Malaysia Food Trail – Part 3 – Muar, Johor

Good Muar’ning Muar !!!

We are on the third part of our Malaysia Food Trail and the port town of Bandar Muar is where we are going to dock at.

We travelled from Melaka by road, crossing over into the state of Johor, where Bandar Muar lies just 45 km and an hour’s drive away from Melaka city.

This was a food trail right ? And Muar did not let us forget that for a single moment, as we gently unwrapped Otak Otak, delicately savored delectable oysters, joined a local family for Nasi Ambeng and even had Satay for breakfast !!! Well if that does not satay’iate you, then I do not know what will 😀

Sit in the bus with me while I let you in on the intricacies of Muar cuisine. The day is hot and the air conditioning will help.

About Muar –

Bandar Muar is a port town (Bandar meaning port) in the district of Muar in the southernmost state of Johor in Malaysia. Located on the west coast at the estuary of the Sungai Muar (sungai = river) along the Straits of Malacca, this town that gets its name from its accompanying river, has also been declared as the royal town/capital of Johor (the monarchical states of Malaysia have a royal capital in addition to an administrative capital).

Being the favorite town of the the Sultan of Johor, he also conferred upon it the title of Bandar Maharani (empress town). So Bandar Maharani Bandar Diraja is the impressive name that Muar also goes by – the Empress town of the royal family.

Muar also has the distinction of winning the Asean Clean Tourist City Standard Award in 2017. I did not have any time to explore the place because we were too busy focusing on the multiple meals that we were being fed with (no complaints there :-D) but I was told that the place was known to be remarkably litter free.

This small town also has a deep connect with history, being said that Parameswara, the founder of the Malaccan sultanate established a settlement here after being exiled from Temasik (now Singapore), even before proceeding to Melaka.

Today Muar is home to multiracial communities like Malay, Chinese, Indian etc and is also known for certain unique features of its cuisine which we will proceed to … soon I promise 😀

If you have first whetted your appetite with a morsel of history, the experience of sitting at the table and partaking of the cuisine is greatly enhanced.

Otak Otak –

The first novelty that I experienced in Muar was the Otak Otak, also known as Otah Otah. A flavorful blend of raw seafood, onions, curry paste and the ubiquitous but indispensable coconut milk, these little parcels were a treat for seafood lovers like me.

We visited the premises of K & Y Frozen Food Enterprise who are well known for their freshly served Otak Otak as well as frozen take away parcels.

The restaurant is located at No 55, Jalan Bentayan, 84000 Muar, Johor Darul Takzim.

We had the privilege of entering their working space where the paste was being churned, smeared deftly onto palm leaves, wrapped up and sent for freezing, from where they could be grilled whenever needed.

The traditional Otak Otak used to be eaten immediately after wrapping and grilling but due to the demands of lovers of this dish who wanted the convenience of storing and transporting them, experiments were conducted to store the parcels below 18 deg c without preservatives, thus giving rise to the handy frozen box.

Otak otak can be had grilled over coals or the modern electric grill and there are also variants wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.

Mackerel is the commonly used fish in the paste but variants with other seafood such as prawn, clams, squid and crab are also available to add to the excitement 😀

Of course we had to taste all the options and the addictive contents of the little parcels did quite the disappearing trick down our throats. Being light and flavorful, it was difficult to keep track of how many were being popped into the mouth 😀

However, we had to be wise with the space inside us for we had 2 more meals coming our way on that ‘multi meal’ day !!!

And with the thoughts of fresh oysters tantalizing us, we made our way to our next food stop.

Jeti Tanjung Emas –

Taman Tanjung Emas (taman = park, tanjung = cape) is a popular park in Bandar Muar and is located alongside the Muar river.

It attracts locals and tourists as it provides entertainment by way of river cruises, a 9-hole golf course, a large, breezy river front esplanade and most interesting of all, the food stalls serving o-chien (oyster omelettes) made from oysters supplied by the catchers who come there daily at low tide.

Oyster Bay – 

The undoubtedly most exciting part of my journey in Malaysia was when we were taken on a 15 minute cruise to the Oyster Bay where we learnt about how oysters make their journey from Muar to Mouth 😀 … a marine equivalent of farm to fork.

The cruise took us under the Sultan Ismail Bridge, past fisherfolk in their boats and past various buildings and mosques that flank the river Muar, like the Masjid Jamek Sultan Ibrahim, which is a mix of Western and Islamic architecture and a beauty in blue and white.

We arrived at the jetty where we were received by the highly buoyant and vivacious Mr Saidi Mohamed, the person in charge of Oyster Bay Muar at Kampung Parit Setongat.

Oyster Bay is a combination of a research center and a restaurant with the added uniqueness of also being  the actual location where the oysters are extracted from the river bed to be served.

This is a collaborative initiative of the Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM) Pagoh, the Muar district administration and also the local residents. The Johor state government has recognized the fantastic tourist potential of this activity and location and hence visitors can consider themselves extremely lucky to be able to avail of hygienically processed, UV treated, safe oysters that burst forth with deliciousness. I speak from first hand experience 😀

There is a little oyster pond at the jetty where baby oysters are incubated, a laboratory for research and the most fun part, which is the restaurant.

A series of large and colorful containers (like shipping containers) house the kitchen and the various facilities.

There is an air conditioned presentation container, where visitors are treated to an audio visual of the goings on of the place albeit in Malay. However, Mr Saidi Mohamed does a great job of explaining the gist in English.

There also are educational posters explaining oyster parts, life cycles and health benefits.

Oysters begin their life from little ‘seeds’ that take 2-3 weeks to turn in to larva. The larva then secrete a glue and attach themselves to either a rock or to the shell of a bigger oyster. It takes 1 – 2 years for an oyster to become an adult and barely 1-2 minutes to eat them up 😀 This explains why they are so expensive.

Oyster extraction at the Muar has been an activity that dates back to the late 19th century, with the fishermen using no professional diving equipment and jumping into the water with their boats tethered to a wooden pole, to manually pick up their catch.

This method continues till today, with the added fanciness of having an app that indicates the schedule of the low tide. Low tide is the preferred time due to the waters being shallow, less chances of encountering jelly fish and also the current not being rapid, which is very important for the safety of the fishermen as well as reducing the chances of oysters being pushed away by the flow.

Well after the lecture and inspection of the baby oysters in the pond, it was time to dig in. There is a fixed menu serving  variants and also a platter with a combo of all. Crumbed and deep fried oysters were the only ones that were not served raw. One variant was topped with cheese and one more was served with a tangy salsa. The soft burst of the sweet and fresh oysters against the palate is a sensation that I will remember forever.

I loved the place so much that I wanted to attach myself to the chair just like the baby oysters attach themselves to the rock but it was time to go … yes you guessed right … for more food 😀

Homestay Parit Bugis –

By now you would probably think that we should have been done for the day and had eaten enough for 2 days but no … there was More to come in Muar (there is a reason they call it Muar ? :-D) and we had the pleasure of experiencing a very local home stay at Kampung Parit Bugis.

Home stays are where domestic or international visitors come to experience life in a Kampung (village) with all its traditions and native customs that are being forgotten in the excitement of urban life.

Kampung Parit Bugis is a cooperation of 9 villages which were founded in 1909 by the Bugis people, an ancient ethnic group.

The homestays were started in 1978 and offer options of experiencing traditional foods, cooking demos, village tours, local plantation visits, cultural performances etc and are the best way to soak in the true aura of a place.

In the few hours that we were there, we managed to squeeze in a culinary demo featuring the Nasi Ambeng which we also devoured, followed by a very animated dance performance called the Barongan which is traditionally performed by the Javanese Malays.

On our arrival, we were greeted warmly by the host family and each of us was given a Pindang egg attached to an artificial flower, which is their customary way of greeting their guests. A pindang egg is an egg which is boiled in water infused with soy sauce and various spices and I was told that it would keep without refrigeration even for a month.

Our host then proceeded to give us a tour of the house. Footwear has to be left outside because floor seating is the traditional way of dining and colorful carpets had been laid out along with brightly colored drinks.

We had a quick interactive demo of how to put together the Nasi Ambeng which is basically rice and various accompaniments like stir fried tender tapioca greens, roast chicken, fish curry and a other curries that are laid out on a banana leaf lined large plate. The platter is then covered with another banana leaf until it is time to eat.

Well everything had already been prepared ahead and we were left only with the difficult task of assembling everything together 😀

The meal focuses on community bonhomie, which is why every platter has 4 portions to be shared between 4 diners from the same plate. 4 mounds of rice await at the 4 corners of the leaf and the assembled accompaniments are placed in the center for people to pick from.

We were advised to use our fingers to eat which of course is exactly the way I eat in India, so it was not a difficult task for me.

After the meal we were taken to the large performance area were we were treated to very energetic performances of the Barongan dance which is basically a demonstration of good over evil.

The highlight of the dance was the performance of 3 little girls who delighted us with their endearing movements and smiles.

The day had been very long so we began the return journey to Muar where we were to stay at the Traders Hotel Muar.

R&H Cafe, Satay Maharani –

Good Muar’ning Muar indeed. Morning brought with it the promise of breakfast and we were going to have a special treat (just like every meal :-D)

Muar has the distinction of being the only region in Malaysia where Satay is had for breakfast. Satay shops function only at breakfast times and open as early as 7.30 am and close by 12 pm for the day.

This unique eating habit of this place was what we were going to experience at  one of the most famous satay restaurants, the R & H Cafe. This cafe was bestowed the title of Satay Maharani (empress of satays) by the Sultan of Johor who was said to be so impressed by it that he makes it a point to eat there whenever he visits Muar. Of all the satay places in Muar, this is the only one with that title and that is what makes it extra special.

A small place with barely a few tables, this place has actually been around for 20 years but it was only 2 years ago that it was renovated into its present avatar.

The crowds that throng the place every morning, bear testimony to its popularity and it is a good idea to have a prior reservation. Of course our thoughtful guides had made sure of that and hence we did not have to wait along with the hungry hordes.

It was a fascinating sight to watch innumerable sticks of satays being assembled and grilled in an open shed at the side of  the restaurant.

The satays are either chicken or beef and are served with accompanying bowls brimming with peanut sauce, a cucumber and onion salad in case one finds it spicy and also Nasi Himpit – cubes of compressed glutinous rice, for those who cannot complete a meal without their quota of starch.

Apart from this we were also served a veritable feast of sorts with the ubiquitous assortment of kuihs, the Kuih ketayap, Kuih lompang, Kuih sago and Kuih cara berlauk.

And there was more food in the form of the mee hoon (noodle soup) interestingly named Soup Penalty, after the Johor football team that won by penalty in one of the matches, Johor being big on the game 😀

A spicy and tantalizing Nasi lemak and Tauhu lentok made up the rest of the morning spread.

Rosella tea washed everything down and then we were so full that we did not want to show the camera how much weight we had put on, so we stuck our faces in the satay frames and hid the rest of bodies behind the giant wooden satays 😀

We also felt guilty that the menu looked like it had run out of dishes after we were done with it 😀

Well after this highly satay’sfying meal we set out to continue our journey towards our next stop which was Johor Bahru, the capital city of Johor.

Where to stay in Muar –

Muar is a small town and there are moderately priced hotels and stays apart from the home stay options.

We stayed at the Muar Traders Hotel which is said to be one of the better places in the town and situated in a convenient location.

The hotel faces the Jalan Petrie, a beautiful paved street which has a sufficient number of eateries and shops.

The Muar river flowing gently behind the hotel, offering picturesque views to those in the river facing rooms, including the Masjid Jamek Sultan Ibrahim right across the water.

The hotel has its reception lobby on the 6th floor of the building and the rooms have basic and functional amenities like TV, air conditioning, internet access, 24 hour security etc. This is also said to be the tallest hotel in Muar.

The contact details of the Muar Traders Hotel are available here.

Contact – 

More information about Tourism Malaysia is available at –

Website of Tourism Malaysia

Instagram of Tourism Malaysia

Twitter of Tourism Malaysia

 


For more pictures see My Facebook – Malaysia Food Trail-Part 3-Bandar Muar Also catch me on My FacebookMy Facebook pageMy Twitter and My Instagram

Please Note – I visited Malaysia and embarked on the food trail, on the invitation of the Tourism Malaysia, which sponsored my flights, stay and related activities and I thank them for the same. The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.

Apr 15th-20th, 2019

 

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