BUKIT TINGGI, July 5 — Once in a while, it’s good to escape from bustling Kuala Lumpur. Moving beyond the city centre, just about 30-60 minutes by car (depending on traffic), you will find the hillside town of Bukit Tinggi in Pahang.
You will be spoiled for choices at this hillside town as within a five kilometre radius, there must be about 10 or more restaurants serving all kinds of Chinese food.
Some occupy a row of shophouses that face the highway, while others are located along the town’s hilly street. Others are hidden from prying eyes with just a simple signboard pointing to their locations. Then there are those famous for their eccentric behaviour and fussy rules like Bukit Tinggi BBQ, which I had tried last year.
This time, I visited a place called Restoran Leong Chee Hoong that is located along the original stretch of the village, which is famous for their fresh river fish.
We dined on fresh ikan tapah or giant river catfish. In Cantonese, it’s known as lim yue. The river fish is prized for its smooth fine flesh. Relish the fresh catch steamed with just the minimal of seasoning — fresh ginger strips, sprigs of coriander and soy sauce. As there’s not many pesky fine bones to deal with, you will find that it’s easy to finish this sweet-tasting fish with a bowl of rice drizzled with the appetising sauce.
Another specialty at this restaurant is their yellow rice wine chicken. Here, they add their own twist to the classic Hakka dish with an abundance of finely grated fresh ginger to make each spoonful of the fragrant broth absolutely addictive.
The chicken pieces tend to be bonier though since they use free range chickens but I reckon that’s the charm of this dish since you know it’s free from antibiotics or hormones! Complementing the dish are pieces of crunchy black wood-ear fungus.
This area is also well known for their huge fluffy tofu puffs, which are delicious when stuffed with fish paste. The restaurant’s version is a springy homemade fish paste filled with chopped spring onions and fried shallots. This is served with a clear soup and vegetables.
The tofu puffs were such a crowd pleaser, we even ordered seconds. Since it took some time for the kitchen to cook up the second order, we knew the tofu puffs were probably stuffed only upon order.
Since Bukit Tinggi is famous for their fresh produce, we also sampled a comforting dish of fresh shiitake mushrooms fried with nuggets of homemade fish paste and vegetables. We also ordered the popular vegetable dish, the Four Heavenly Kings (sei tai theen wong in Cantonese) — a combination of brinjals, four-angled beans, baby green beans and lady’s fingers — stir fried with a fragrant prawn sambal.
It wasn’t too spicy and was absolutely delicious with its caramelised bits. Our only gripe was the use of too much oil. Nevertheless, we still enjoyed the tasty dish.
Part of the fun of coming to eat here is the shopping, which I didn’t experience on my first trip. It’s not to buy branded goods but fresh produce from the nearby hillside farms. Just outside the restaurant, there are a few stalls selling all kinds of things.
Even before our meal was over, we were already tempted by the display of fresh vegetables and fruits; we kept sneaking visits to the stall.
Look for this unusual crunchy, sweet-tasting vegetable, unique to Bukit Tinggi — a love child of choy sum and kailan — nicknamed yin yong.
Other vegetables to look out for include an unusual purple and green vegetable or even those baby green beans that are tender and sweet. Don’t be surprised if you end up lugging bags full of fresh passionfruit, seedless guava, mangosteens, durians, ciku and even duku langsat home.
The stalls also sell vivid red bananas that are often bought for their higher nutrients even though the taste is not much different from the normal yellow variety. You can also pick up homemade pickled young ginger or fresh ayam kampung eggs from happy free-roaming chickens reared at the farms, which produce deeper orange egg yolks.
I reckon I’ll be back to try the other restaurants as the possibilities are endless here. Maybe, a monthly exploration to just get away from the craziness of the city and discover new things?
Restoran Leong Chee Hoong
No. 1, Kg Bukit Tinggi, Bentong, Pahang.
Open daily: 10.30am to 10pm.