A COFFEESHOP in Yong Peng town was packed although it was past lunchtime on a week day.
People go there for the town’s famous fishballs.
According to a shop helper, most of the off-peak-season crowd are from outstation, especially Singapore.
Strategically located between two adjacent toll plazas – Yong Peng Utara and Yong Peng Selatan – Yong Peng town is a favourite stopover for travellers along the North-South Expressway.
They have a meal and do some shopping for local produce before continuing their journey.
StarMetro learnt that there are at least six other fishball eateries along the town’s main road, and business is good.
While taste can be very subjective, the springy fishballs and fishcakes continue to draw tourists to Yong Peng.
As one local puts it: “If we in Yong Peng are second-best in fishballs, nobody dare claim to be the champion.”
And Kampung Baru Yong Peng chief Chew Long Fatt’s slogan is: “Think of fishballs, think of Yong Peng.”
In fact, the village, located at the fringe of the town centre, is the force behind this booming tourist town.
With 60% of the villagers being of Fuzhou or Hock Chew descent, Yong Peng is also known for authentic Fuzhou food, like noodles and traditional biscuits or “gong peng”.
The 54-year-old village chief, who was born and bred here, said the food trail in Yong Peng is worth exploring.
But he was also quick to point out that Yong Peng has other touristic attractions as well.
“We have more than 30 old temples in Yong Peng, including six big ones.
“Some 200,000 tourists visited Tian Pao Kong Temple last year alone,” Chew said of the temple, which boasts, among other things, a 21m Ji Gong statue – the tallest in South-East Asia.
Chinese folklore has it that Ji Gong was a Buddhist monk-turned- deity who helped the poor and stood up for justice.
Yong Peng is also famous for having the longest man-made dragon in South-East Asia.
The 107m-long dragon – a symbol of energy, power and prosperity –was open to the public last year.
Located within the compound of Che Ann Kor Association, visitors can walk along the dragon tunnel and appreciate the drawings and literature on Chinese culture.
While a one-day tour is popular in Yong Peng, Chew recommended a 2D/1N tour.
“Many tourists like to explore Yong Peng and take a closer look at the place and the people’s way of life,” he said.
There is a traditional Fuzhou noodle-making factory called Mee Hock Chew, which is open to visitors.
Its third-generation owner, Tang Chou Pin, 37, demonstrates to visitors the traditional way of kneading the flour on a wooden table using a long wooden pole while jumping up and down on the pole similar to a horse-riding motion.
Chew said tourists, especially young children, like to visit the factory.
Yong Peng is also a centre for packing and distributing fruits, especially watermelons.
Koh Yan Juan, 27, whose family is in the agriculture business, including fruit farming, said they are planning to open their farms to tourists.
“We are in talks with the Singapore Tourist Association to come up with farm tours,” she said.
For the past 25 years, her family has been operating a 300,000sq ft tourist stopover in Yong Peng that offers food and local produce.
Her brother Koh Jia Ming, 30, said the 24-hour stopover, Ming Ann, was especially popular for traditional snacks and biscuits from other states.
“Some of the biscuits are baked on the spot,” he said.
Yong Peng which means “forever peace” in Mandarin is a household name in Singapore.
The many vehicles with outstation registration plates seen around, plying the town all day long, speak volumes of its tourism.