Being a Singaporean transplant to Kuala Lumpur since 2011, I was always on the lookout for Johore-Malay cuisine, which is similar to Singapore-Malay food that I am familiar with, rather than Kuala Lumpur’s rather mixed bag of regional Malay foods which are heavily-influenced by neighbouring Negeri Sembilan. I found KL-Malay food to be more chili-spicy than its Singaporean counterpart, less aromatic, less sweet, and less complex in its spicing.
Singapore-Malay food is often categorised as Johore-Riau cuisine - Johore being the southernmost Malaysian state separated from Singapore by a mere 1-km-wide Straits of Johore, whereas Riau is a small archipelago of islands belonging to Indonesia, but with historic & cultural ties to Singapore.
So I was pretty excited when a local Kuala Lumpur fellow foodie introduced me to a newly-opened Johorean eatery in town: D’Timer Cafe. Run by Batu Pahat-born Johorean owner-chef, Azila Abu Kasim, and her husband, Suhaimi Makkazen, most of the dishes were cooked according to family heirloom recipes which Azila inherited from her mum, Zaleha Mohd Yusoff. Very good Johore-Malay lunch here, although a bit spiced up, and made slightly less sweet to suit KL palates.
Her mum’s specialty was the Lontong Darat Kuah Kacang - a very tasty concoction of compressed rice cakes, served with a spicy-rich peanut sauce (reminiscent of a satay peanut dip), serunding (spiced, grated coconut), curried beef and mixed vegetbles/string beans.
Each Malaysian state has its own laksa dish - noodles in a spicy sauce or soup, depending on where you are: from Penang’s spicy-sour, fish-based asam laksa, to Sarawak’s rendition with its licorice-accented spicy soup, garnished with chicken slivers, shrimps and egg omelette strips, Kelantan laksa with its milky-white, galangal-scented fish gravy, and Singapore’s Katong laksa, coconut milk-enriched, with dried shrimps in its grainy spice mix, garnished with blood cockles, shrimps and fish cakes, topped with chopped Vietnamese coriander/“rau ram”.
Well, Johore has its own Laksa Johor, its unique feature being the use of al dente Italian spaghetti (in place of Chinese wheat or rice noodles), covered with a spicy, sweet-sour fish-based gravy, much thicker than its Penang counterpart. Usually, wolf herring is used for the laksa gravy (mackerel is a close substitute). The laksa is garnished with shredded raw cucumber and raw large onions.
One can never go to a Johore-Malay eatery not order Kacang Pool (served here with grilled buttered toast) - a Malay take on Middle-Eastern Ful Medames, “pool” being the Malay pronunciation for the Arabic “ful”.
Fava beans are cooked with well-spiced minced beef, almost like a Malay baked bean casserole, topped with a sunny-side up fried egg, and garnished with sliced green chilies, onions and a halved lime, to squeeze over the dish.
Malays are Muslims, so no alcohol is served here. One can order various types of fruit juices or interesting concoctions like this sweet-pink Bandung Soda, made from evaporated milk, rose syrup and soda water.
The fizzy Mango Soda was refreshing and pretty sweet as well.
The place gets pretty busy at lunch-time, with office workers from the nearby offices in Damansara Uptown.
44G, Jalan SS 21/35, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Tel: +603-7733 5312
Opening hours: 8am-9pm Mon-Fri, 8am-10pm Sat & Sun