Boomtown Semenyih and its homegrown soy sauce

The four candidates in the by-election.

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

HULU LANGAT — March 1, 2019: To those unfamiliar with Semenyih, the constant promises of development dangled about in the run-up to tomorrow’s by-election will probably invoke the image of it being nothing more than a backwater town.

But is it?

The lack of a public hospital seems to suggest so and while it is not as bustling and modern as its immediate neighbour Kajang, Semenyih is not as rustic as some politicians tend to describe it at their late night rallies.

For starters, its town, aptly called Pekan Semenyih which sits besides the Semenyih river, has more than doubled in size compared to when it was demarcated as a state constituency for independent Malaya’s first general elections in 1959.  

Myriads of more modern residential neighbourhoods catering to the lower and middle income groups have sprung forth since then and today, the constituency that once nested communists in the 50s, has a healthy population of 92,491, 42 per cent of whom are voters.

Today, it has a Tesco hypermarket and fast food joints such McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut that are all within a 10-minute southward drive from Pekan Semenyih.

On the west side of Tesco lies an upmarket and picturesque township, built by big-time developer SP Setia Berhad, called Setia Ecohill.

“People shoot TV dramas and movies there. It’s a very nice place to take beautiful Instagram photos,” said local Nurul Suriani Abu Bakar. “But a RM600,000 price tag for a two-storey house means most of the locals here can’t afford to live there.”

And in three more years, Semenyih will have its first cinema following the completion of a posh shopping mall located within the Ecohill township. The mall, called EcoHill Walk, will feature a 4-storey car park with 2,000 bays.

The development on the eastern side of Semenyih which leads to the popular hiking spot, Broga Hill, is equally impressive.

There’s a gated community called Tiara East and from there onward stands the University of Nottingham campus. In front of it lies a premium for-students condominium complex called UniVillage.

And now the construction of two more luxurious residential developments, the Balinese-inspired gated community Setia Mayuri and the SOHO condominium called Midlands City, is taking place a mere hundred metres from the university.

Amidst the frantic physical development, a home-grown soy sauce remains the pride of the elderly in Semenyih

While the eco-tourism offerings such as weekend hikes on Broga Hill and picnic at the Tekala River waterfalls are one of the leading reasons behind Semenyih’s growing popularity, the pride of the more elderly locals, especially the Malays, is that of its homegrown soy-sauce.

Founded in 1972 by Malay couple Zainal Abidin Ali and Thamimah Rehan, the Bilal brand soy sauce is a staple ingredient and condiment used among locals and after 47 years, Bilal offers a wider product line-up.

Its factory on Jalan Rinching Hulu now produces vinegar, taucu (fermented soybean) paste, beverage concentrates and mung beans flour. While it has yet to enter the shelves of any hypermarket, the brand is known enough to have an imitator.

In 2017, a Chinese company was caught using the Bilal brand on its canned sardines that were sold in the country. The controversy fuelled talk that the brand, like many Malay household brands, had been sold to non-Malay companies.

Bilal’s current owner Rozliana Zainal Abidin however denied the rumour and to a local who only wanted to be known as Kak Yani, it was one heck of a good news. “I grew up with it and it’s quite a successful Malay brand here to boot. You can’t help to be proud of it.”

As it is, Semenyih still has a lot of catching up to do with the rest of Klang Valley’s southern corridor but contrary to claims by politicians, it is no longer a sleepy hollow the name of which, according to locals, was based from a Minangkabau word somonyih (hidden).



About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at zaidiazmi91@gmail.com.