JOHOR BARU, Aug 12 — Weekends are a perfect opportunity for a quick getaway. Not very far, just a road trip to another town, another state maybe, but far enough that familiar things start to feel a little different. Our eyes are freshened, our senses perk up. And above all, our tastebuds await delight.
When it’s time to depart, it’s our usual practice to grab as many edible souvenirs as possible, to share with family and friends back home or simply to devour on our own. We call this time-honoured ritual our “dessert run”, more a feast than a marathon.
Which is why we find ourselves in front of a nondescript row of shophouses in Taman Melodies one Sunday morning, a couple of hours before we have to leave Johor Baru for KL. We’re here for Kedai Biskut Pandan (named for its original location in Kampung Pandan, a 10-minute drive away) or, more accurately, its tau sar piah straight from the oven.
Tau sar piah is famously a northern treat so seeking it here this far south hardly seems intuitive. Yet when a Penang boy recommends it, you know it’s the real deal. Ang Yeesiang, owner of Sweet Blossom Coffee Roasters and the Penang boy in question, has been running his café in Johor Baru for some years now. Sometimes no one knows a place better than a long-time transplant.
Kedai Biskut Pandan’s tau sar piah are slim flaky discs of pastry filled with a savoury-sweet tau sar (mung bean) cream. The golden brown crusts are dusted with white sesame seeds, adding a subtle aroma to the biscuits.
These stay crumbly and buttery, even after an hours-long ride back to KL, which is the sign of good old-fashioned baking, we believe. The traditional way — hand rolling the pastry, two rounds of egg wash, a light use of shallot oil, a generous hand with the filling — wins over more modern if expedient methods every time.
While there is a constant flow of customers, there is never a long wait for our boxes of tau sar piah. The same can’t be said for another of our favourite dessert run stops, Hiap Joo Bakery & Biscuit Factory for their banana cake, which is why we usually head there first thing in the morning.
Located along the rejuvenated heritage row of Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, Hiap Joo is a local bakery founded in 1919. (How many bakeries are still around after an entire century?) The line of customers eagerly awaiting for their signature banana cake, still baked daily in a traditional wood fire oven, is testament to their longevity.
Hiap Joo’s reputation is formidable but we never bothered braving the queue until some years ago. Spongy and moist, with a hint of woodsmoke, the hand-sliced banana cakes are not too sweet and free from any artificial additives. We are so glad we finally tasted them — and yes, you guessed it: it was our Penangite friend who persuaded us to give them a try.
Naturally, it made sense — with boxes of banana cake and tau sar piah safely purchased – to head over to Sweet Blossom Coffee Roasters over at Taman Pelangi, our last stop before heading home. Partly to share our haul with our friend, the café owner who knows Johor Baru like the back of his hand, but also to stop for some coffee and conversation before the long drive ahead of us.
Besides Ang’s skilfully prepared cups of coffee, Sweet Blossom Coffee Roasters also offers cakes freshly made by home baker Chin Pei Xuan. The red velvet cupcakes and salted caramel chocolate cakes are popular though what’s available change from time to time.
The salted caramel chocolate cake is especially good, its texture closer to that of a Filipino moist cake rather than fudge-like. Every bite reminds me of the version my aunt used to make when I was a child and of her ever-smiling Filipino domestic helper who taught her the recipe.
Those days are long gone now but the sweet memories remain. Ang and his Johorean wife Miki recently welcomed a baby daughter to their young family, and I can just imagine the little girl growing up with her father introducing her to all the sweet treats in town, one by one.
I know the feeling, having been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of that carefully curated knowledge and of his friendship, now more years than either of us can remember.
Some stuff you can’t buy home. Some things are meant to be savoured where we are there, to reflect on the welcome you’ve received in your host town. That is why we go away for the weekend, just far enough that familiar things start to feel a little different. So our eyes are freshened, so our senses perk up. So our tastebuds delight and so our hearts grow larger than our bellies ever could.
Kedai Biskut Pandan
116, Jalan Chengai, Taman Melodies, Johor Baru, Johor
Open daily (except Tue closed) 9am-3pm
Tel: 019-770 4842
Hiap Joo Bakery & Biscuit Factory
13, Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, Johor Baru, Johor
Open daily (except Sun closed) 8:30am to 6pm
Sweet Blossom Coffee Roasters
28, Jalan Maju, Taman Pelangi, Johor Baru, Johor
Open daily (except Thu closed) 8am-6pm
Tel: 016-235 1393