TITI (Negeri Sembilan), Oct 4 — How much would you clock up the mileage on your car... for food? The thing is, if you love eating there’s no stopping you from going to the four corners of the earth just for that sublime taste.
I must confess that I’ve got a wanderlust driven solely by tempting eats. In this case, it was just a mild itch to scratch since the town of Titi is just one and a half hours away. In theory that didn’t sound far, since a traffic jam during rush hour in the city if easily an hour long.
Armed with confidence, I tackled the trip to Titi. What I discovered was the ride wasn’t your typical highway journey. Instead, it was a twisty one that kept my foot on the brakes. Starting off from Hulu Langat, the up-and-down route is a favourite with cyclists and even those with thundering big bikes. As you navigate the corners, take some time to look at the peaceful Semenyih dam. Who knows, you may even spot an avid angler hoping to catch a big fish. Watch out also for monkeys who hang around the roadside hoping to pick up tidbits or even an odd trash memento.
As you reach the top, you will spot a signboard saying you’re entering Negeri Sembilan state. It’s also a popular meeting point as you will spot a few cyclists resting there to wait for their friends to catch up.
Once you cross that, it’s downhill all the way. It will plateau to a flatter area when you start spotting signs of activity along the roadside; there is a prison camp, drug rehabilitation centre and even a freshwater fish research centre.
When you spot the sign saying Titi, turn in and you will discover a well-maintained town that spans quite a wide area with its mix of wooden and cement homes. The picturesque town also has a few Chinese temples to explore that have been spruced up with murals painted on the sides. Titi is also known as Siow’s Village, as the Siow clan is said to have migrated from China to this town.
What’s famous in the town is their chai koh or selection of handmade kuih. You can get it at two stalls located on the main road. The more popular one, Soong Seng, operates out of their own shophouse, while there is a no name kuih stall right next to the fruit shop. Both stall owners are quite tight lipped about their origins.
What I gather is Soong Seng is the pioneer as their business spans three generations, while the no name stall is relatively newer and run by two sisters who peddle the kuih made by their mother. As the stalls open from 11.30am onwards, it’s perfect timing for day-trippers who would have left Kuala Lumpur around 9am to make their way here.
Usually, the eager beavers will be sitting across in the coffee shop eating a bowl of pan mee or drinking local coffee, as they keep a watchful eye out for the opening of the stalls. Within seconds of the tables being set out and large trays of kuih emerging, there will be a line. Regulars know what they want, filling up clear plastic bags with their favourites. Some locals are still in their helmets as they jump off their motorcycles to make a quick stop.
At Soong Seng, you get all kinds of choices like a sweet potato kuih angku filled with mung bean paste, banana leaf wrapped kuih koci stuffed with grated coconut and sago kuih. The no name stall carries kuih bingka, seri muka and cendol kuih. Both stalls also have a savoury selection of nasi lemak, fried noodles and glutinous rice.
Soong Seng is popular with the locals for their lat chiu kai or chilli chicken where chicken pieces are cooked in a mildly spicy chilli sauce sweetened with an abundance of chopped onions. The no name stall sells yam cake cut in cubes. Look for the lor mai chee or glutinous rice balls filled with an abundance of ground peanuts from both stalls, as these are far superior than any found in Kuala Lumpur. Even their woon chai koh is excellent with a not overly bouncy texture. It’s eaten with chilli sauce and a dash of shallot oil.
Both stalls carry Hakka specialties like the white-coloured chai kuih filled with a savoury shredded yambean filling lightly flavoured with pepper and dried shrimps. Another specialty is the ramie leaf kuih with its distinct black colour. The herb is rich in dietary fibre, calcium and amino acids. It is said to be effective in preventing osteoporosis, high blood pressure and decreasing cholesterol levels.
In Korean and Vietnamese cultures, they also use the ramie leaf to prepare glutinous rice cakes. Usually the ramie leaf used in this kuih is grown in the stall owner’s own gardens. The green herb turns black when chopped and steamed. The stalls make two versions of the kuih, a plain unstuffed lotus shaped version, and one filled with a savoury preserved radish (choy poh) filling.
You get a distinct herbal taste with this black kuih. Unique to Soong Seng is a deep fried Hakka pastry. The golden fritter is shaped like a cake with the same savoury yambean filling as chai kuih. It’s not too oily and crispy on the outside while the inside is slightly chewy.
The town has also been touted as “home of the pineapple.” Even the street murals on the way to the police station depict the pineapple in its glory with whimsical sketches of an old man holding up the fruit, and a young boy tugging a pineapple. Sadly, the season for the Titi pineapples is only in May.
According to fruit stall owner Chia Khee Yin and his wife Siow Lee Chiew, the pineapple grown in Titi is sought after as it is less fibrous and even the core can be eaten. It’s also more juicy compared to other variants. Unfortunately due to improper care by the growers, the pineapples grown in Titi tend to be rather sour compared to the other variants like the MT2 from Johore, which is also sold at the fruit stalls all around Titi.
If you are looking for a good gift to take home, pick up a packet of sat kei ma sold at the fruit stall. It’s made by local Ng Chow Fong, who has been making them for 10 years on a daily basis. She was taught the recipe by an old lady and it takes her about five to six hours each day to make the egg and flour dough from scratch.
She also has another variant known as ying yong, which is mixed with mei cha or puffed rice, sesame seeds and peanuts. This version is less sweet to cater to the health conscious. It is incredibly aromatic with the combination of nuts and seeds. She also makes a black sesame seed version by order that is even more aromatic.
Once you are done with your purchases, head to the back of the town, across the bridge to satisfy your tummy. The more traditional Boon Swee Restaurant serves Hakka classics like rice wine chicken and char yoke or pork belly slices with wood ear fungus. The rice wine chicken is excellent here with a sweet taste. Pick up a bottle of their homemade rice wine and recreate the same dish at home. Occasionally, the restaurant has stewed yam pork belly subject to availability. If you wish for a more conventional Chinese meal, Boon Swee does a superb steamed fish with a silky smooth texture.
Another place we tried upon recommendation of the locals is Restaurant Kong Sin Seafood. It’s a little more posh with an air-conditioned area but food served here has a down to earth air. The char yoke is tender with not too much batter coating the pork belly slices. Another must-eat here is their fragrant kam heong sang cheong that uses the pig’s fallopian tubes.
The restaurant also serves an unusual puppy duck dish. It seems during the old days, the town used to eat dog meat but that practice has since ceased. Nowadays, they make a similar braised dish with the same herbs, using duck instead. Paku pakis or fern tops is also a popular item here (we also had this in Boon Swee but fried with garlic) and we sample Kong Sin’s unusual curry powder version. The dish has an appetising taste and it is delicious eaten with the crunchy fried ikan bilis sprinkled on top.
Once your tummies are satisfied, it’s time to go home. You will notice that there are no cafes to hang out here but you can see the folks passing the time by sitting in the coffee shop. Occasionally, they’ll drop by the fruit or kuih stall to pick up their treats of the day. As we make our way out of town to Kuala Klawang, we stumble upon a wooden shack near St Thomas Catholic Church.
Known as Leman Cendol, we enjoyed the excellent bowl of cendol filled with soft homemade green bits which is fragrant with gula nipah, harvested from the nipah palm tree. It was definitely worth getting a second bowl to cool down in the afternoon. The place is popular with the locals who drop by for fried fritters, steamed pau or nasi lemak bungkus, and of course a bowl of cooling cendol at this stall run by ex-army man Sulaiman Mamat and his wife, Zainuyah Abbas. The stall is called Leman, his nickname during his army days.
The route to Kuala Klawang is pleasant and not too windy and you get to appreciate the Minangkabau influences in the village houses and even the administration offices. You will hit the LEKAS highway to Kajang. It’s a straight road from here so be careful not to fall asleep at the wheel after that heavy lunch!
Boon Swee Restaurant
8A, Jalan Kim Loong, Hosapa
Titi, Jelebu, Negeri Sembilan
Open for lunch and dinner. Closed on Tuesday.
Leman Cendol Titi
Shack off the road between Taman Naga Emas & Taman Desa Permai
Titi, Jelebu, Negeri Sembilan
Open: 12.30pm to 6.30pm. Closed on Saturday and Sunday.
Restoran Kong Sin Seafood
No. 1A, Jalan Lama, Hosapa,
Titi, Jelebu, Negeri Sembilan
Open daily for lunch and dinner.
120 Jalan Besar
Open: 11.30am to 5pm. Days off not fixed.
Sat Kei Ma from the fruit stall
124, Jalan Besar
No name kuih stall
126, Jalan Besar
Open: 12pm to 4pm.