it is only found in a few licensed outlets in Malaysia. The drink looks cloudy like squeezed lime juice but is sourish sweet with a slight fizz. Alcohol content ranges from 3% to 20%. When purchasing, customers can specify the desired level of alcohol.


Wanton Noodle - Slender egg noodles topped with boiled choy sum (leafy vegetable) and char siu (roast pork), and dressed with a sauce. The thumbnail sized wanton dumplings are made of minced pork or blended with prawn, wrapped in an eggy skin and typically boiled or deep fried. The egg noodles may be served in a bowl of pork and anchovy broth with wanton dumplings inside (like in Hong Kong), but in Malaysia it is also served "dry" tossed with a sauce dressing. The boiled wanton is served on the side in a bowl of broth or deep fried to a crisp as a topping. There are many regional variations of dressing sauce such as black (dark soy sauce and lard), red (chili, ketchup and oyster sauce) or white (lard and peanut oil). Sesame oil is also often used in the sauce. The desired texture of the egg noodle is a slight spring to the bite.

Pontian Wanton Mee 笨珍云吞面

Wanton Mee (Pontian style) that originates from the Johor coastal town of Pontian 笨珍云吞面, differentiates itself from other variations by its unique sauce which is a blend of tomato ketchup, chili sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce and vegetable/shallot oil. The sauce is a complex mix of sweet, savoury, tangy and spicy flavours. Another unique feature is that it is served with fishballs, in addition to the usual wantons. Pontian style wanton mee has it's fans and detractors, both of whom can be forthright about their sentiments.


Yong Tau Foo 酿豆腐 is a Hakka dish where tofu cubes and vegetables like brinjal, lady's finger, bitter gourd and chillies are stuffed with fish paste or a blend of minced pork and salted fish. The yong tau foo pieces are either boiled or deep fried. The Hakka dish is either served in a bone broth, slathered with savoury/spicy sauces or eaten with spicy dips. YTF is eaten with noodles or white rice.

(Note: This glossary is a work in progress. More entries will be added progressively to make this a more useful reference, especially for visitors from beyond Malaysia and Singapore who are unfamiliar with local food. Tell me what I should add to this list.)

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