Seafood at Restoran SPOA, Kampung Pasir Puteh, Johor
Posted May 1, 2012on:
When travelling in Malaysia, the best food is often found in the most obscure places. Sometimes they have no signs, no menu, and housed in a shack that is almost falling apart. But no one else but the locals know how to get there and they come from all over for great food at dirt cheap prices. We had our dim sum earlier in Kajang for breakfast and we finally arrived in Johor Bahru to visit our friend, Ling’s hometown. Johor Bahru is located at the southern most tip of the Malay peninsula and we were planning on heading to Singapore from there the next day, which is about 30 – 60 minutes drive away.
Her family was a gracious host and like any good host, they decided to bring us out for a wonderful dinner with a sunset view. But to get there, we had to drive through a small road right by a golf course and into the middle of a palm plantation. The roads were filled with big holes everywhere and needless to say, it was a very bumpy ride for at least 15 minutes. It was still bright when we went but if you are planning on going when it’s dark, make sure your headlights are working because it will be pitch black.
We knew we were at the right place at the sight of the waters by the plantation. Restoran SPOA has a weird name and it is pretty much like a wooden shack. But that doesn’t matter because in Malaysia, it’s the food that counts, not so much how it looks. It reminded me of the fishing village during my trip to Sekinchan a few weeks prior. Even though Singapore is less than 20 kilometres away, you can’t see such places in the republic any longer as Singapore’s urban planning projects moved Singaporeans from villages to well-built flats that have proper hygiene facilities many years ago.
You could see the kinds of fish and seafood that were available from the fish tank and you could also hand-pick your favourite seafood for your dinner. They have got clams, prawns, crabs, and fish supplied by fishermen, probably off the jetty by the dining deck. When we talked about eating seasonally in North America in the last 20 years, the people of Southeast Asia has been doing that for many years prior to the popularity of this trend. Despite having a consistently warm weather all year round, sometimes certain produce, seafood or meat might not be available or they could be too expensive. So instead, we eat what’s available that are equally fresh and delicious.
We entrusted Ling’s mum to order the best dishes that the chef can make while we went to check out the deck. The deck is off the Straits of Johor supported by wooden planks at the bottom. Although it creaked as we walked on it, it’s quite structurally sound. We then ventured out to the jetty and soaked in the view of Pulau Ubin in front of us and Singapore in the far distance. I suppose they get a lot of hungry Singaporean tourists who would come into Johor looking for cheap food? Mind you, at the time of writing, 1 Singapore dollar is equivalent to RM 2.50.
The first two dishes came out after a short wait. The fried rice with crispy baby anchovies is one of my favourite comfort food. It’s hard to make a good plate of fried rice though. This one has lots of wok hei (roasty flavour imparted by a wok at extremely high temperatures) and the rice was moist and fluffy. The fried bee hoon or rice vermicelli was quite basic but it was good.
The oatmeal prawns were extremely fresh and huge as shown in the beginning of the post. They were so crunchy that I would eat them with the shell on! The prawn heads were a bit too hard to eat them whole, so I just sucked the yummy stuff out of the head. Crabs were cooked with duck egg yolk sauce, which is one of my preferred way of cooking them. I’ve had better egg yolk crabs before but they were as amazing as the prawns. Kangkung or water convolvulus is best stir fried with dried fermented shrimp paste called belacan and SPOA did them very well. Last but not least, the clams that locals call la-la was made with a spicy sauce that was finger licking good.
And then, the best thing of the evening was off-menu; the gorgeous sunset in the midst of the tranquil waters. What a great way to end the day! Ling’s mum got the bill and we never knew the price of the meal. But the time we spent with them was priceless and we thank them for such a wonderful time in Johor. Next stop is Singapore!