Travelling around the world for food but not quite ready to “go native” just yet? Then Johor Bahru might just be the city for you. Like many of Southeast Asia’s cosmopolitan cities, Malaysia’s Johor Bahru (J.B.) presents itself as a tourist destination where the modern comes vis-à-vis the authentic. In J.B., the old meets the new, and the local meet the international – perfect for the food tourist seeking traditional flavors of the region while holding on to the familiar comforts of continental cuisine.
Dine with the locals
When in Rome, do as the Romans do; this applies for food too. On my most recent trip to J.B., I was privileged in having a Malaysian friend bring me around. After a 4-hour evening bus ride from the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, I arrived at J.B. past 10pm, famished. “I’ll bring you to a barbecue seafood place for dinner – only locals know about it.”
Somewhere only we know
Located at an obscure corner along Jalan Abdullah Tahir, you certainly wouldn’t find this hidden treasure without the help of a local informant. The first thing one notices upon stepping into Hao Wang Grill Seafood will undoubtedly be its display of fresh, raw and succulent-looking seafood on a bed of ice. Here, you get to pick for yourself the exact fish, prawn or vegetable that you’ll be eating, cooked on demand in a style of your choice.
If you’re looking for a way to (literally) spice up the night as the locals do, I recommend the sambal (a spicy Straits sauce made using chili, shrimp paste and a variety of ingredients) prawn/calamari/stingray and otah (a Straits fish cake made using fish and spices, wrapped and grilled in a banana leaf). CAUTION: YOU WILL PERSPIRE.
But fret not, the perfect fire-fighter is readily available if the heat gets too intense. Made from the tropical fruit Spondias dulcis and preserved sour plums, a cup of iced buah long long drink offers a unique and extremely refreshing blend of bitter, sweet and sour. Freshly pressed on the spot, this cooling juice is sure to tame any raging fire into a warm fuzzy glow in your belly.
Because grilled seafood warms the heart most when eaten in a group, you should visit with your family or friends. However, if you find yourself in a group whereby someone doesn’t like chili, you may inform your server that you wish for something that isn’t spicy. S/he will gladly recommend you one or more cooking styles that go well with the ingredient you have chosen. The grilled fish with fried shallots, for instance, was so good that my group of friends ordered a second helping. Who knew fried shallots could be this tasty?
No holiday being hipster
While J.B. is home to traditional Straits delicacies, it has also found itself caught up in the recent wave of Hipster Café-hopping on social media platforms. With that, it’s certainly not difficult to find a bohemian-looking café along any row of shops/restaurants in J.B.
At Sutera Utama near Sutera Mall, I walked into one that caught my eye: Grazia Café.
Setting foot inside, you leave the hustle and bustle of city life and enter into a quaint little world of coffee, cakes, and picnics. For the avid Instagrammer of the hipster life, this place is a must-go if you wish to snap a few like-worthy shots. Tip: just be sure to order something because they have a strict policy whereby there has to be at least one order made per seated guest.
While there is nothing extraordinary about its menu, the quality of food and beverages served here is undoubtedly of a decent standard (and not to mention, overly-photogenic). Prices may seem a little steep by Malaysian standards, but in my opinion, they’re definitely worth it. Thus, I recommend Grazia to any traveler looking for an uncomplicated afternoon hangout with good ambience.
And did I mention the café has free Wi-fi? This means that you can edit and post photos of your food and the café’s décor to make your followers drool with jealousy as you enjoy your sweet treats, thinking to yourself: “This is the life.”
Indulge in some calories!
They say that calories don’t count when you’re on holiday. So why not indulge in the decadence J.B. has to offer?
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