JOHOR Bahru, or simply JB, has several iconic landmarks such as the Sultan Ibrahim Building on Bukit Timbalan that are unique for their awesome architecture but for many, a visit to the city is not complete without tasting some of its local food.
Here are my food picks and some of the top places to visit.
1. Mee Rebus Haji Wahid: For almost a century, generations of Johoreans have enjoyed the mee rebus here.
In 1918, Basid Ali Karam Ali, fondly known as Wak Baidali, would sell mee rebus every afternoon near the Bukit Zaharah building and Kampung Air Molek area using a kandar (two rattan baskets suspended at the ends of a pole).
From 1938, his son, Wahid Basid Ali, operated the only mee rebus stall in the Satay Club. His grandson, Abdul Halim, moved the business to the Plaza Angsana food court in 1997 and recently great-grandson Muhd Nur Hafiez started a stall in the Pandan wholesale market.
2. Mee Ho Seng Kee: The Ho family recipe for kon loh mee or noodles tossed in special sauces, and topped with slivers of char xiu and wantan, is so uniquely Johorean that ardent fans don´t mind the wait and even order takeaways after eating their fill.
Using farm-fresh eggs, high-grade flour, less oil, no MSG or artificial colouring, the noodles and wantan wrappers are smooth in texture. This non-halal restaurant in 12 Jalan Pelandok, Century Gardens is open from 8am to 4pm daily.
3. Danga Bay : A two-kilometre scenic drive on the coast road from the city centre leads to its largest recreational park which spans the Johor Straits for three kilometres.
Danga World features a petting zoo and a theme park that opens from 3pm daily. Animal shows are at 8.30pm and 10pm.
The Danga Cruise 8 departs at 8pm for a dinner cruise around the straits on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
For enquiries and reservations, call 017-703 9988.
4. Fried bananas: At Mawar Cafe, fried bananas are served Johor style with a spicy black sauce dip.
Customers can ask for the king of bananas, pisang rajah, for its distinct sweetness. Teh and kopi tarik, or teh halia (ginger tea) all go well with fried bananas and sweet potatoes, tahu sumbat, nasi lemak, nasi ambang and a range of local kuih.
Located opposite the Sri Gelam football field along Jalan Sungai Chat close to Dataran Johor, Mawar Cafe is open daily from noon to 6.30pm except on public holidays.
5. Laksa Johor: Unique to Johor this noodle dish consists of spaghetti drowned in rich, spicy fish gravy, topped with raw cucumber curls, bean sprout, onion ring, fragrant herbs and a sprinkling of crunchy chai poh (preserved turnip).
It is served with sambal belacan (a spicy shrimp condiment) for that extra zing!
Available at various places including Restoran Bumbu Asli at 36-L Jalan Kolam Air, Dann´s Cafe at 42 Jalan Sagu 15, Taman Daya and (only on Saturday) at Warung Saga, 5 Jalan Mahmoodiah.
6. Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque: Standing majestically on a hilltop facing the Straits of Johor, the Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque is one of the most arresting architectural sights in JB, and one of the most beautiful colonial mosques in the country.
As at all places of worship, visitors are advised to dress modestly and to show reverence. It´s open from 10am to 6pm from Saturday to Thursday. Visits are not encouraged on Friday as the mosque, which can accommodate up to 2,000 worshippers, will be very crowded.
7. Hua Joo Bakery & Sallahuddin Bakery: Two quaint little bakeries in the heart of the city continue to bake bread, cakes and pastries in traditional charcoal ovens. Piping hot and fragrant, baked buns and bread from Kedai Kek & Roti Hiap Joo in Jalan Tan Hiok Nee are sold after 2.30pm while delicious banana cake is available after 3pm. For freshly-made giant samosa, Roti John, buns, cupcakes and sugee biscuits, head for Sallahuddin Bakery in Jalan Dhoby.
8. Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Museum: A destination on the Iskandar Petrie Heritage Trail, this museum is housed in a restored four-storey building that was occupied by the Johor Bahru Tiong-Hua Association since 1948. The museum, in 42 Jalan Ibrahim, is accessible from Jalan Ibrahim and Jalan Tan Hiok Nee. It´s open daily (except for Mondays) from 9am to 5pm, and until 10pm on Saturdays when the Tan Hiok Nee Cultural Street comes alive.
Entrance fees are RM3 for adults and RM1 for students, children and senior citizens. For group visits and enquiries, call 07-224 9633.
9. Sultan Abu Bakar Royal Museum: This imposing Grand Palace in Istana Garden, specially commissioned by Sultan Abu Bakar, the Father of Modern Johor, in 1864, was opened as a Royal Museum in 1990 for visitors to enjoy a glimpse of royal treasures.
History buffs can spend hours in the Royal Museum, open Saturday to Thursday from 9am to 5pm. Entrance fees are RM5 (adults) and RM1 (children/students) for Malaysians, and US$7 (RM22) for adults and US$3 (children) who are foreigners.
The palace makes an excellent backdrop for photo mementos.
10. Hua Mui Restaurant & It Roo Cafe: Here´s where you will find JB´s best Hainanese chicken chop. Whether you climb up the creaky stairs of Hua Mui´s dining hall in Jalan Trus or go to It Roo Cafe in adjacent Jalan Dhoby, you will enjoy the retro feel of these family restaurants.
Open for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner, these halal sister restaurants are magnets for a loyal clientele from all walks of life.