Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Guang Ming Daily
TITI, Negeri Sembilan --Titi is tiny, its population sparse, but this little town is well-known for its home-made pastries or kuih, including the Hakka "pizza," Kuih Koji, pumpkin balls, etc., along with the sweet Sarawak pineapple. The town promises any passerby with a taste for good food something to take home to.
The road to Titi is winding and tortuous. Although you might feel dizzy sitting in a vehicle owing to the nature of the winding road, the verdant vista along the way is bound to keep you rejuvenated.
Entering the town of Titi, you will notice that the town is inhabited by mostly Chinese, in particular the Hakkas, with the strong-accented unmistakable Hakka dialect an omnipresent thing in streets and alleys here.
The tiny hamlet has few entertainment options for travellers, but if you are here for a relaxing short stay, Titi is most definitely a rewarding choice, with breathtaking greenery and mouth-watering snacks and pineapple ready to impress.
The Hakka people in Titi are known for their mastery in baking traditional Hakka pastries or Kuih, among them the delicious offerings of Soong Seng.
The time-honoured Soong Seng pastry shop is run by a family of bakers, beginning with the grandmother of the current young lady boss, Wu Wenbao, 32.
Wu started making traditional Hakka pastries since she was very young. Even though Wu's mother has now retired from the storefront, she continues to help her daughter and son-in-law making pastries from the early hours of the morning.
The trio have to keep themselves busy for at least seven hours each morning to finish up all the pastries for the day's sale. Wu would then sell their products at the store with the help of her husband until about five or six in the evening, after which they still have to prepare the ingredients for the next day's production.
Located on the main street behind Kwong Fook Kong temple, the shop sees a long queue of buyers waiting to savour the pastries at about 11 in the morning. Their products, while being far superior than similar products sold in larger towns and cities, are only marketed at 60 sen here.
"We offer over a dozen of varieties and all our products are sold out before the end of the business day. The queue will be longer during weekends and public holidays, so we have to make more in order not to disappoint our patrons."
Among Soong Seng's offerings is "rough leaf Kuih" which is, as the name suggests, made of rough leaf. Tasting a little salty but completely savoury, this Kuih has a soft and sticky texture and is rich in fibres. This product has become a must-buy item for visitors to Titi.
"Rough leaf" is a unique plant growing abundantly in and around Titi but hardly seen elsewhere in the country. Although "rough leaf" is planted on a vacant plot next to Wu's house, the production is never sufficient to meet the ever growing demands and she therefore needs to purchase additional stock from other growers.
Making "rough leaf Kuih" entails a very complicated and lengthy process. First of all, the leaf has to be boiled in water for about an hour so that the colour turns to dark green. Then the leaf is removed and blended and mixed with glutinous flour to make into a dough.
"There are two types of this kuih, one with preserved radish filling and the other without any filling."
There is another troublesome thing about harvesting the "rough leaf": "The tiny hair on the back of the leaf could be irritating to the touch and we would normally rush to wash ourselves after harvesting the leaf."
In addition to the "rough leaf Kuih," Soong Seng also sells "Hakka pizza," a yummy deep fried crispy pastry with shredded papaya or dried shrimp fillings, served with chilli sauce.
Other tasty products include Kuih Koji made of black glutinous rice and pumpkin balls (shredded pumpkin fried into a spherical shape), and the radish cake with turnip filling, among others.
Notably, the only product which Soong Seng sells for RM1 per piece is the Kan Loong Kuih made of sweet potato, which comes in three different flavours: shredded coconut, bean paste and peanut.
Home of pineapple
There are about 50 businesses of varying sizes in the town of Titi, about seven or eight involving in retailing or wholesaling of pineapple.
Nestled in the midst of verdant hills, Titi is known for its fruit production, especially Sarawak pineapple.
The sweet and residue-free pineapple here is well known across the country, and this has helped the tiny town earn the reputation as the "home of pineapple," with droves of visitors dropping by the pineapple plantations here and bringing home the juicy treat.
The unique nature of the soil here makes it a perfect ground for pineapple growing. A local fruiterer says pineapple grown in a sunny place tends to be of better quality than one that is grown in a shady area or on a replanted plot.
He said the same plot of land can only be used to grow pineapple twice, each crop lasting about 13 months, after which the soil will no longer be suitable for this fruit and can only be used for other crops..
"The pineapple here has long shelf life. A fruit that is yet to be ripe can be kept for about a week, while a ripe fruit can be kept for four to five days and still tastes great."
Other than pineapple, Titi also produces banana, papaya, soursop, durian and jackfruit, all of superior quality and marketed in large quantities to outstation wholesalers.