If you live in JB, you must have heard of Hiap Joo before. I have been eating their banana cake and buns since young, and recently, they’re becoming increasingly popular that getting your hands on one of their cakes and buns might prove to be a problem due to the crazy queue on weekends. So you definitely want to read on to avoid disappointment. 😉 Also, I will be sharing a lot on the history of this iconic bakery as it is one of the longest standing bakeries in JB (since 1919!). I believe that one have to fully appreciate the history first to be more appreciative of their baked goods.
Located at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee since 1919, Hiap Joo is going to be a 100 years shop soon. In 1919, the grandfather of the current owner (Lim) was working with an Englishman until 1930, where this business was officially handed over to Lim’s grandfather. The bakery was then closed for three years during the war period and resumed again in the 1950s, where they mainly supply French breads to coffee shops as well as prisoners in jails.
Subsequently, Lim’s uncle and aunt started to learn cake baking in Singapore, and imparted their knowledge to Lim, who started to partake in this business in 1993. His grandfather passed away in 2003, thereafter the business was entrusted to Lim’s father. They started to incorporate different fillings into their plain buns, leading to the birth of Otak buns, coconut buns etc. It wasn’t until 2008 that Hiap Joo started to become more reputable, as the TV crew from U Channel interviewed and featured them in a documentary.
Nothing much has changed in Hiap Joo’s bakery, even their oven is almost a 100 years old, mostly untouched except for the restoration of the oven roof. With the rise of commercial ovens, we hardly get to witness the existence and usage of such traditional wood ovens anymore. Lim also told me although they plan to adopt new techniques in the future, this oven is definitely a keeper. Adhering to tradition is a huge principle of his. So my fellow friends, if you’re at Hiap Joo, don’t just grab a box of banana cake and rush out, slow down your pace and appreciate the beauty of this classic wood oven.
Huge stacks of wood used to ignite the fire for the oven. These are mainly abandoned wood from construction sites.
Freshly baked banana cakes. The aroma inside Hiap Joo gets me excited, and I always can’t resist the temptation to gulp down a slice immediately as it tastes the best when straight out of the oven.
This is basically their streamlined of workers (many of which are from the Lim family), from mixing the dough by hand to manually cutting even portions of cakes. It was like a mini factory operation, where efficiency is at its peak yet precision of every step is at heart. It is heartwarming to see Lim’s family managing this business together. Lim’s grandfather once told him, all 9 siblings would only stay together if the business is still in the running.
This is the normal queue on a Saturday, so be prepared to wait under the sweltering hot sun if you’re here during the weekend (or you can refresh yourself by having a cup of thai milk tea @Chaiwalla & Co, read my review here), praying silently that you’ll still get what you desired. Their banana cakes are available from noon onwards, while if you’re craving for their famous otak/coconut buns, Lim told me the prime time to secure those is around 11am, but no guarantees though haha. Unfortunately, Hiap Joo doesn’t accept orders unless it is a really large amount so it is mostly walk-ins.
Hiap Joo’s Banana Cake (Large-RM9.60 & Small-RM4.80)
My modern take on their banana cake, served with freshly whipped cream and toasted walnuts. Haha this is just for fun, the banana cake tasted great on its own, and I’m an avid fan of it since young. Since then, I have been trying to perfect my banana cake recipe but to little avail, as it has always been lacking this distinct smokey flavour, which could only be achieved with the use of their wood fire oven.
The cake is so moist and fluffy, and packed full of authentic banana flavour. It is also not dense at all, so you’ll feel like taking one more slice…and another slice, until the whole box of cake is gone, way down into the stomach. But trust me, you would want to gobble down one slice immediately while it is still hot, as the top layer would be slightly crisp, creating an explosion in your mouth.
Other than banana cakes, they also bake small batches of butter cakes, but those are only available on Thursday mornings.
Otak Buns (2 for RM3.70), Coconut Buns (5 for RM3.70), Big Plain Buns (5 for RM3.00), Small Plain Buns (10 for RM2.50)
I shall lump my comments of Hiap Joo’s buns under one section as I don’t have pictorial representation of everything, but rest assured, I’ve tried all their popular ones before. Personally, I think the best part about their buns is the bread itself, it is springy to the touch and not too sweet, with a very nicely charred top. Sometimes, I’ll just buy a combination of the big and small plain buns and munch as snacks (carbs-overloaded). The small baby bun is a quarter of the size of a big bun, and can be engulfed in a mouthful, which I particularly enjoy for some reason.
Their buns with fillings are good as well, amongst them the most popular and quickest to sold out are the otak and coconut buns. It is filled with as much filling as possible, so don’t worry, every bite will be perfect. Hiap Joo bakes their buns in the morning, when the oven heat is at its peak, and uses the subsequent heat to bake the banana cakes, so that is why you need to catch them at the correct timings.
In the future, Lim and family definitely have plans to expand their business but the key principle to their business is the preservation of their traditions and heritage. Lim is also planning to bake traditional butter cakes for weddings and baby showers (满月). For those of you who have yet to visit Hiap Joo, it is better late than never; and for those who frequently visit them like myself, I hope you can fully appreciate the buns and cakes that you eat ever so often.
Thank you Lim for sharing with me the history of Hiap Joo bakery.
Hiap Joo Bakery & Biscuit Factory JB
13, Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, 80000 Johor Bahru
Tel: +60 7 223 1703
Mon-Sat: 7:30 am – 5:30 pm
Closed on Sundays