My first time in Johor Bahru! I was on a solo trip for just a day, and the one thing I wanted to explore was the food scene. I decided to base myself in the old part of the city, where it’s small enough for me to walk and wander around in; and stuff myself silly with all the delicious fares that are on offer here.
Johor Bahru is the capital city of Johor, the southernmost state of Peninsular Malaysia. It is the country’s second largest city and is located along the Straits of Johor, which separates Malaysia from the neighboring country, Singapore.
I spent the day along the famous Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and the neighbouring Jalan Dhoby— the area here is known as the old town for its beautiful classical buildings, which has a mix of Chinese and Indian heritage. It is also the place locals and visitors alike come in search of food! The perfect place to begin my foodie adventure, and here’s how it went:-
I stayed a little further away from the main area of Johor Bahru, so I took a cab to the old town at about 10am in the morning. It was time for breakfast, and the first place I stopped at was a restaurant that was so popular for breakfast, it was overflowing with people when I got there.
Hua Mui Restaurant
There were no empty tables when I arrived at Hua Mui Restaurant. It was packed on both floors, and I had to wait a little while before a table was made available for me. I was alone, so I ended up sharing it with two elderly ladies. Hua Mui Restaurant has been operating since 1946 and is famous for its classic Malaysian breakfast of eggs and toast, as well as its chicken chop and noodles. I ordered myself a plate of the Hua Mui Hainan Mee, two eggs and iced coffee. I enjoyed my breakfast, especially the old-school-style coffee. However, the place was just a little too crowded, service was extremely slow (I was sitting next to the cashier counter and I heard a few complaints), and the food was really nothing to shout about.
Address: Jalan Trus (at the junction of Jalan Dhoby), 80000 Johor Bahru.
Opening Time: 7.30am-7.30pm daily.
After breakfast, I took a stroll along Jalan Trus, which runs across Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and Jalan Dhoby in the Johor Bahru old town. Jalan Trus is also said to be Johor Bahru’s oldest street. Beautiful murals can be seen on the walls of the shops along the road, which is mainly occupied by Indian businesses.
Kok Yow Yong Herbal Tea
At the junction of Jalan Trus and Jalan Pasar is this hole-in-the-wall shop, hidden amongst the more lavishly decorated shops in the area. The Kok Yow Yong Herbal Tea shop has been around for about a hundred years, passed down from generation to generation. When I visited, it was handled by two ladies– and I ordered myself a cup of ice-cold chrysanthemum herbal tea. It was the perfect drink to combat the merciless heat that is our Malaysian weather. As I slowly sipped on my herbal goodness while standing along the sidewalk; I noticed locals driving up just for a quick cuppa, or ordering takeaway to bring home. Most of them are probably regulars, as they were friendly with the shop owners.
Address: Jalan Pasar (at the junction of Jalan Trus), 80000 Johor Bahru.
Opening Time: 6am-1am daily, closed on Sundays.
Walking back down Jalan Trus, I turned into Jalan Dhoby. I noticed a couple of laundry shops in the area, which could possibly be how the street got its name. ‘Dobi’ in the Malay language means laundry. There are many cafes and restaurants on the street as well, but my first stop was at one of the oldest bakeries in Johor Bahru.
Looking at the exterior of Salahuddin Bakery, you wouldn’t doubt that it’s been around for a long long time. Once inside, the rustic feel is further enhanced by the old classic photographs, newspaper clippings and torn posters that adorn the peeling walls. The shop is manned by Encik Salahuddin himself, and with his white-beard and gentle smile, stepping in the bakery felt like stepping back in time. Everything here is like it was all those years ago, even the baking methods here hasn’t changed since the early 20th century– they still use those huge wood fire oven to make their pastries. The pastries, cakes and bread were all on display at the front of the shop… but I was here for the triangular-shaped curry puffs. There are an assortment of fillings available, and I went for the mutton one for RM2 (US$0.5). Crisp, flaky and oh so delicious.
Address: 26, Jalan Dhoby, 80000 Johor Bahru.
Opening Time: 8am-2pm daily, closed on Fridays.
After a little exploration around Jalan Dhoby and taking photographs of the Red House, which is one of the most striking buildings on the street; it was time for lunch. I walked over to the busiest restaurant on Jalan Dhoby that had a huge sign that read, “The Best Chicken Chop in Town”. Now, isn’t that a reason to step in?
It Roo Restaurant
Both the indoor area and outdoor area of It Roo Restaurant was packed, and the waiters were too busy to find me a seat. After waiting for a while, I found myself a small table at the corner of the restaurant. They have a pretty extensive menu, but everyone was here for the chicken chop, of course. I ordered mine grilled with mushroom sauce; you could also opt for fried, or with black pepper sauce. For those with big appetites, they have an option of adding two fried eggs on top. The chicken chop was actually really good– it was cooked to perfection, tender and flavourful. The mushroom sauce was thick and came with tons of mushrooms on it. I also had two sides of wedges and coleslaw. For RM14 (US$3.5) per plate, it was a worthy meal.
Address: 17, Jalan Dhoby, 80000 Johor Bahru.
Opening Time: 12pm-10pm daily.
After lunch, I made my way to the adjacent street to Jalan Dhoby, the popular Jalan Tan Hiok Nee. This street is often crowded with people, probably because there are two extremely famous shops in the area– the Kin Wah Restaurant and the Hiap Joo Bakery. Having just had lunch, I decided to skip the restaurant and headed straight for the bakery.
Hiap Joo Bakery
There is no way you’ll miss Hiap Joo Bakery, there is a consistently long queue just outside the shop all throughout the day. Thankfully, the wait isn’t too long. Only a limited number of people are allowed into the cramped bakery at any one time, and I was offered a small basket upon entering. The bakery is self-service, so I just had to pick and choose whatever buns I wanted and put it into the basket. There were a range of fillings to choose from; red bean, peanut, curry potato, sardine, just to name a few. I heard that the coconut buns and the banana cakes were the best-sellers, so those went into my basket.
The coconut buns were delicious– the bread was soft and warm, enveloping the sweet coconut filling inside. I especially loved the banana cake, I could really taste those bananas! Needless to say, I later finished up the three boxes I bought, all by myself.
Address: 13, Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, 80000 Johor Bahru.
Opening Time: 8am-6pm daily, closed on Sundays.
After a leisurely jaunt around Jalan Tan Hiok Nee to admire its beautiful old Chinese architectural buildings; I decided that it would be a good idea to escape the heat for the rest of the afternoon. Earlier in the day, one of the cafes along Jalan Dhoby caught my eye, and I thought I’d head back to check it out.
The Replacement Lodge and Kitchen
The white-washed exterior and interesting slogan of The Replacement was all it took to lure me into the cafe. It said, “A nook in the cityscape to celebrate good food, and for the wanderlust to rest between wanders.” Pretty apt, considering that I have been wandering around the streets of the Johor Bahru old town for most of the day, and now needed a place to rest my feet. The cafe has got a relaxing laid-back ambiance, and is the perfect setting for one of those artsy Instagram pictures– white paned windows, pastel-colored chairs, wooden tables, dried flowers, oddly shaped lights; it’s got the works. It is so pretty that I didn’t mind whiling away a couple of hours with a cuppa rose latte and a magazine. The cafe is also famous for its charcoal chocolate churros that comes with a salted egg yolk dip. I ordered one to try, but honestly, I’m not a fan.
Address: 33, Jalan Dhoby, 80000 Johor Bahru.
Opening Time: 10am-10pm daily.
If you’ve got more time to cafe hop around the Jalan Dhoby and Jalan Tan Hiok Nee area, there are a couple of quaint and pretty cafes to check out. I loved the flowery exterior of the Flowers in the Window Cafe, the cool furniture made from recyclable items at Roost Cafe; and of course unique cafes like the Chaiwalla and Co. Container Cafe, the Red House Cafe and the Alicafe Specialty Coffee. And while you’re cafe hopping, you could also drop by TIP, The Ice Cream Project— and watch your ice-cream made in front of you!
After a couple of hours hanging out at The Replacement, I decided to call it a day. It was an interesting few hours exploring the streets of the old Johor Bahru town, and admiring the decades-old buildings from the yesteryears that now house a mixture of classic shops and hipster joints. I enjoyed my lovely stroll through time, and got my stomach filled at the same time!