Treat for pork lovers

Located near the famous Bumbung nasi lemak in Seapark, the cosy Ticklish Ribs & ‘Wiches stands out from its staid neighbours in the quiet suburb. 

Quirky details such cheeky porcine graffiti, humorous wall decor and hanging lights encased in little baskets - typically used to house piglets - welcome visitors to the cosy outlet, which also boasts many inventive eats. 

The man responsible for the fun interior design is co-founder Tan Hui Choon, 44, who runs an advertising agency in nearby SS3. 

He created everything from scratch with his art director and business partner, Chang Mun Leong, who is in charge of central kitchen operations. 

Being an ardent pork-lover, Tan has ordered and eaten pork ribs in over 100 restaurants all over the world. 

Sadly, he could not find any dish completely to his liking until he sampled those made by the friend of a friend of 2010. 

“I ate it and thought - I could bankroll this,” said Tan. 

Alas, two years would pass before the said acquaintance was sufficiently convinced to share the recipe.

Happily, by the end of Dec 2013, Tan and Chang were finally entrusted with the recipe, and the deal was sealed with a gentleman’s handshake. 

“We went to meet him with a digital measuring scale. As he cooks portions meant for one person and used the Asian way of masak ikut rasa (cooking by instinct), we had to measure everything and research how to scale up properly!” said Tan. 

The recipe, which uses over 30 herbs and spices that can be found in any local sundry shop, sees the premium local pork ribs prepared in three parts. 

“Firstly, you boil the ribs in the first mix of seasonings, so the meat is tender and almost falls off the bone,” he said. 

The boiled ribs are then basted in a second secret recipe of herbs and spices before going into the oven to roast, and the dipping sauce is reduced from the boiling stock and mixed with a third combination. 

My dining companion and I got cosy on their chairs made from chopping blocks and sampled several dishes during the interview, starting with the fabled barbecued ribs in the Not Really (less spicy) variant. 

While most ribs are served in a single rack - and lack flavour when you cut between the bones - the ones at Ticklish Ribs are cut into strips to fully benefit from the spice-laden marinade.

This results in a savoury-sweet mouthful of flavours with every sticky bite, and we enjoyed the tender meat beneath the charred-edge crust. 

The menu is also a hoot to read - expect fun puns for dish names, such as the Chewbakkwa (dried pork sandwich) and Lazy Bones for boneless ribs. 

The elusive home-cook is only responsible for the ribs recipe - every other menu item is born from the culinary know-how of Tan’s wife and mother. 

Though delicious with its fat-lean slices of braised pork belly, the You Braise You Up sandwich was rather one-note in terms of texture compared to the kid-favourite and adult-approved meatball sandwich, which comes with a generous sprinkle of chee yau char (fried pork lard) that lends a crackly crunch to the juicy bite, while the side of sloppy fries with cheesy pork sauce is best eaten hot.

With the generous portions, we soon ran out of stomach space, but other items that caught our eye were the deep fried garlic cloves and the Hainanese pork chop sandwich, which is served with a sweet-sour sauce usually reserved for crab dishes. 

They also have a bolognese pasta dish and a rice offering, which has breaded pork chop cooked with eggs and caramelised onion, finished with a crumble of pork lard.

In fact, all the dishes have a noticeable Asian influence, and Tan says his ultimate goal is to take the Ticklish Ribs franchise to the United States. 

“As part of the local chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, one exercise is to have an audacious goal. So we look at something that I can do and what I’d love to do,” he said. 

Tan did not want to “slave over a single Michelin-starred restaurant for 10 years” - instead, he wanted to build something that can be a global brand. 

“Americans are familiar with these flavours in a Chinese restaurant format, but not in this way. We take the home-cooked meals that you normally eat with rice and present it in this way, so it’s not completely alien,” said the ambitious entrepreneur. 

Tan said the outlet only has eight recipes which are not chef-dependent, with very simple processes to facilitate scaling up the business. 

This way, the easily-produced output can be kept at a consistently high quality. 

“We’re democratising the food, if you will. You don’t need to be from a food and beverage background to manage a Ticklish Ribs franchise - it can be done as a kiosk, a food truck or a restaurant,” Tan added. 

But if Tan can confidently say his pork ribs are better than even those he tasted in Memphis, Tennessee, why didn’t he take Ticklish Ribs straight to the US? 

“It’s cheaper here. Seapark is a smart start - always start in a place where mistakes cost the least. If you try it out in the US and things go wrong, it’s an expensive place to make a mistake,” he laughed. 

The venue also has a small performance space for comedians and musicians, which offers performers a share of the profits or all proceeds of their ticket sales. 

Fortnightly acoustic sessions have taken place at the stage, with veteran comedian Jason Leong performing in-house. 

You can also find cute merchandise for sale, such as cheeky t-shirts and mugs - all of which was designed in-house. 

Tan also pointed out a corner selling mugs and “kindness cookies”, which is dedicated to channelling funds towards Gold Foundation, an organisation that generates opportunities for the learning disabled. 

All in all, this Malaysian-made brand is one to watch.

And with the crowds we observed at the outlet during our visit, you probably won’t have to wait until pigs fly for the brand to go places! 

Ticklish Ribs & ‘Wiches, located at 5, Jalan 21/11A, 46300 Petaling Jaya, is open Tuesdays to Sundays for lunch and dinner.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.


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