It’s time to drive down south to Muar for the best culinary adventure. Apart from the local food, immerse yourself in Johor’s rich art and the local food, immerse yourself in Johor’s immerse yourself in Johor’s Rich Art and culture scene where Barongan and Kuda kepang take centerstage. Faizal Harun Nasution stayed in the historical city fondly known as Bandar Maharani for the weekend and recommends seven must-visit locations.
JJ MAK PON MUAR
No.1, Tingkat Bawah Kedai/Pejabat, Taman Lembah Padang, Jln. Junid, Pt. Sakai, 84000 Muar, Johor.
Continuing from where we left off in the previous issue, this time we headed over to Muar’s most famous dish, Mee Bandung Muar. We are given the chance to meet up with the proprietor of JJ Mak Pon Muar, Azidah Marob, about the origin of the establishment, and how it came to be. “Everything begins in 2005, we were just a small business that started from the comfort of our house.
This went on for two years until we rented a premise to operate in. We continued renting the location for five years until we eventually bought two shop lots as the demand for our Mee Bandung spice increases,” Azidah said, reminiscing the past. Her mother, Rafiah, also told us of their efforts to market the spice, to the point where they are willing to supply their product from Muar to Melaka. Being able to experience the manufacturing process first hand and seeing the fresh, high-quality ingredients used, it is no wonder that JJ Mak Pon Muar is well received among customers.
Besides its famous ready-to-use spices for Mee Bandung, the shop also produces its own Sambal Ikan Bakar, Asam Pedas, and Acar Buah. JJ Mak Pon Muar’s ready-to-use spice is rumoured to be in high demand in Johor and Kuala Lumpur. In fact, its order usually tripled two months prior to Ramadan. Its products are not only available through conventional method, it is in fact available for sale through online purchases at Shopee and Lazada.
LABIS SUNRISE FARM
LOT 3091, Jln Segamat, Labis, 85300 Segamat, Johor.
Being accused by naysayers, who would have thought that the absurd act of buying a 160 acres hilly land would eventually lead to it being one of the most preferred tourist destinations for domestic and foreign tourists. Labis Sunrise Farm started off as a watermelon and honeydew farm, the company made its mark when it became a one-stop fruit wholesaler centre in 2009.
“Customers come not only as wholesalers or buyers of fruits but they also want to visit the fruit farms that we worked at that time. Our employer is open to requests and brought in anyone who wanted to pay a visit to the farm. This was back in 2014.”
“However, this news was somehow spread to the local tourism agency and eventually this farm was turned into a mandatory tourist’s destination. That is how Labis Sunrise Farm House Resort officially opened in 2015,” Rain, the Managing Director of Sunrise Farmhouse said. Located 80 kilometres away from Muar, the resort consists of 20 rooms that offers a panoramic view of the farm, plus green hills surrounding the resort. The name, Sunrise Farm is derived from the fact that the resort is situated 350 metres above sea level, which provides a splendid view of sunrise and sunset.
Little known fact, this is also where the largest guava farm in Johor is located, with almost three thousand trees within its 40 acres land. There is also a betel plantation, filled between six to 10 thousand betel trees in an 10 acres land. Besides the aforementioned, there is also Nangka Madu, which is famous for its thick and sweet filling. Not forgetting the king of all fruits, the farm has a few variety of durian species, namely, Musang King, Black Thorn, 101 and Durian Kampung. With the accommodation starting as low as RM25 for a campsite, to RM388 for a 6-person room, the resort is equipped with various facilities including seminar halls, swimming pool, cafe, spa, karaoke, and many more. Before the pandemic strikes, the resort was always swarmed with tourists from Singapore, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong.
“Residents or visitors are given exposure to the real farmer’s lifestyle and are able to experience how to loosen the soil by using a plough machine, packing and wrapping fruits and feeding livestock such as rabbits, chickens, fishes and turtles. The area for the campsite is currently only around 3 acres and we expect to increase the campsite area due to the positive response from local tourists ”explained Rain who also stated that the campsite is also equipped with basic facilities such as electricity and toilets. So, if you ever have a camping trip planned out, give this place a try. In fact, all the campsite activities are very well received. It has become one of the most popular choices for camping during the pandemic.
YONG PENG FORTUNE DRAGON
83700 Yong Peng, Johor
There are many tall buildings in the world, with each competing to beat the other for the title of “World’s Tallest”. However, if you wish to visit the world’s longest dragon, it is literally available in our home country. Built in 2016 with a cost of RM8 million, the Fortune Dragon Statute in Yong Peng is a must visit destination. It is said to be the largest dragon tunnel in the world with a 115-meter length until a 21 km long dragon in China’s Henan Province was built a few years back.
Fortune Dragon is built on a park, and visitors enter the dragon’s mouth and exit near the tail. Inside, there are 144 stairs that park-goers must conquer. Decorating the belly of the dragon is a series of traditional Chinese paintings with captions written in Mandarin, Malay, and English.
The first drawing series involves the subject of child duty and tells the story of a son and daughter who worked hard to honour, protect and serve their parents. For example, a boy who sleeps outside his father’s room at night and exposes his skin to mosquito bites so that the bugs will not disturb his father’s sleep.
The second part of the painting depicts the Ten Chambers of Hell and the terrible fate that awaits sinners in the next world. The theme of the paintings is similar to what you can find in other temples around Malaysia, such as Chin Swee Caves Temple and Tua Pek Kong Temple, where it has a similar walking dragon in, although not designed in detail. The gardens are beautifully landscaped with koi ponds, water features, statues, temples, gazebos and ornamental plants.
RUMAH EMBAH ANANG
KAMPUNG PARIT BUGIS, MUAR
No 1, Jalan Parit Latif, Kampung Parit Beglin, 83600 Malaysia
For lovers of sculpture, especially classic sculptures of Javanese heritage, Keraton Embah Anang is a must-visit location. Uniquely, apart from being called Keraton, the inspiration for the construction of the Great Mosque of Demak also immortalises the architecture of the traditional Melaka house stairs while the carvings on the side of the stairs are coloured with the traditional hues of the Javanese community. Each carving on the construction of this palace has its own meaning. For example, the carving of a Peacock on a door leaf carries the meaning of wealth, pride and glory. In the central space of the palace, it is similar to the design of a traditional Terengganu house. This building has only one room, and it is the only room which has many windows.
Recalling the construction of this classical structure, a wood carving expert from Java, Indonesia was brought in specially to beautify this Palace with its fine wood carving art in three years. In fact, one of the heirs to this building, Zainal Ariffin, grandson-in-law of Embah Anang had the opportunity to learn wood carving skills from the original Javanese sculptor to ensure that the structure of the Palace is always in good condition and can be preserved if needed.
Most of the furniture and ornaments in this palace are specially brought in from Java and Palembang. It still retains the original form of a wild wood structure that is simply embellished with carvings and adapted to its function. It’s amazing to see how the teak wood shrubs are beautified with flora and fauna carvings and turned into a very impressive coffee table! Apart from being made from high quality and hard-to-find wood, the art of carving of this level is already extinct and the remnant of its glory can only be found at the Embah Anang Palace.
BARONGAN & KUDA KEPANG
No 1, Jalan Parit Latif, Kampung Parit Beglin, 83600 Malaysia
Parit Bugis, Muar is one of the popular Javanese community locations, not only because of the existence of Keraton Embah Anang, but also because of the richness of the Javanese community’s indigenous culture inherited from their ancestors for generations. The art of Barongan and Kuda Kepang dance, for example, is one of the traditional dances of the Johor Javanese community, mainly presented during weddings, and celebrations, but not limited as choices during official ceremonies.
The Barongan Warisan Bistari of Kampung Parit Bugis, Muar, is under the guidance of Mohd Nazarudin, 48, which he inherited from his late grandfather in 2004. With a membership of 22 people including the bands and dancers, the heirs of the third generation of this dance group remain enthusiastic to continue the legacy.
“This dance group has members as young as 7 years old to 65 years old. The group consists of the Chief, Badal, Penari Jatil and band players. The Kuda Kepang was handmade by us whereas the Barongan costume was bought from Ponorogo, East Java for about RM3000. But the cost may have gone up. Only the peacock feathers are sourced from local suppliers,” he said, who became the Chief, and assisted by Badal to control the Kuda Kepang from acting aggressive or wild.
The group was once invited to perform during the Sultan of Johor’s Birthday, and also performing in conjunction with the Cuti-Cuti Malaysia’s promotion at the Merdeka Stadium, Kuala Lumpur. The group underwent a rigorous weekly training to ensure that their performance remained top-notch.
Seeing Nazarudin in action while handling the Kuda Kepang is truly a sight to behold. The sound of whipping and explosion brings the performance to a whole new level. As the head of the group, Nazarudin said that he is often accompanied by Badal in case of any unforeseen circumstances. While it is not a possession, delusion or a drunken stupor, dancers are in full focus until they reach a state of unconsciousness.
At that time, only a whip was capable of snapping the dancers who went overboard. On the contrary, the Baragon dance is a form of entertainment dance art. Songs such as Ilir-Ilir, Caping Gunung, Perahu Layar and Pepiling are among the traditional Javanese rhythms that would often accompany the performances of Barongan and Penari Jatil.
HOMESTAY SMILAN FELDA TENANG
Lot 14552, Jalan Masjid, Felda Tenang 85300 Labis, Johor
Homestay Smilan Felda Tenang is located in Labis. It is a guest house accommodation with a village -style concept suitable for various types of events such as family vacations, weddings, engagements, courses, convocations and so on.
There are two types of accommodations available, Homestays and Kampung Stay. Among the accommodation packages provided are 1 day, 2 days 1 night and 3 days 2 nights with a price of RM 69 to RM 206 according to the package, and a minimum of 40 pax is also provided. Most of the packages include village exploration activities, food and drink, souvenirs, spinning top (gasing) shows and cultural performances.
Apart from the more relaxed activities, Homestay Smilan Felda Tenang also provides slightly extreme activity packages for the more adventurous such as Taoi Waterfall Adventure and Hidden Secret Exploration. The package is inclusive of safety equipment, basic camping preparation and food and drink throughout the duration of the activities.
For visitors who want to venture into SMEs, Homestay Smilan Felda Tenang also provides various workshops and special courses according to the expertise of the residents there. The mushroom industry course is one of the specialties of the residents at Homestay Smilan Felda Tenang. The programme begins with teaching visitors how to recognise different types of mushrooms, followed by the process of care and breeding the mushrooms.
Weaving workshops and bird trapping are also among some of the must-try activities when visiting Homestay Smilan Felda Tenang. Visitors will get to know the types of rattan used for weaving, the types of birds, getting the full experience of weaving and bird-trap making, making the experience unforgettable.
RABBIT HOME RESTAURANT
Location: 69, Jalan Sisi, 84000 Muar, Johor
Rabbit Home Restaurant is not just any typical restaurant, despite various interpretations that will come to mind when you first step foot into the colonial-era shop house building. The restaurant is well-known for the variety of dishes that is synonymous with Muar, but it serves as a historical storehouse for visitors while enjoying their meal in the premises. Hence, that is how it got the name ‘Muar Historia’.
Artifacts and old photographs of the Johor Sultanate are neatly arranged as part of the decorations, and the walls are decorated with murals and writings, largely facts of Muar dating back from the 1800, to 2000.
James Teo, the owner of the restaurant, said his deep interest in artifacts and history has led him to start this restaurant that serves as a time capsule and a historical archive, not only for the locals, but also tourists.
The murals and texts took three months to complete, and ultimately it set the scene for customers. If you are a fan of Muar’s iconic dishes and a history buff, Rabbit Home is a must-visit place for you. Nasi Goreng Kampung DiRaja is their top recommendation, alongside Mee Rebus, Lontong, Mee Siput, Rojak Muar and Otak-Otak.