It's a Sunday afternoon, and all's quiet in Seremban. With the exception, that is,of an off-track betting center next to the (Batman-influenced?) Joker Bar.
And the town's Central Market, where a surprising (given the late hour) number of indoor and outdoor vendors are still hard at work .
Good news for a couple of Kuala Lumpur daytrippers who got a late start: the market's second-floor food hall is especially lively.
There's much on offer here - rojak, chicken rice, noodles, yong taufu - but we don't stop to browse. It's famous beef noodles we've driven an hour in a steady rain for, so we beat a path around the tables to stall no. 748.
Number 748 was established around sixty years ago by an immigrant from China's island province of Hainan. After arriving in Seremban and working several years for another beef noodle purveyor, the owner struck out on his own, offering a noodle dish that echos the taste of those served in his hometown of Haikou. His daughter, now dishing the goods with the help of family, says they're Hainan-style, "adjusted for Malaysian taste."
Business is brisk, and the wait for lunch can be long. But one whiff of the airborne meaty essence hovering around the stall - and a glimpse of what lies ahead - tells us that it won't be time wasted.
This beef noodle is nothing like any we've ever tasted.
The round noodles, thick as a pencil, are made in-house. They're wonderfully elastic and chewy, the result of a dough that combines rice flour with a bit of potato starch. After receiving a lashing of dark soy they're blanketed with a thick, almost gluey gravy that - when mixed with the noodles - thins to perfect strand-coating consistency.
Vinegary shreds of preserved cabbage play off the sweet notes of sesame seeds and whole peanuts. The dish is a virtual symphony of flavors and textures.
'Sweet meat noodles' sport a thinner, darker, sweeter, and more predominently (but no less tastily) soyish sauce. Both versions feature plenty of unusually large chunks of tender beef redolent of star anise and - since we've ordered them 'dry' rather than in soup - are accompanied by a small bowl of super rich meat broth.
"Next time you must try the noodles with assorted cuts," we're told. We're both thinking the same thing: "When's the soonest 'next time' can be?"
'Hainan' beef noodle stall, no. 748, second-floor food hall at the Central Market, Jalan Pasar, Seremban.