‘Johor Palate’ stands out on the bookshelf with its dark blue cover, the royal colour of the state of Johor. When you first open the book, you see early photographs, including one of the authors’ maternal grandmother and great aunt. There is a short introduction to the history of modern Johor and some information on the way in which food specific to Johor came about. This is much more than a recipe book, it is a personal journey back in time to bring to life dishes and tastes from the past that are special to Johor.
... the effort that has
“We were like right hand and left hand working together,” explained Kalsom. “Hamidah did all the cooking, working hard to recreate the exact tastes that we remember from the past. I did the research into the recipes, some of which were in Jawi and others that had never been written down.”
“At first we were going to call the book by its subtitle, ‘Tanjung Puteri Recipes’, because our search for traditional Johorean recipes took us back to the mid-nineteenth century when Tanjung Puteri was the name of the capital of Johor. The city was renamed Johor Bahru later in the century by the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Abu Bakar, who is known as the father of modern Johor. Through our distant relatives, Hamidah and I come from a clan of great cooks dating back to the reign of Sultan Abu Bakar, hence Tanjung Puteri Recipes.”
“The name Tanjung Puteri is not well known to people outside Johor, so we decided to have a more recognizable title, hence the inclusion of ‘Johor’. As for ‘Palate’, Johor is particularly famous for its food, especially its variety. Because of Johor’s location at the southernmost tip of the Malay Peninsula, its food has been heavily influenced over the years by traders and visitors. You can find dishes that originated in the Arab world, from the Bugis of Sulawesi, from Java and Sumatra. Chinese and Indian settlers and latterly the British colonial administrators all added their specialities. Many of the dishes in the book can be found in other states but a lot of the ingredients and spices are unique to Johor. For example, laksa is a common dish in most states of Malaysia but usually it is a soup dish with rice noodles as the main ingredient. But the Johor version contains spaghetti as the main ingredient and the sauce is much thicker.”
“We decided very early on that these recipes had to be authentic Johorean. So when Hamidah
prepared the dishes she created the exact taste and original flavours. If the taste was wrong, she
cooked the dish over and over again until she got it right. These dishes truly replicate the taste of
As you go through the book, it is easy to see the effort that has gone into all the sections to accurately reproduce the recipes, not only the list of ingredients but also the method of cooking. If a cook were to follow the recipes correctly, the dish should look as appetizing as the one in the accompanying photograph and it would have the real taste of Johor.
Finally, while following the recipe it is worth reading the accompanying anecdotes written by Kalsom as they bring a personal touch to the book.