Muar food is the best!
Have you been to Muar? Have you even heard of a town called Muar and did you know that its in Malaysia? And have you tasted the food in Muar?
If you haven’t heard of this town which lies on the west coast of Malaysia about an hour south of Melaka then you aren’t alone.
Many foreign tourists and travelers bypass Muar as they travel between Melaka and Singapore but in my opinion they’re missing out. Muar is famous for its food and in this article I’m going to tell you the top 5 foods to try in Muar: plus I’ll tell you where is the best place to stay.
Check out the position of Muar on the map below – it’s that small town on the coast below Melaka.
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Map of Muar
I spent a few days in Muar in January when I was volunteering at a hostel in Melaka. Myself and another volunteer – she was Linda from the Netherlands – caught a local bus one morning from Melaka Sentral. We were off to stay at a hostel that Linda had discovered on a previous trip – WakaLily’s Hostel – and which was a new hostel just outside the town.
First stop – coffee
Lily had offered to collect us once we had arrived at the bus station and would drive us to her hostel, so whilst we waited for her we went inside one of the famous coffee shops in Muar – the Kopi 434 Cafe. This cosy coffee shop is decorated with warm wood panels inside and it’s famous for its coffee as well as the food and its atmosphere.
If you ask for a coffee (or a kopi) in Malaysia you will be served a coffee with sweet (condensed) milk. If you want a black coffee you need to ask for a kopi 0 – or coffee zero. Every state in Malaysia is famous for its own type of coffee and they are often roasted with margarine or butter and sugar for extra flavour.
Kopi 434 Cafe
Once we had finished our coffee, Lily duly arrived and whisked us off to her hostel.
Waka Lily’s Hostel is, as I said, a new hostel and Lily and her business partner CJ have worked hard to make it welcoming, functional and comfortable.
The hostel is beautifully decorated with an artist’s attention to colour and detail and with many homely touches. Colourful cushions and rugs are scattered around. There are small tables, displays of books and ornaments and even a guitar for the musically inclined to play. The dormitory with its bunk beds has enormous floor to ceiling windows, air conditioning (always a good thing in the Malaysian heat and humidity) and it has the BEST duvets to snuggle under.
If you have never stayed in a hostel you really should give one a go. You can read more about staying in hostels via this link, although many hostels, including WakaLily’s offer private rooms if the thought of sleeping in close proximity to strangers freaks you out.
Think of it as a personal challenge, who knows, you might actually find that you enjoy it, not to mention making new friends and expanding your comfort zone.
WakaLily’s Hostel, Muar
A bonus at this hostel is the kitchen where guests are welcome to cook their own food or re-heat takeaways, and it’s nice that there is just one huge area to mix and socialise. On the main road outside the hostel there are some small traditional warungs (local, cheerful restaurants) where the choice for breakfast is overwhelming and usually extremely cheap.
Bathrooms at WakaLily’s include showers which have piping hot water (believe me that is not necessarily standard in South East Asia), and you will be given a towel on arrival too – another nice touch that is not necessarily standard across all hostels.
If you want to reserve a bed (or a private room) at WakaLily’s, click on this link for the most up-to-date prices
If you are still nervous about staying in hostels and you want to check out the etiquette of how to behave, plus arm yourself with the no-no’s try this link – Hostel Tips and how NOT to behave in a hostel
WakaLily’s Hostel, Muar
WakaLily’s is part of the Warm Showers network – a system which offers discounted or sometimes even free accommodation for people who are travelling or touring by bicycle. I had never heard of this scheme before I got to Malaysia but cycling is big here and many cyclists stop by and stay for a night or two here.
For Linda and I, one of the best bits about this particular hostel is that Lily loves to socialise and she is keen to show guests around Muar.
On our first evening we were joined by Jacky (who is a friend of Lily’s) and along with another guest from Switzerland (Etienne), we set out on our mission to eat our body weight in Muar food – and this theme seemed to continue throughout the next few days.
Due to the food induced coma I forgot to take detailed notes during my stay and so Lily has very kindly put together the following Top Five list of Muar food for you. I have added in my own comments and memories plus I have given you more information about what to see and do around the town.
Best of Muar food
This has to be Muar’s most famous delicacy. I had tried it previously in both Melaka and Georgetown and I wasn’t a fan, but I had never tried the otak-otak in Muar!
Otak-otak is grilled spicy fish paste wrapped in atap leaves and it’s synonymous with Muar’s food scene.
The little parcels are small yet rich so you don’t need many for a quick snack as you wander around. Basically otak-otak can be found easily in the town but especially along the street in Avenue 4, at the MCA Bentayan Food Court Centre and at Otak-otak Cheng Boi, No.28, Jalan Bentayan (8am to 4pm)
You can try your hand at some Malaysian recipes in the following book which you can order from Amazon:
One nice touch in the centre of Muar is that many of the main streets are colour coded. Entire streets have been painted either yellow, red, blue or green. Shop fronts, shutters and walls are a uniform colour which is actually quite pleasing to the eye and is very helpful when you are trying to find your way around.
Dodge down some of the alleyways and you will also find some good street art dotted around. There is not a lot, but enough to make it interesting to poke around the small back lanes – not that I need much encouraging to wander down any little street that looks different to the rest.
Mee Bandung is said to be the traditional creation of Muarians and it is pure heaven. Mee Bandung consists of noodles and eggs in a soup base of chilli, onion, spices, shrimp paste and dried shrimp.
Mee Bandung is one such dish that demonstrates the subtleties of Malaysian flavours. The ingredients are similar to many other recipes yet the dish tastes distinctly different.
You can find the best Mee bandung (in Lily’s opinion) at Restaurant Mee Bandung Abu Bakar Hanipah, Jalan Abdullah or you could try Mee Bandung Muar, Tanjung Agas (open 10am to 4pm). If you are outside the city centre then head about 1.5km north from WakaLily Hostel to Warung Sup Kambing, Batu 3 1/2, Parit Bunga (between 2.15 and 6pm)
How about this cookbook from a Malaysian family kitchen?
You can hire a bicycle from WakaLily’s Hostel and explore the surrounding countryside or pedal yourself into the town centre. My friend Linda had done this on her previous visit and she told me that she had spent a lovely time cycling alongside lush green rice fields and exploring the town and the beach area.
Satay is common throughout Malaysia and Indonesia but pork satay is rare in Malaysia. So if you like Malaysian style satay, don’t miss the chance to try it while you are in Muar.
Small pieces of pork are barbequed on little wooden skewers and eaten with a creamy, rich, peanut based sauce. The coals (or wood) give the meat a slightly smoky flavour and the satay sauce is streets ahead any commercial sauce outside of S E Asia.
You can find the unusual pork satay at Ah Kow Satay & Yong Kee Coffee Shop, Avenue 4
I have already shown you that Muar is on the coast; the Melaka Straits to be exact, and many Muarians take to the beachfront to walk, jog, bicycle or simply to sit and chat as they watch the sun go down.
Lily kindly took me to the beach promenade on my last evening. We drove past the beautiful mosque set in parkland and we wandered along the seafront where we were treated to a magical sight. The tide was very low and just covered the sand which set up all sorts of reflections in gold and amber with trees atmospherically silhouetted against the horizon. There was hardly a breath of wind as hundreds of people did their best to capture the scene with mobile phones and cameras.
As the sun went down the Iman began to call from the mosque and sounds of the call to prayer (the isak) which is hauntingly beautiful in Malaysia, gently floated across the park and seemed to roll softly around us and on out to sea.
Sup Kambing (mutton soup)
I never actually tried this dish but Lily assures me that it is good. I guess it is soup made from lamb but when I return I will be sure to track it down at the Muar Soup House, 47, Jalan Sisi. Lily sent me the following link to give you an idea of this dish! Click here
What is a warung?
A warung is best described as a rustic cafe or small corner shop in S E Asia but they are especially found in Indonesia and Malaysia. Food is generally traditional and home-cooked by mum, dad or various aunties and you nearly always get an authentic experience eating at one.
More often than not they are simple and rustic but don’t let the appearances of many of them put you off. These owners generally know their signature dishes inside out and usually have secret twists to their recipes that have been handed down through the generations,
Oh Chien – Nanyang style Teo Chew oyster omelette
The best place to try this is in Avenue 4
This is another dish that I didn’t actually have time to try, but you can watch a short video here which explains how it is made – Click here for the video link
Like many towns in Malaysia, Muar is predominantly laid out on a grid system which can be pretty confusing if there are no dominant landmarks, such as a hill or a river on which to focus (Muar does have a river and a very pretty one at that), but as I am the world’s best at getting myself continuously lost any help and guidance is very welcome, and those coloured streets that I mentioned earlier in the article certainly help with that!
Bonus dish: Beef noodles
Tangkak Beef Noodle @Restaurant Kuang Fei
Whilst not in Muar town, if you visit Ledang Waterfall, I recommend that you stop off at Tangkak town to try this beef noodle dish.
Continue reading to find out more about our day out from Muar.
Myself, Linda and our Swiss friend Etienne jumped on a local bus and headed off towards the Ledang Waterfall.
After the bus had dropped us off on the main road we had to walk up through the rubber and palm oil plantations towards the National Park. We hiked up the steps and along little paths until we reached the top. As far as waterfalls goes it certainly wasn’t one of the most spectacular but the setting and the views were perfect….and being cooler it was a respite from the heat and humidity.
The water was freezing where it had tumbled down from the high mountain peaks behind us so whilst myself and Linda were more than happy to half sit on a rock and allow the water to cool us as it passed, Etienne bravely plunged right in.
The best bit about the Ledang Waterfall was the fact that we almost had it to ourselves. At one stage a large group of men trekked past – all studiously averting their eyes (Linda and I had put bikinis on as there were so few people around), but otherwise there were only a handful of local people and they were quite a long way below us.
I should clarify here, that being rural Malaysia, most people bathe in clothes although it is not mandatory. Unlike the muddy brown water in most of Asia’s rivers the water here was crystal clear and as we were alone in our part of the river (except for the guys that hiked past) we were in our bikinis.
We spent a few hours splashing around and building up an appetite so on Lily’s recommendation – with the sole purpose of a late lunch of the town’s famous beef noodles – we got off the bus on our way back to Muar at the small town called Tangkak.
We were not disappointed. Lunch was fantastic although one thing that I had learnt by now was to be suspicious of any dish in Malaysia which offered a ‘special’ upgrade.
Often this up-selling doesn’t mean that you get more succulent cuts of meat – it usually means that you get ‘spare parts’ which Asians are so especially fond of.
Lungs, intestines, kidney, brains and all the other ‘spare parts’ are just not my thing.
If you do visit Melaka or you are heading through Malaysia to or from Singapore do take the time to visit Muar and try the food – you can order your Lonely Planet Guide Book at this link
You can be sure of a warm welcome from Lily and CJ and you can be sure of some great tasting food.
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And finally, here are two more cookery book recommendations for you:
Very interesting as usual, the only thing is it made me hungry! All those different combinations and spices … yum! WakaLily’s looks very comfy, homey and inviting, she’s done well!
It made me hungry writing it! I know that the hostel is looking even better since I was there – but I do prefer to use my own photos – but like all hostels – the special atmosphere is created by the owners, the staff and the other guests
Right with you on the ‘spare parts’ thing! *shudder* Some of those food look as if even I might enjoy them (!) The hostel looks and sounds very comfortable and cheerful, and I love the thought of splashing in crystal clear water to work up an appetite! Way more fun than stuffing transcript envelopes! haha!
The hostel is great and whilst I love lambs liver if I source and cook it myself I am always suspicious of any other stuff. I have tried intestines several times – usually by accident and maybe its my over-active imagination, but they always seem to have a faint taste of where they come from!!