Bentong @ Pahang – Small Town, Big Heart, Even Bigger Appetite!November 27, 2011 | 19,631 views
“Motormouth takes you on an escapade to a small, beautiful town named Bentong in Pahang.”
Funky Lady & the Bentong Ginger – Grown on the soils of Bukit Tinggi in Bentong district, it is believed that the high price of this much-sought after rhizomes indigenous to the town is because the same plot of land used to cultivate this CANNOT be re-used for the same purpose anymore.
A little weary from the usual getaways to familiar tourist
traps haunts (Genting Highlands, Malacca, Penang), I started drafting smaller plans of excursions to the humbler unknowns; Janda Baik, Ipoh (ahem, comparatively speaking, of course) and basically all over smaller towns in Perak.
A particularly interesting “cobweb” of a roundabout on Chui Yin Street; one of the 3 main roads in Bentong town. The other two being Jalan Ah Peng, and Jalan Loke Yew.
To throw everyone off guard, I decided to visit Bentong in Pahang for a 2 days, 1 night stint. Why Bentong of all places? If the thought of traveling to smaller, far-fetched towns like this has never sounded appealing, my advice is; Don’t limit your traveling prowess. Let me show you why …..
Bentong is a relatively chilly town, especially when compared to the lowlands in the metropolitan that’s been made worse with carbon contributions from the vehicles plying the roads, the thick smog in the air painting an unpalatable scenery of looming darkness and hazy visions, as well as the incessant honking and screeching tyres on the expressways.
Call me a ‘kampung boy’ in the city if you would, but I grew up in a tranquil town named Ipoh and had very fond memories of Sungkai where my grandparents used to stay; a town that’s even smaller than half of Bentong.
Note : I will cramp everything into ONE post, hence be prepared for the ensuing onslaught of photos. And a summarized itinerary with all contact details at the end of this post.
Kow Po Homemade Ice Cream – A legend in its own right; this decades old institution has been standing strong, and getting even stronger with fan support from all over; especially folks driving down from Kuala Lumpur.
Jumbo Special (3 scoops of ice-cream of your choice + a smattering of canned fruit cocktail) for RM8.40/USD2.60. The ice-cream at Kow Po sells for RM2.80/USD0.90 per scoop.
The ABC (Ais Batu Campur, or Ais Kacang) or Kow Po Special is priced at RM3.80/USD1.20 and came with a scoop of ice-cream. Certainly not cheap, but the difference in the ice-cream here and elsewhere (commercialized and homemade brands) is that the texture leaned more towards a dense, creamier one rather than the average melt-in-mouth variety. In fact, after the various positioning for the (still imperfect) shots, the ice-cream did not melt at all. However, only certain flavours worked and deemed worthy. The pandan (screwpine leaves) flavour was a disappointing lump of sweetness uncharacteristic of the usual fragrance the leaves emit. Go for the peanut, corn, banana or coconut instead.
The main bus station of Bentong; situated directly opposite of Kow Po Ice Cream Shop on the main road of Jalan Ketari towards Bentong town.
Grand Bentong Hotel – Situated on Jalan Chui Yin, the name might sound grand but this is a mere budget hotel along the line of the many hotels I used to stay back in my rounds-in-Perak tenure. Still, for RM80 (double room) to RM125 (family room for four), the hotel was clean, fully air-conditioned, with Astro channels available, and a bright and spot-free bathroom with hot shower.
Sweet Potatoes for Dinner? This trader operated way past the conventional wet market hours. Seen here at a few hours short of sunset on Chui Yin Street.
Clockwise from top left : A very famous chicken rice stall (Bentong chicken rice?!) in a corner coffee shop beside the Bentong Market (red building named Pasar Besar Bentong), the crowd enjoying their roast chicken rice from a stall on Jalan Chui Yin (a “Wai Sek Kai” or Glutton Street from evening onwards), the lady selling various light bites, fried bee hoon and yam cake, and the only Char Kuey Teow stall that comes alive at night.
Various savoury snacks from a stall on Jalan Chui Yin. This road is cordoned off to vehicle entry from evening onwards to accommodate the various hawker stalls there.
More shots from the Glutton Street of Bentong (Jalan Chui Yin) operating from evening onwards, until late night. Look for the Chinese Town Hall; a landmark of Bentong along the stretch of hawker stalls.
Char Kuey Teow (RM3.70/USD1.20) from the first stall; a very famous Malaysian street food done in many ways across the region. At Bentong, the man behind the wok fried his version with lots of cockles, and moist with bits of eggs and bean sprouts thrown in. Oh, not forgetting the sinful crunch of lard fritters.
Economy Bee Hoon – Rice vermicelli noodles simply fried with bean sprouts, and to be served with other accompaniments like spring rolls, yam cake, etc. Don’t forget to request for extra ladles of curry to douse the noodles with. We also sampled the egg tart (horrendous) and yam cake + rice cake with sweet and chili sauce from the same stall.
Be on the extra alert during the evening hours; when the sky turns to a serene hue of darkness. The bombers from above will strike without warning
There are quite a few Chinese restaurants in Bentong town, mostly booked out for wedding banquets and anniversaries on weekends and long holidays. In this case, the HUGE crowd standing in front of the restaurant were waiting to attend theirs slotted for the second shift. The first ended at about 7pm (!).
Tawakal Restaurant @ Jalan Ah Peng – The caffeine-induced fits struck this poor addicted soul. A quick drive around town revealed that not many Mamak (Indian-Muslim) stalls were opened for supper. Ended up a few km’s away from Bentong towards Raub, where we saw Old Town White Coffee! But then again …. that would have gone against my agenda of dumping the usual suspects and embracing the unconventional options.
A breath of fresh air. REALLY, really calming sensation overwhelmed the suppressed village spirit in this Motormouth from the city. Just look at those layers of mist from the hills beyond!
If there’s ONE food that you cannot miss when visiting Bentong, most people (even the locals) would point you to Yuen Kee Kopitiam (without a signboard, in this case) for the famous Bentong’s Hooi Kee Wan Tan Mee.
We were well-prepared for the imminent wait (estimated to be about 30 minutes or more from the several sources) but was surprised to be served within minutes.
It was funny because I was the only one brandishing a camera and snapping around. While the locals and even some out-of-towners were puzzled (in a positive way) by my antics.
You know lah …. this never-give-up/opportunistic spirit would go to all lengths for a satisfactory shot.
Even the 5-odd staff of Hooi Kee Wan Tan Mee stall were referring to me as “the one with the camera” when taking our orders.
Bouncy, crunchy egg noodles without a trace of alkaline water (lye water). Tossed in a sauce that’s best described as a savoury cross between soy sauce-sesame oil-lard. The slices of lean char siew may not suit the pampered KL tastebuds of usually having theirs with caramelized, darker chunks of half fat-half lean (bun fei sau) cuts, but still a notch above the average “dry-as-tree-bark” variety commonly served elsewhere. *RM3.60/USD1.20 for a small portion.
Bentong Yong Tau Foo – If you’re at Yuen Kee Kopitiam for the wan tan mee, and missed ordering a plateful of these, then you’re dumb. Seriously. Go all out and pick your favourite stuffed fish paste (yeung liew), then ask for the thick sweet sauce and generous sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.
Sunday Morning Market – Remember to come on a Sunday morning. Wake up earlier (we had our breakfast at about 8am), and soak in the local environment. The intangible feeling of being transported to a place where everyone knows one another in the neighbourhood, and people actually greet each other with a smile and a chirpy greeting in the morning.
The famous Kacang Goreng Sempalit (red yeast groundnuts from Raub) can be bought from the market. About RM3 per pack. The many brands can be baffling though. Ask the trader for the best, if you want to capitalize fully from the experience.
The Bentong sunday morning market operates very early in the morning, from about 5-6am onwards. We woke up pretty late (for Bentong’s standards, but damn early for KL’s!) and the crowd was already forming across the stalls surrounding the main indoor market of Bentong; the huge red building in the centre of the town named Pasar Besar Bentong (picture below).
Pasar Besar Bentong operates everyday, with separate sections dedicated to fresh produce, dried goods, seafood and poultry, as well as several food stalls on the upper floor. We saw a sizeable group having their dim sum for breakfast upstairs, with the ladies from the stall gingerly carrying aluminium trays filled with baskets of fresh dim sum.
Now you might be thinking of what Bentong is really famous for. There are a few things you need to understand, and memorize by heart. Or you can just print out the summary at the end of this post.
The Bentong ginger, the Bentong-branded beancurd (notice the marks on the soft, supple and wobbly blocks of beancurd in the picture above?) and the pineapple puffs.
Mokie Home-Baked Pastry is a brand that’s almost synonymous with good pineapple and kaya puffs in Bentong. Heck, if you visit Bentong and have yet to come across these squared pillows of flaky puffs, then you won’t know what you are missing.
Find this stall at the side of the Pasar Besar Bentong facing Jalan Chui Yin. This is the back portion of the market, and this stall operates from early morning (about 9am would be safe) until they sold everything off.
*RM8.00/USD2.50 for 10 pieces, RM4.40/USD1.40 for 5 pieces.
Seriously, you can never find this anywhere else. I was skeptical initially, after hearing about this from a colleague. I mean, pineapple tarts and rolls, yes … been there, done that.
But pineapple PUFFS? Gimmicky?
Nope. Just look at the fibrous texture of the pineapple jam loaded into the palm-sized puff, and you can imagine the intense flavour of the pineapples. Certainly something I’d look forward to receiving from friends, relatives or readers (wink wink) visiting Bentong.
And while you’re at it, don’t miss the Hee Kee Shat Kek Ma too, from this stall at the side of Pasar Besar Bentong. At RM3.20/USD1 per pack, the sweet and sticky confectionery loaded with eggs and coated with caramel should go down well with the ones with a sweet tooth. (Read more about the best Shat Keh Ma from Ipoh). Only buy from this stall (as advised by a local), as there is another stall along the same side that’s not very honest.
*When we asked about where to get the famous pineapple puffs, the man selling Shat Keh Mah from the other stall was telling …. “Oh, pineapple cookies only during Chinese New Year. Not something you can buy everyday.”
Guess what? Thankfully, we did not buy his story. And went rounds to search for Mokie Home-Baked Pastry instead. Turned out that both Mokie and the unscrupulous man were both selling homemade kaya (egg and coconut jam). Hmm, what a sore loser ….
A kilogram of the famed Bentong ginger cost about RM14-16 depending on the stall you visit. Beware of impostors though, some ginger can be brought in from China instead, and not grown on the fertile lands of Bukit Tinggi. If you’re not sure? Ask the locals.
The sour notes aside, the overall experience at the Sunday morning market got my mood lifted to an all-time high.
This was the period before the job switch, and various uncertainties were drumming on my mind before the impending paradigm shift.
Many youngsters or travelers would have forsaken the thought of waking up in the ungodly hours in the morning, and take a stroll around a wet market serenaded by nothing but the freshest fruits and vegetables, traders shouting on top of their lungs promoting their goods, and capturing in the essence of what the simpler life truly means in a smaller town.
The dim sum stall above the market, the freshly fried yam puffs (wu kok) that got many lining up for, and the roti canai man making a quick buck serving his form of Halal breakfast from the morning market.
Then again … I am no ordinary youngster. Or old-timer.
Raub Kari Kepala Ikan restaurant is by far the most popular Halal restaurant in Bentong, and they hailed from Raub actually. A town in Pahang about 30km away from Bentong. The breakfast spread here includes various vadai (Indian savoury fritters made from chick pea, lentils and flour), ragi (the imposing black-coloured cones, and of course.. their famous “Dancing Tea” (a frothy milk tea with unmixed layer of fresh milk underneath)
SHL Restaurant – This restaurant along Chui Yin Street, a short distance away from Grand Bentong Hotel was very VERY famous with the crowd. Come breakfast, lunch or even dinner, the place was packed. At least more than 70% occupied. Any idea what’s good there?
A detour away from Bentong town got us to Chamang Waterfalls, about 15km or so from town centre. But the road leading towards the waterfalls may not be the safest, hence proceed with care. Convoluted at some points, with slippery slopes.
Right before we made our way back to the city on the second day, we stopped by Chamang waterfalls off the road towards Raub. About 10km of careful maneuvering the slopes and twisted turns, we reached a sight that’s almost unparalleled; as far as any other so-called waterfalls are concerned …..
Chamang Waterfalls – One that’s unlike any other.
Wondering why the two days, one night trip sounded so much shorter on paper? Because we did spend a considerable amount of time in Bukit Tinggi and the French village (Colmar Tropicale), the Japanese garden and Botanical garden up the hills.
Oh, not forgetting the delicious feast we had on BOTH days for lunch, one at a restaurant named Bukit Tinggi BBQ, another at Foon Lock Restaurant. A full chapter dedicated to Bukit Tinggi in a future post. Promised.
“BENTONG; A town best described as … simple, heartfelt & mesmerizing, yet not commercialized or soulless.“
2 DAYS/1 NIGHT TRIP SUMMARY
WHAT TO EAT
1. Kow Po Ice Cream House (pork-free)
Add : 2, Bentong Heights, 28700, Bentong. Opens daily 10am-7pm, except Mondays.
2. Chinese Hawker Food Stalls (Wai Sek Kai) @ Jalan Chui Yin
Various stalls open from late afternoon/evening, until late night. Char Kuey Teow, chicken rice, bak kut teh, etc.
3. Bentong Famous Hooi Kee Wan Tan Mee @ Yuen Kee Kopitiam
4. Chee Cheong Fun, Kong Sai-style Yong Tau Foo @ Yuen Kee Kopitiam
Add : Yuen Kee Kopitiam is on Jalan Pasar. A corner coffee shop facing an Indian temple, off Chui Yin Street. Just ask any locals for the famous Hooi Kee Wan Tan Mee, and they will point you to this shop. Opens from 7am onwards, for breakfast only.
5. Raub Kari Kepala Ikan – Breakfast of Vadai, Ragi, etc. (Halal)
Add : 53, Jalan Loke Yew, 28700 Bentong.
6. Mamak (Indian-Muslim) Food @ Tawakal Restaurant (Halal)
Add : At the end of Jalan Ah Peng, close to Hospital Bentong
7. Restaurant SHL – Chinese restaurant
Add : A corner coffee shop near to Grand Bentong Hotel, and almost facing the Pasar Besar Bentong on Jalan Chui Yin
WHAT TO BUY
1. Bentong Famous Ginger
2. Bentong Beancurd (Tofu)
3. Raub Sempalit Groundnuts
4. Mokie Home-Baked Pastry – Pineapple & Kaya Puffs (9am – about noon or until sold out only)
5. Hee Kee “Shat Kek Mah” (Crispy Flour with Egg & Caramel)
6. Fresh fruits (rambutan, buah salak, guava, etc) and vegetables
(All of the above can be bought from Pasar Besar Bentong that operates from early morning until late afternoon-evening daily. Pasar Besar Bentong is located between Jalan Ah Peng and Jalan Chui Yin in the centre of town. Can’t miss this RED building.)
WHAT TO SEE
1. Pasar Besar Bentong
2. Bentong Sunday Morning Market
3. Chamang Waterfalls – Follow the road from Bentong towards Raub. After passing by Hospital Bentong and Pejabat Kesihatan Bentong on your LEFT, you will see a turn off to Chamang Waterfalls/Kampung Chamang on your LEFT. Take that turning and proceed about 10km into the deeper part of the village.
4. Bentong Hot Springs (closed until 2013)
WHERE TO STAY
1. Grand Bentong Hotel – No 112, Jalan Chui Yin, 28700 Bentong. Tel No : +609-223 1388
2. Hotel Kristal – Jalan Chui Yin, nearer to the Hentian Mara Bentong bus station.
OUT OF TOWN EXCURSIONS
1. Bukit Tinggi – UPDATED (26 Dec 2011), READ THIS !!!
2. Genting Highlands
3. Janda Baik
5. Hutan Lipur Lentang (Lentang Recreation Park)
6. Kuala Gandah Elephant Orphanage Sanctuary (website) (directions)
**Here’s a GOOGLE MAP to most of the places above. Please bear in mind that the locations may NOT be accurate. But should not be too far off. Please send me corrections if you know of them.
** To reach Bentong, follow the Karak Highway from Kuala Lumpur towards Kuantan. On the way, you can stop by Bukit Tinggi for food or a visit to the French Village (Colmar Tropicale). You will also pass by Janda Baik which is a village best suited for various back-to-nature activities. About 90km away from KL city, and 30km away from Janda Baik.