Johor Palate – Tanjung Puteri Recipes: Diverse culinary gems

This old picture in the book tells of the kind of social mingling that went on to inspire the mixed cultural heritage that is Johor cuisine.

Johor Palate – Tanjung Puteri Recipes

Authors: Kalsom Taib and Hamidah Abdul Hamid

Publisher: Kalsom Taib Publishing

Price: RM150 at major bookstores

Women are truly great guardians of family recipes. Through their interest in cooking and role as homemakers, recipes are passed down through the female line from one generation to the next.

Continuing this great tradition of heritage preservation and sharing are Kalsom Taib and Hamidah Abdul Hamid who have put together 240 family recipes spanning four generations in a book.

The culinary journey started 160 years ago with the founding of Johor Baru in 1855, then known as Tanjung Puteri.

Of the two, Hamidah is the accomplished cook and Kalsom loves collecting recipes and recipe books.

The first cousins grew up in their grandparent’s house in Muar, Johor. Now theirs were no ordinary grandparents. They were connoisseurs of fine food, coming from a clan of famous cooks.

Great grandpa earned the nickname “Tok Selera” or arbiter of taste, at the Johor court. Datuk Mohd Shah Awang, the state commissioner for Batu Pahat in the 1920s, was fond of entertaining and kept a team of Malay, Chinese and Indian cooks to feed his diverse tastes.

Johor Palate: Tanjung Puteri Recipes captures Johor cuisine in all its glory, reflecting Tanjung Puteris place in history at the crossroads of East and West Asia.

Johor cuisine seen through the eyes of the authors is an astonishing blend of the richly varied cuisines of its people: the Malay nobility, Javanese, Bugis, Arabs, British, Chinese, and Indians.

In her foreword the Permaisuri Johor Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah puts it this way: “Johor food is a curious but delicious blend of dishes from many different cultures and influences brought by traders and travellers from the Middle East, China, India and Europe”.

Both authors have Javanese blood. “The Javanese brought to Johor dishes such as soto ayam, lodeh, sambal Jawa, nasi ambeng and botok-botok.”

The Arab contribution includes harissa, briyani, kuzi, kacang pul, air beyh, and halwa maskat while the British left a culinary legacy of cakes, stews, pies, spaghetti and puddings – now all adapted to local taste with soy sauce, cloves and cinnamon.

“The Indians brought with them curries, kurma, dalca, roti canai and all things spicy. Our nasi briyani gam is, in fact, a variation of the Indian dum briyani.”

Johor Palate: Tanjung Puteri Recipes is a time capsule of the significant foods of Johor from the Tanjung Puteri period to what is still being prepared in home kitchens across the state.

It is more than a sincere collection of family recipes; the authors travelled the state to seek out descendants of the Johor aristocracy to share their stories and verify the recipes.

The approach is encyclopedic and details a sweeping vista of home-cooked food, answering the question “what is Johor food” graciously.

The book has a recipe for Maqluba, an upside-down Arabic rice dish. — Photos: Kalsom Taib Publishing
The book has a recipe for Maqluba, an upside-down Arabic rice dish. — Photos: Kalsom Taib Publishing

From a curious dish known as French bol – it’s not what you think – to rissoles (filled and fried pancake rolls), nasi Turki and nasi durian to laksa Johor and harissa, you can prepare these with the clear and complete instructions. Every recipe has a picture to show you what the finished dish should look like.

The noodle dishes look scrumptious, making one salivate over mee Bandung Muar, mee taucheo, mee Siam berkuah and bihun lemak with sambal kerang.

There is even noodles wrapped in omelette (mee gulung), eaten with vegetable gravy, clearly a fusion dish.

You will also find the recipe for rendang Sri Nabon, a traditional Bugis dish that won their Aunt Zaleha Hassan first prize in The Star’s first cooking competition in the 70s.

Just as precious are the historical insights and explanation given for many of the dishes, providing the context for the culinary intrigue.

Two recipes for Otak-otak are given in the book - one grilled and the other steamed (Otak-otak Siam).

It is a good book on Johor cuisine, but perhaps not a good looking one. The photography, food styling, page design and typography are caught up in the past as well and looks like a book published in the 80s.

But the stories it tells and the faithful recipes earn this book shelf space in your cookbook library.

You can say no collection of Malaysian cookbooks is complete without this book on the regional cuisine of Johor.

I’ve propped my copy next to Nostalgia Medan Selera (2012), the revised edition of Haji Ahmad Al-Johori’s book, Medan Selera, published in Jawi over 50 years ago (1958) and regarded as the oldest Malay cookbook.

So now I know a lot more about Johor food. When I was in Johor, our foodie guide took us to a stall selling what he said was the absolute must-try, the infamous “sup torpedo”. But I’m not sure that counts as a local dish – it’s not in this book. So I am glad someone has written a book on the Johor Malay table that is up to speed.

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