There are two traditional bakeries in Johor Bahru city centre – Hiap Joo Bakery and Salahhuddin Bakery, within walking distance from each other. As their names suggest, one is Chinese owned and the other Indian. Without electric ovens, both bakeries use traditional charcoal ovens to bake their breads, cakes and pastries. Hiap Joo is famous for their banana cake but Salahuddin is more known for their curry puff. Being a banana cake fan, I decided to buy banana cake from each to see how different or similar they are.
Hiap Joo Bakery
Once I entered the street of Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, immediately I knew I was in a Chinese community with red pillars, lanterns and banners. It is a small quaint street of traditional shophouses with a mixture of old tenants and new hippie cafes. Hiap Joo Bakery falls into the the first category of tenants. If not for its fame, I would have missed the shop from its humble shopfront. The queue poles indicated “in” and “out” is a sign of its bustling business. I was here at about 3.30pm and crossing my fingers not to be greeted “sold out” sign, especially when there is no line at all.
Once I stepped in, the fragrance of piping hot cakes and bread took over all my senses, and somehow the purplish walls added zest to the whole experience. The intense fragrance of the bakes can be accounted to the charcoal oven that is just right behind the ordering cash register counter next to the entrance. All I wanted was to sink my mouth into any produce from the oven. Not much space as you can imagine. I stood before the counter and ordered my banana cake, assured that there was enough for me since trays just came out of the oven. 10 slices for RM 10.70. Most of the bread were sold out though.
Just the street round the corner is Salahuddin Bakery, set in an area that is a mix of Indian and Chinese shops. Possibly the shared street of the two races of Jalan Trus was like to Little India and Jalan Tan Hiok Nee. Well, Salahuddin Bakery has red pillars! Besides the banana cake, I bought a curry puff to try as its was their signature product. YUM! I love the pastry that is light & crisp but still has a good texture. Filling was generous too. This bakery has lots to offer. The fragrance of the piping charcoal oven was not as strong here as the shop space is larger and the oven was not in sight. It was just trays of bread and cakes that were waiting to be packed for sale. I bought 5 slices of banana cake as that was the only size available, with only 2 boxes left. It was roughly RM 5.80, lost count of the exact price as I bought other items.
Both banana cakes have a strong charcoal oven flavour that cannot be found in the cakes from our modern bakeries. Love this taste! Banana flavour is strong yet not overpowering for both. In fact, I could taste the natural banana in it rather than banana essence. I thought Salahuddin version might be very sweet but it wasn’t. Taste wise, both bakeries are good. The main difference is texture. Salahuddin’s banana cake has butter cake richness in it. This explains why the slices were cut thinner. Hiap Joo’s banana cake has a lightness similar to chiffon cake, although not as light. This softness is a very interesting and refreshing texture that I appreciate. Simply because I can eat more without feeling stuffed! Personally I will go for Hiap Joo banana cake, but for those who love their cakes rich, Salahuddin might be a better option!