Mokhtar’s lemang, a favourite Aidilfitri fare

Mokhtar Bujang slicing lemang upon orders from customers.

By Nancy Nais

KUCHING, May 23: Every year, as Aidilfitri approaches, it has been a tradition to see stalls selling lemang either by the roadside to attract the attention of road users or at Ramadhan bazaars.

Indeed, this is the best time to sample lemang, as stalls will pop up to cater to the seasonal demand of this all time favourite dish.

Popular among the locals and all races across Malaysia, lemang is made of glutinous rice that is cooked with coconut milk in hollowed bamboos, preferably over an open fire.

The rice is wrapped with banana leaves to prevent it from sticking to the bamboos.

A favourite during festivities especially Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Gawai Dayak, lemang can be eaten with chicken curry or beef rendang, or simply with any fish or vegetable dishes.

Moist and succulent lemang by Mokhtar Bujang.

However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic in Malaysia, and movement control order (MCO) followed by conditional movement control order (CMCO), no bazaars or road side stalls were allowed to operate, as the country is trying to break the chain of infection by not allowing people to gather.

As things will be different this year, those who want to sink their teeth into these soft fragrant lemang have to opt by ordering online or directly contact the sellers and either have it delivered to their house or pick it up from the seller.

Mokhtar Bujang, 61, owner of Lemang Tunok Asli started selling this soft delicacy about 10 years ago.

A full time food caterer, Mokhtar said it has been a family business for years before he ventures into making lemang for sale throughout the Ramadhan fasting period, Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Hari Raya Aidil Adha.

For any other occasions, those interested will contact him and place their orders accordingly.

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, MCO and CMCO, I can’t sell my lemang at coffee shop stalls or Ramadhan bazaar. So we take orders from those who want to buy them and they can pick it up from my house.

“The best lemang is cooked through burning over firewood or charcoal, firm and moist texture with sweet and salty hints. However, such cooking method is very time consuming, especially when some one must sit by the fire throughout the time to watch over the lemang.

“It takes three hours to cook one batch. There are some who uses the ‘short cut’ method, by steaming the glutinous rice half cook before burning it over fire.  This will surely save time, hence you can make and sell more.  However, this method causes the lemang to spoil faster meaning you cannot keep them overnight,” Mokhtar told DayakDaily.

He gave his assurance to all his customers that his lemang are purely cooked over burning fire as that will give the best taste.

Depending on how many bamboos he can find, Mokhtar said he usually prepares about 50 sticks daily.

“It is not easy to find good bamboos in Kuching. So I usually order from the growers in Bau. But due to the MCO and CMCO, there are restrictions for me to collect or have the bamboos delivered to me.

“For this year’s fasting month, I only sell about 25 sticks per day. My wife compliments our income by selling other dishes such as chicken curry, rendang, vegetables and local cakes just outside our house.

“Although we receive very encouraging support, walk in and orders, we do not want to sell anything more than that as we understand the MCO and CMCO standard operating procedures,” he said, adding that they are grateful even if they can just sell a bit everyday.

File photo of how lemang are cooked over burning charcoal and wood by a group of firefighters.

Mokhtar’s Lemang Tunok Asli is located at Lorong C13, Kampung Tunku Petra Jaya and selling at RM12 per bamboo.-DayakDaily