When mentioning Malaysia, tourists usually only have heard about Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Malacca, Langkawi, Penang, Johor Bahru, Sabah, and Sarawak.
There are 14 states in Malaysia. I came from Negeri Sembilan (NS) – not a famous tourism destination except for the beaches in Port Dickson – but surely has its own attractions and uniqueness. Negeri Sembilan means ‘nine states’ that merged under one ruler (king) that we called Yang Di-Pertuan Besar. Only NS use the title Yang Di-Pertuan Besar for the king, while other Malay states use Sultan or Raja (King).
NS is located between Malacca and Kuala Lumpur (KL). It takes only about 45 minutes driving or by express bus and 1 hour by commuter train from KL city centre to Seremban, the capital of NS.
Because I was born and raised in NS, I always overlooked of what it has. So one day, I decided to go for a road trip with my friends all the way from Seremban to Kuala Pilah – my birth district, to visit some attractions and go food hunting.
Breakfast By The Paddy Fields
We started early in the morning, aiming to have breakfast at a ‘warong’ (small open air village cafe) by the ‘sawah’ (paddy field). It is called D’Sawah Breakfast Warong.
They served special nasi lemak – rice cooked in coconut milk served with spicy anchovies sauce, sliced cucumber, peanuts, salted fish, papadom – a type of Indian cracker, and fried egg or fried chicken for add-ons. They also popular with their well-known soft and tender roti canai (paratha bread), and who comes really early in the morning can have pulut ikan masin – steamed glutinous rice with salted fish.
And of course, for Malaysian breakfast, teh tarik (hot milk tea) is a must. Having all those local delicacies while looking at the calm green rice fields – priceless!
Birth House of The Malay Language Expert
After breakfast, we moved to Batu Kikir. This is the small town in Kuala Pilah district where I was born. We visited ZA’BA’s birth house that has been converted to a small museum named ‘Teratak Za’ba‘.
ZA’BA or his real name Zainal Abidin Bin Ahmad was born in 1895. He was a famous Malay scholar, a language expert, a great thinker, and a superbly talented writer. He was the person responsible in modernizing the classical Malay language to the language that is in use today. He also the one and only person in Malaysia that is awarded with the title ‘Pendeta’ which means Reverend Master.
ZA’BA has written a lot of grammar books and also essays that criticized the Malay society’s illnesses. He too made a lot of contributions in forming UMNO, the Malaysian ruling political party and participated actively in the movement against the British colonization.
Local Foods’ Heaven
On the way back to Seremban, we stopped by one of the stalls along the road side. There are so many stalls selling smoked ducks, smoked chickens, smoked catfishes, smoked quails, smoked beef, duck eggs, bananas, corns, and more. It is indeed a shopping paradise for the local traditional foods!
Enjoying Negeri Sembilan Cuisines
We went to Nelayan Restaurant afterwards. Located at Rahang, Seremban, this is the most famous restaurant that serves authentic Negeri Sembilan cuisine called ‘masak lemak cili padi’ which means hot and spicy rich yellow coconut gravy, cooked with bird’s eyes chillies. The yellow colour of the gravy comes from fresh turmeric root.
Masak lemak cili padi can be served whether with chicken, beef, quail, different types of fishes, seafoods like prawns, crabs, cockles, sea snails, and vegetables such as mushrooms, cassava leaves, and young pineapples.
But their actual specialties and uniqueness are the exotic meats cooked with the yellow gravy, such as smoked beef, smoked catfish, deer, hedgehog, and even beef brain! They are the one and only restaurant in Negeri Sembilan that got licensed and permitted by the government to serve exotic jungle animals menus.
The best choice for dessert in Negeri Sembilan is ‘cendol’. Cendol is a local traditional dessert that is very popular in Malaysia and throughout South East Asia. It is a green rice flour worm-like jelly in coconut milk and areca palm sugar syrup, often served with shaved ice. Nowadays, there are more variants of cendol toppings, such as durian paste, sweet corns, red beans, glutinous rice, nata de coco, and ice cream. It is like patbingsu in South Korea, which is really good to have in the hot weather. One of the best cendol stall in Seremban is Cendol Retro in Paroi.
The Influence of Minangkabau
After filling our stomachs, we went to visit the uniquely shaped State Mosque of Negeri Sembilan. It was built between 1965 and 1967, and inaugurated by the late Yang Di-Pertuan Besar, Almarhum Tuanku Jaafar ibni Almarhum Tuanku Abdul Rahman. The dome is obviously different from other mosques in the world. It has a combination of Minangkabau roof design and modern architecture.
Our next destination is the Negeri Sembilan State Museum Complex. It is located next to the Seremban / Labu toll plaza which connects Seremban directly to Kuala Lumpur via the North-South Expressway.
The main building was built with the design of Minangkabau’s traditional palace. Negeri Sembilan was ruled by the Minangkabau people from Sumatra in the 15th century. That is the reason why Minangkabau’s architecture, culture, foods, and tradition such as ‘Adat Perpatih’ can be found everywhere in Negeri Sembilan until today.
The complex comprises three buildings. Teratak Perpatih is the museum that displays the state’s history and historical items like silver and brassware, traditional dan royal costumes, weapons, artifacts, and also photographs of old and new Seremban.
The second building is the Palace of Ampang Tinggi (former royal residence) that built without using any nails. The construction of the palace finished in 1870 at its original location in Ampang Tinggi, Kuala Pilah, near to the main palace in Seri Menanti. In 1953, His Majesty Tuanku Abdul Rahman gave permission to move the building to its current location. Today, people can enter the building to experience the layout of the original traditional Negeri Sembilan’s palace.
The third building is the Minangkabau House. It looks a bit same like the Ampang Tinggi Palace, but definitely it is different. Visitors can go inside the house to see more historical displays of Negeri Sembilan.
We then went to Senawang, another food heaven in Seremban. Senawang is a satellite town that become busier day by day. There are three top Malaysian hypermarkets here, a lot of popular boutiques and cafes, and streetfood stalls are everywhere.
We had our dinner at a restaurant named ‘Abah Kau’ which literally means ‘Your Father.’ ‘Abah Kau’ is a phrase that is widely use in Negeri Sembilan’s dialect when referring to a younger person’s father. It was once goes viral in the internet because of the unique name, and many people made jokes with it.
Mother: Where are you now?
Son: I can’t tell you. I don’t want to be rude.
Mother: Just tell me where on earth are you now?
Son: At Your Father’s!
(In Malay culture, ‘Abah Kau’ is considered as rude if it is said to an older person.)
This cozy restaurant is situated in Kemuning Square, neighbouring with many other popular cafes. Among the best cuisine served here are the Tom Yam (Thai’s spicy soup), Bird’s Chillies Fried Rice, Salted Fish Fried Rice, Special Sweet and Sour Fried Rice, and western food especially the Asian-style Chicken Chop and Grilled Lamb Chop. The best part is, there are a live busking performance by Abah Kau Buskers that entertained the customers every night.
Our road trip ended the next day with a short visit to the Terminal One, the main express bus terminal in Seremban. The newest attraction here is a long wall art mural depicting the daily life of Malaysians. It was drawn by Ujang, a legendary cartoonist in Malaysia, born in Negeri Sembilan. His real name is Ibrahim Anon and people called him the Malaysian Cartoon Guru. The state government honoured him based on his performance and contributions to the country’s comic book industry since 1980s.