Seremban crossroads

Breakfast is a social institution in Seremban. Droves of yawning Seremban families can be seen out and about by 7am, settling in at one of the many kopitiams and hawker centres across town, from Rasah Jaya to Blossom Heights. This all-important meal is a gathering where long-lost friends are inexplicably reunited and regulars swap stories with vendors about their children and the past week’s events. Here, you’ll inadvertently bump into relatives you never knew existed and ex-teachers who saw you through puberty.

It’s a small town after all. But it will not be small for much longer. Plans to merge the Seremban and Nilai municipal councils to form “the City of Seremban” were finally approved last April, after being rolled out in 2008. The local government eventually fulfilled the criteria of possessing more than RM100 million in revenue and a population exceeding 500,000 for Seremban to qualify for city status. An official date has yet to be announced, but as far as the local folk are concerned, it has been a long time coming.

As a born and bred Seremban boy, my first brush with rapid development in my hometown was in 1995, when the alma mater of my two older sisters, the Convent School of the Infant Jesus, was controversially demolished to make way for a proposed Dataran Merdeka-style park in the bustling town centre. Not long after, it was revealed that a seven storey shopping mall would take the place of the historic 90 year old institution instead. But construction halted when the economic crisis hit the country in 1997. 18 years on, the proud site that once housed the Convent School has become nothing more than an abandoned mosquito-infected afterthought. It’s a tragic reminder of how fast and badly wrong development can go, when greed overtakes proper planning.

Former Seremban convent school siteFormer site of the Convent School

Over the years, a slew of markedly better initiatives have been carried out to pave the way for Seremban’s soon-to-be city status, with the recently completed flyovers that link several districts and prominent areas a prime example of the progress we never knew we needed. A massive road expansion project is also in full swing along Jalan Rasah, which leads directly into town. Traffic congestion – formerly unheard of in Seremban – has become a fixture downtown, in the primary commercial hub where rows of rustic old shop-houses are placed, as well as Seremban 2, an up-and-coming satellite township that is home to the ever-popular Jusco shopping centre.

The Seremban New Town and Old Town dichotomy aside, parallels with Ipoh are unavoidable. The similarly low-key capital of Perak was accorded city status in 1988 and since then has managed to retain its character and charm in spite of the influx of tourists, foreign workers, new residents and increased crime rates, an achievement Seremban will hope to follow. The City of Seremban does have a nice ring to it, but only time will tell if hearty RM3.50 bowls of noodles become a thing of the past, along with our former life as a quiet town.

Four things to do in Seremban

Quirky cafés (think Burps & Giggles) may soon be part of Seremban’s development, but hopefully not in place of these local cornerstones that you should visit the next time you make your way to the capital of Negeri Sembilan.

Pasar Besar Seremban

The overwhelmingly foul smell from the wet market might not be the most appetising way to start a meal, but navigate the stench and you’ll be rewarded with some of the most tantalising hawker fare in town. The perpetually bustling first floor of the dingy Pasar Besar Seremban is a beehive of activity, with a host of stalls primarily specialising in Chinese cuisine. The must-tries here are Tow Kee (stall 810), which is famous for its delectable Hakka noodles, and Sin Yee Kee (stall 748), which has been churning out its signature thick brown gravy-laden Seremban-style beef noodles since the ’60s.

Jalan Pasar.

Lake Gardens, Seremban

Lake Gardens

Despite the best efforts of the more modern City Park in Seremban 2, the sprawling Lake Gardens that is right smack in the town area remains the go-to place for jogging enthusiasts and picnic lovers alike. A jogging track surrounds the kid-friendly public park’s two lakes, with the lush greenery also making this an ideal place for photography.

Accessible from Jalan Taman Bunga and Jalan Dato Hamzah.

Soong Kee noodles, Seremban

Soong Kee

This old breakfast and brunch favourite is one of the best-kept secrets in Seremban. We recommend going for the irresistible dry char siew kuey tiew noodles with a side of freshly made prawn wantons and sharing a large bowl of silky smooth fish porridge, which is more than a match for the Hon Kee equivalent at Petaling Street, from the other stall occupying this cosy and dull compound.

Jalan Tuanku Munawir. Open daily, 7am-1pm.

Kedai Makanan Seremban

Aside from the ubiquitous Seremban siew pao, the town is arguably most synonymous with its baked crabs, and nobody does siu hai better than the always-crowded Kedai Makanan Seremban. Prices at this open air restaurant may have steadily increased over the years due to its popularity, but its specialty sticky sweet sauce-coated deep-fried crabs still pull in the crowds, while the other seafood dishes here are worth a try as well.

3720 Jalan Tuanku Munawir (06 764 1260). Open daily, 12noon-9pm.

To get to Seremban from KL, take the KTM (approximately one and a half hours) from KL Central heading towards Sungai Gadut station or a bus (approximately one hour) from Pasar Seni or Pudu station. RM6. 

Photos by Ken Wong