The Food Trail at Taman Sentosa, Johor Bahru

Singaporeans go to Johor Bahru for shopping and eating, there are famous eateries and restaurants in the city, and then there are grimy but authentic open air food courts located all around the place, but that’s obviously not all there is to dining in Johor Bahru… not even close…

I don’t know why most of the TV style youtuve videos that I managed to find are in mandarin, it was difficult to find many in English and surprsingly difficult even when I typed in Malay.

And today, we’re going to talk about food again… yay… right, I know this whole series on Johor Bahru seems like we just went around for food, well that’s because its true (for a touch of history and culture check out my other posts on Johor Bahru here). Unlike the previous posts however, today’s post is not about specific eateries (although we will mention one of two them) or restaurants, it is about a district, that district is called Taman Sentosa.

The lively district is full of food and dining, but different shops open at different times. A popular item that is eaten for breakfast and lunch in Johor Bahru is Bak Kut Teh, or Pork Rib Tea. A boiled pork rib dish made by Chinese workers in the 1800s as a way to get a quick and effective energy boost during lunch. The dish is made by boiling flavourful bones into a stock and spiced with peppers and herbs. Whie once associated as poor people food, the fish has since become a delicacy, with popular stalls located all over the peninsula. Differences in practice exist, whereas the dish is eaten as a dinner item in Singapore, this same dish is eaten as a breakfast item in Johor.

One of the most well known of Bak Kut Teh stalls is located in Taman Sentosa – Shoon Huat Famous Bak Kut Teh. The stall is continually busy with a steady stream of customers coming in particular from Singapore – resulting in Singapore prices at Malaysian currency. We were not about to be different and went in to order the Bak Kut Teh too.

But why? Despite the similar name, variations exist in Bak Kut Teh. There are three broad variations, a Teochew, Hokkien and Cantonese version. The teochew version, ubiquitous in Singapore, is is light but spiced with pepper and garlic; the Hokkien version has a few herbs and dark soy sauce giving the soup a darker flavour; then there is the Cantonese version which is made up of herbs and is therefore a lot more nourishing. While the popular version in Singapore is the Teochew version, the one served at Shoon Huat and popular in Johor is the Hokkien version.

Another popular eatery along Taman Sentosa is Restoran Teck Sing famous for their paper wrapped chicken.

Using a spring chicken (one that lives free range and is smaller so the meat is more tender and easily absorbs the flavour) and wrapping it in paper with herbs and letting the chicken bake in its own juices (a sort of baste-ing in a way) an extremely flavourful chicken emerges and can be eaten with rice.

These are just two places, Taman Sentosa is full of good food open at different times of the day. While the restaurants and family friendly stalls are open earlier in the day; later in the day, these restaurants close and seafood restaurants take their place. Now, good food and sex seem to always go together. Where you can find some of the most flavourful food, you will also find brothels. Well, at least that seems to be the experience in some districts (such as Geylang) in Singapore and Malaysia. Taman Sentosa is not just a food street in Johor Bahru, it doe have an unsavoury side, especially at night next to the shopping mall Plaza Sentosa where it is infamous for crime and vice – the seedy parts of nightlife.

The hotels in the area are also frequently by day guests who rent the rooms for a few hours.

Yes, there are parts that may seem seedy, but that doesn’t mean that you should turn away from Taman Sentosa. Just go in the day to try the food, avoid the dodgy parts and you’ll be fine. I know we were.

ON THE MAP

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