Hiap Joo Bakery is a bit of an establishment in old-town JB. It’s one of those fantastically nondescript places that looks like it could do with a lick of paint (or six) and a face-lift, but still attracts hordes of people (you can tell the Singaporeans by their excitable discourse about “what’s good?”) that form snaking queues along Jalan Tan Hiok Nee in order to get their fix of baked stuff. Even the Sultan’s a fan, although I can’t imagine him queueing for as long as the rest of us plebs.
Apparently started by an English bloke way back in 1919, it has since passed along multiple generations of the same family. Nowadays grandparents and grandchildren alike all pitch in to keep on top of the orders (a truly fantastic sight). Like the ownership, the baking methods have changed little since inception: wood-fired ovens, natural ingredients and flavours, and a lot of labour. The commitment to the process of baking may be inefficient, but it pays off: the outputs are, generally speaking, de-lish.
The buns, breads and cakes come in batches and sell out within minutes, so don’t go thinking you can waltz up and order whatever you like, whenever you want. When I visited, the first batch of red bean, coconut and peanut buns was ready at about 11.30am, the banana bread at 12.30pm. The coconut buns and banana cake are the specials, so grab them whilst you can.
Hiap Joo Bakery & Biscuit Factory
13 Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, Johor Bahru
Open 08.00-18:00 Monday-Saturday; CLOSED Sunday
The coconut buns are actually quite small (about 5cm across), but densely packed with coconut filling. I actually found the filling to be a little dry in places (you can tell by the white tinges to the coconut in the picture), and MiKa found the texture of one bun to be almost sandy (perhaps from the gula melaka?). The weight, warmth and chewiness were all very satisfying, and the outer shell had an intriguing savoury twang thanks to the wood-fired oven.
Slightly bigger than their coconut counterparts, the red bean buns were just as warm and dense to hold. The red bean filling was deliciously soft and creamy, and the bun was light and fluffy. The outer shell was nicely browned and, like the coconut bun, had the same savoury twang that was further enhanced by the sesame seeds. Overall, the layers of red bean, bun and outer shell worked incredibly well together. Very, very nice.
HJB is a Johorian institution that will never go out of fashion. It’s a well-run bakery that has most definitely stood the test of time. Visiting this place is an experience in itself; it’s definitely worth waiting (and queuing) for the freshly baked buns and breads that are churned out.
Johor Kaki’s review