This is a bloody long post, I think the longest I have ever written so far…
You may have seen me showing off photos of my visits to the United States, and to Japan, both courtesy of my work. But did you know that before I traveled that far away, my very first business trip was to some place that did not even require my passport. My very first business trip was to Johor Bahru (JB).
Actually, that passport part is not entirely true. I did require my passport. Due to the lack of direct flights between Penang and JB, we had to fly to KL and wait 6 hours for the connecting flight to JB. Or we could fly directly into Singapore and get a cab back into JB. Of course we chose the latter option, and that required passport.
My first trip to JB happened just 6 months into the job. It was also my very first business trip, like, ever, so I did not know how much I can spend on food. I was made aware of our daily allowance on meals, but that figure seems too good to be true. And since I was new, I thought maybe I could score extra brownie points by being frugal for the company.
Thankfully, I was traveling with another colleague who had ample experience traveling for work. When he discovered that I was trying to not spend all my meal allowance, he quickly set me straight by
threatening to wallop me if I “spoil the market” explaining that the company expects us to spend it all as compensation for us working off-site.
It was not my only trip to JB. I had many more trips after that. In fact, I think I have had about 10 working trips to JB. Of course, in subsequent trips, I did my part in imparting the same knowledge to my juniors 😀 .
What I really want to point out with my long grandmother story is that, this is not a foodie guide for those on a budget. This is me telling you what I have had over my visits to JB, food that left a long lasting impression on me. Could be a foodie guide for you if you might be traveling to JB on company’s money though…
Okay, let’s go…
1. Puteri Pacific Hotel
On my first trip, we stayed in the Puteri Pacific Hotel. This is a five star hotel (a very old one though) located a stone’s throw away from the customs checkpoint towards Singapore.
I was not very adventurous in terms of food during this trip. In fact, I was not adventurous at all. We were supposed to be there for 2 days, but we ended up staying for 4 days, so you can imagine how crazy our workload was. Every day was leaving for work at 8AM and getting back to the hotel after 9PM. So, all my gastronomic experience was in the hotel.
Breakfast was always the hotel’s buffet, and lunch was bento or Nando’s delivered to where we were working.
Dinner for the first two nights were also the hotel’s buffet. On the third night, we were staying extra late at work because the following day we were supposed to leave already. When we got back to the hotel, it was almost 12 midnight and all the restaurants were already closed. If you are reading this paragraph then it should dispel your thoughts to comment about “how lucky you get to travel for work”.
So, we just went back to our respective rooms and ordered room service.
What a great move it was! You know, it was my first time ordering room service from a hotel because they are always bloody expensive. Turns out this one was great value for money, because it was simply the best char kuay teow that I have ever eaten, period, end of story. I mean, look at the top of the plate, look at that prawn! It is easily bigger than the size of my fist! How can it not be delicious?
On my second trip, I came with a different group of people. We stayed in the same hotel, so it was pretty much the same stuff again. Did I mention that my mom hates it to the max every time I tell her I am going to travel for work again? This time, however, I noticed that there are two other restaurants inside the hotel. One was a Lebanese restaurant, and another was a halal Chinese restaurant, I forgot the name of the restaurant though..
My travel group was half Chinese and half Malay. The Malays were apprehensive when I suggested we try the Chinese restaurant, but I managed to persuade the oldest Malay guy that the restaurant was halal and it would be like nothing they have ever eaten, so in the end they all followed.
You know how those Chinese Muslim restaurants in Malaysia is always helmed by Muslims from Yunnan or Xinjiang? This one, the chef is a Muslim from Guangzhou, so his cooking style is really similar to a proper Cantonese restaurant. And the dishes that we got were all properly delicious, without the “for a Chinese Muslim restaurant” qualifier.
It was the first time for my Malay colleagues to experience double boiled soup, steamed cod fish, scallops, butter prawns, etc. They were literally mind blown. After the meal, they unanimously agreed that the food was really superb. In fact, this is also one of the best Chinese restaurant in my personal list. We loved this restaurant so much that since then, every time either of us visit JB, dining at least once in this restaurant became a must.
2. Pekin Restaurant 北京楼
The one in the hotel, it wasn’t the only halal Chinese restaurant in JB that I got to experience. We were visiting some factories in JB as customers, there was once when our host brought us to this very expensive halal Chinese restaurant called the Pekin Restaurant 北京楼, located in a mall called the Sutera Mall.
Actually, in the same mall, there are two restaurants of the same name. One is halal, one is non-halal. Both are run by the same owners.
The dishes we had here were all super expensive. The stuff we had here were all courtesy of the host. Under normal circumstances, we would never have dined here, as these stuff would probably be beyond even our generous meal allowance. Of course, it was money poorly spent on the part of the host, because we were not the business decision making group, but they didn’t need to know that. 😀
3. Kinsahi @ KSL Mall
On my third trip, I stayed in the Grand Paragon Hotel. It was at that time, a very new three star hotel, located in Century Garden (Taman Abad). The hotel was within walking distance to the equally new KSL Mall.
It was a two day one night trip this time, so for dinner, we simply walked to the mall and looked for promising noms options. We settled on a Japanese restaurant called Kinsahi.
It was the best move ever, because I discovered the best Japanese restaurant in Malaysia of my life. Basically all their food are decent, but I really just want to focus on their sashimi.
Prior to this, the only sashimi that I have ever had were from Sushi King and Sakae Sushi, both fast food level Japanese food chain. Their sashimi were pathetic! Their fish were not fresh, and so thinly sliced that a piece of tissue paper could be thicker!
At Kinsahi though…. I do not need to tell you how thick each pieces are, you just take a look at the pictures above. But I do need to tell you how fresh they are, because every single piece of those raw salmon and tuna will basically melt in your mouth the moment you put them in. Heaven! And it wasn’t a one off fluke. This restaurant became another must go for me on all my subsequent trips, and they have never disappointed me yet, not even once!
4. Restoran Ah Piaw 阿标云吞面
My fourth trip to JB was a long one. I had to spend three weeks in JB. So I made arrangements with my admin. I would drive instead of taking flight. At that point of time, my colleagues all thought that I was crazy to want to drive 750 kilometers to JB and another 750 kilometers back to Penang three weeks later. But I’m sure you guys who are reading would understand, won’t you? I was simply taking the opportunity to visit home
using company’s money. I drive home the Friday before, then proceed to JB on Sunday, and vice versa three weeks later.
The drive to JB was disastrous though. I underestimated the Johor traffic going into Singapore on Sunday evening. The jam started as far as Pagoh, which is 100 kilometers away from JB! As a result, I only arrived close to midnight.
Turns out, it was the perfect opportunity to check out a place that a colleague has been highly recommending. And that’s Restoran Ah Piaw 阿标云吞面. According to the colleague, this place serves the best wantan mee in the whole of Malaysia. And they only operate from 10 PM to 10 AM daily. No, that’s not a typo. It means they only serve supper and breakfast.
I don’t remember the exact street name or area name of this place, but you can search this restaurant up in Google. It is just directly opposite the main highway from where KSL Mall is.
As the restaurant’s name implies, this is a place that specializes in serving wantan mee (noodles). They have a few variations: dry, soup, spicy and another one which I forgot. You can also order some tidbits from a neighboring stall to go with the noodles.
I agree, the wantan mee here is a million times better than the ones in Penang. But then, it doesn’t take much to beat Penang in terms of wantan mee. Penang’s wantan mee is crap. But to say this is the best wantan mee in the whole of Malaysia is plain bollocks. The colleague who strongly recommended this has clearly not tasted wantan mee from KL.
Still, like I said, after all the crap in Penang, it was a rather enjoyable wantan mee dining experience for me here.
5. Ayukawa Grand Japanese/Italian Buffet
Since I was driving, I get to go further in search of noms. One such food hunting expedition brought me to The Zon, a duty free mall located in a place called Kampung Stulang Laut. It is also quite near Foon Yew High School 宽柔中学, a famous JB school which boasts a good number of Taiwan based Malaysian singers as alumnus.
I was actually looking for potentially cheap bargains in the duty free mall, but it was crap there. It was a mall, but apart from one chocolate store and one alcohol/tobacco store, the mall was a dead mall. Instead, I discovered this Japanese/Italian buffet restaurant at the hotel next to the mall, the Ayukawa Grand.
This place is similar to Jogoya, where some of the food you can take from the buffet line, while some of them you drop your table number tag to the basket in front of the demo dish and the kitchen prepares it for you fresh. Since the dishes are freshly cooked, of course they would be delicious!
And the sashimi here is pretty decent too. There were only two of us so our sashimi came in a bowl. If you have more than 6 person, your sashimi would come in a ship! Too bad I did not take a photo of that, but the sashimi ship was pretty impressive!
6. George and Dragon
It was two of us for the first two weeks, and another colleague joined us on week three. This new colleague insisted that we try the George and Dragon, because they have the best steak in the country. You can see how things go by now huh, everything in JB is supposed to be the best something-something.
Again, I don’t remember the exact location of this place (I was driving based on the erroneous directing of the colleague, it was sheer luck that we managed to find it), but again, you can easily search this place up with Google. According to the colleague, this restaurant is named George and Dragon because the owners are a husband and wife team. The husband is an Irish whose name is George, and the wife is a Chinese, hence Dragon.
I am not sure if this story is true or not, I am just telling you what the colleague told me… Anyway, as you might know, I don’t eat beef in Malaysia, so I had this…
Yeah, it was great. The lamb was tender, and the gravy was as good as I had before in the UK.
7. Tang Shifu 汤师傅
The factories that I visit in JB are our contractors. As it is, my visits were always either to audit them, or to help them setup new stuff. Every time we want to visit any of them, we would have to inform them a few weeks earlier, and they would prepare for our imminent arrival.
There was one special trip that was nothing like this though. I remember I was actually in KL on Chinese New Year vacation a couple years ago. I remember my boss calling me by phone and asked if I can cut short my vacation and go back to work because our JB contractors messed something up and needed my expert advice and remote support.
I was reluctant to go back to work, after all it was a long overdue vacation for me. Then I had a brilliant idea. I suggested to my boss that rather than going back to Penang to support some stuff that was broken in JB, why not I drive down to JB instead? I would pay them a surprise visit, spend a few hours to support them on-site, and drive back to KL on the same day.
My boss agreed. To make things more interesting, I did not inform anyone in JB of my plan. The next day, I left KL at 5.30AM and showed up at the contractor’s factory in JB by 9.00AM. I think I gave the engineers and managers there the shock of their lives. Usually they would have a few weeks to tidy up and set their manufacturing floor in order before our arrival, but no such luck this time.
I caught a lot of crap going on there, but that’s another story for another day. What the hell am I doing here? I’m supposed to tell you about food, not work.
Anyway, so I managed to help them fix whatever that were broken, and by lunch time I was ready to head back to KL. At that time, the Johor Premium Outlets was new, so I decided to make a detour and stop there for lunch.
I only saw two restaurants here. One was a fancy Thai fusion restaurant which I did not fancy, and one was this Tang Shifu 汤师傅, which is a soup restaurant. I fancied some soup, so I picked this one.
I had just driven for three and a half hours and then worked for 4 hours, so I was pretty tired. And I was going to drive for another three and a half hours, so I decided that I needed to have a substantial lunch. So I ordered the most expensive item on their menu that my meal budget allowed.
This was the most delicious soup that I have ever tasted. I mean, look at the ingredients in that pot. How can it not be delicious, right?
But it was also a bad move. You see, this thing is supposed to be for two persons. I finished everything alone. You can imagine how full I was, and it translated to extreme sleepiness on my way back to KL. I had to stop five times to get quick naps and the drive back to KL took six hours instead of four! Moral of the story: DO NOT stuff yourself silly before a long distance drive.
I only realized how long this post is after I am done typing. Damn, I should’ve split these into two parts and cheat another post….
I hope you do not fall asleep reading this piece. Hopefully the sight of food will keep you awake for the entire 2800 words…