Lemang, the must-have for Raya open houses
AFTER A MONTH OF FASTING, it is absolutely natural for our Muslims friends to reward themselves during Hari Raya by looking fabulous in their new Baju Melayu and Baju Kurung and also by eating heartily with family and friends.
Celebrating Hari Raya open houses is not complete without the usual array of ketupat, curry, rendang, kuih, biscuits and last but not least, lemang.
Lemang is basically, in my opinion a food staple you have to have during Raya. It does not matter whether you eat it with curry or any type of dipping sauce; it is a norm to have them served on the table during Hari Raya.
Unfortunately, lemang is not something you can find anytime and any day for the rest of the year as it is usually made only during Hari Raya. It may not look fancy, but the process of making them is not as easy but all the hard work and labour that goes into it makes it all worth it.
Sticky, creamy and full of flavour, it is not a surprise that it is a favourite during Hari Raya. If you passed Sukma Ria on the way home or visiting some friends on the first day of Raya, you might have noticed there were some stalls selling these delicious, mouth-watering delicacies on your way.
A family tradition
For Siti Faridah and her cousin Nur Zafirah, Hari Raya is not just about celebrating the joyful day after a month of fasting but every year during Hari Raya, they can be seen selling lemang during the eve and first day of Hari Raya.
According to Siti Faridah, selling lemang only during Hari Raya was a tradition started by her parent years ago and she has been doing it by herself with the help of her cousin for about four to five years now.
As early as 6.30 in the morning, Siti Faridah and her cousin can be seen during the first day of Raya selling their lemang. Unfortunately, she said that the sales this year are not as good as last year perhaps due to many people returning to their kampongs earlier.
“I remembered last year, my lemang was sold out by 10am,” she said.
To make the tasty rice treat, Siti Faridah requires about 100 kg of glutinous rice and almost a day to make to have them ready and cooked. Tedious and laborious, making lemang is not an easy business, but with the help of her family members, she does not feel tired and it also gives her a chance to spend time with them.
“But, the most difficult part in making lemang is to insert the banana leaves in the bamboo,” she said.
Aside from selling lemang, Siti Faridah also said she took orders for making kek lapis for Hari Raya.
A hit among customers
When I reached his stall around 11 am, Ahmad Suafi was already selling his last lemang. Obviously a hit among his customers, Ahmad proudly mentioned that he has been selling lemang during Hari Raya for over 17 years now.
According to Ahmad, selling lemang nowadays is not the same as it was back then as they used to cost around RM5 to RM6. Now with the increment of prices everywhere, it is normal to see lemang being sold around RM10- RM12 per bamboo.
Before he goes out to sell them, he spends around two and a half hours that day to get his lemang cooked and ready. He can prepare as many as 150 bamboos per batch. According to him, to know whether a lemang is already cooked, the glutinous rice should have risen almost to the top of the bamboo shaft.
“Usually, lemang can be stored and kept fresh for a maximum of three days only,” he advised.
He also added that, it is advisable to purchase or make lemang a day before Hari Raya or on the day itself as the coconut milk could make the lemang go bad.
For Ahmad, the hardest part in making lemang is to maintain the heat of the fire. If the fire is too strong, the lemang could burn and if it is too slow, it would not cook properly.
Looking back on how he got into the lemang-making business, he complained that the lemang he bought from other people were either burnt or not cooked properly.
From there, he took the initiative to make his own lemang for Hari Raya and before he knew it, he received positive remarks and compliments about them. Motivated, he then took the opportunity to sell them during Hari Raya.
“This year, I have prepared about 200 lemang for my customers,” he said proudly before adding that most of his clientele are his loyal customers from previous years.
All for passion
Another lemang seller in the area is Abu Bakar, who has been selling lemang out of his own passion for over 20 years now with his family members Bahar Mohamad Khairi and Iswandi Kipli.
Every first day of Hari Raya, Abu Bakar would stand in his usual spot selling lemang as early as six in the morning until noon where he would head home to celebrate Hari Raya with his family.
Unlike most lemang sellers who usually purchase their bamboo, Abu Bakar is particular about the bamboo he cooks in, so he looks for his own bamboo somewhere near Santubong.
This year Abu Bakar started making lemang on the eve of Raya, making 400 lemang in almost six hours.
If you missed out on buying these delicious sticky creamy treats this Raya, there is always next year. You could always make them yourself. It might be difficult at first, but wouldn’t the final result be as rewarding too? Challenge accepted?