The southern state of Johor is often a staycation spot for Singaporeans looking for tranquillity and cheaper shopping. But once you get there, you’ll find yourself getting a taste of authentic Malaysian culture and hidden culinary gems.
Indulging at stalls where locals ate took us all back to a simpler time, when eating was about enjoying the food and the company of friends, not snapping pictures to be uploaded immediately.
We ate our way around Johor, going across towns like Kulai, Yong Peng, Muar and Batu Pahat, where people were warm and welcoming, the simple food was mouth-watering and left us wishing we could pack every single dish home.
The next time you’re in Johor, take a respite from the regular hipster spots and look for some of these local shops to eat to your heart’s content. We promise you won’t be disappointed.
Our first pit stop was at Restaurant ZZ Sup Tulang, a favourite among locals during peak periods like breakfast and dinner. The dining area is rustic and cosy, with gazebos and small bamboo huts shaded under large trees, giving the entire place a kampung feel. It’s a great place to chat and laugh the night away with some friends over drinks and a yummy meal.
This is THE place in Johor for a delectable bowl of Sup Tulang (bone marrow soup, RM7), Laksa Johor and Mee Rebus Tulang (noodles with bone marrow gravy, RM8.50). Each delicious plate is filled to the brim with rich, aromatic gravy, topped with chunky bones. And if you’re wondering why there’s a straw inserted into the hollow of the bone, it’s to help you savour the creamy bone marrow without making a mess.
Their signature dish is the Mee Rebus Tulang, and you’re in for a treat with this dish. Served with yellow noodles, fried shallots, coriander, fresh cut chillies and large lamb shank bones, it’s sure to leave you wanting more.
The flesh falls off the bones easily as the bones are cooked for hours over a charcoal fire to preserve the marrow and keep the flesh juicy and tender. Spices are added into the broth, resulting in a super rich marrow that’s naturally sweet, complemented by the gritty bits of grounded spices.
Restaurant Sup Tulang ZZ
Jalan Petrie 5/1, Johor Bahru
Tel: +607 224 0417
Opening hours: 7am to 11pm daily
The unassuming Swee Kee chicken rice shop occupies two shop lots that are just minutes from Senai Airport. Visitors from as far as Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, including Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman, have dropped by this humble shop.
Originating from the legendary Swee Kee store at Purvis Street in Singapore, the branch in Senai was opened by workers from the first store who brought the recipes and preparation styles here.
The shop is a family business, with the matriarch, Mrs Bo helped by her son, Mr Bo Zhang Hao and daughter. This cheerful and animated lady starts work early as the food has to be ready by 9.30am for the breakfast crowd.
Swee Kee’s chicken is tender, juicy and succulent, with a natural sweetness to it. A slight drizzle of sesame dressing tops off the dish. A half chicken here comes to RM25.
A bowl of rice accompanies each plate of chicken, along with a small bowl of flavourful clear soup. The rice is light and fluffy, and according to Mrs Bo, the secret to achieving this is to use old rice so the end product isn’t mushy. The preparation of the rice is a skill in itself, as it needs to be stirred till the water dries, then steamed for 15 minutes.
Swee Kee Chicken Rice
98, Jalan Bintang, Taman Bintang, Senai
Tel: +607 598 4321
Opening hours: 9am to 3pm (Mon, closed two Mondays in a month), 9am to 7pm (Tue-Sun)
Next up was the famous Hakka Dumplings in Kulai. This shop is located in a quiet residential estate and you’ll know you’ve reached when you see many cars parked outside a large family house.
These delicious dumplings are freshly made every day, from the fillings to the skin. Members of the family all chip in to help, as there’s much prep work to do starting from 5 am. The doors to the shop open at 7 am and regulars stream in for their breakfast of steaming hot dumplings and local coffee.
There are five types of stuffings, with leek and turnip among the most popular. Once the dumplings come out of the steamers, they are served to customers immediately. The skin is delicate and light, and the delicious stuffing of tofu and vegetables is juicy, crunchy and filled with flavours. It’s amazing how something so simple can be so tasty. It was hard to choose a favourite stuffing, but the one with turnips was amazing. Each dumpling costs RM1 and about 2000 pieces are sold daily. Most of their customers are local regulars, but Singaporeans tend to drop by during long weekends.
Lot 8089, Jalan 6, Kelapa Sawit, Kulaijaya
Tel: +6016 764 4264
Opening hours: 7am to 3pm (Closed on Wed)
Read Part 2 as we bring you to the towns up north of Johor to continue in our pit stop eats.