Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Lemang is glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaf cooked in bamboo It is commonly prepared in celebrating the Hari Raya in most households. The Hari Raya (celebrated on August 19th, this year) is the equivalent of Christmas. Lemang is now considered a delicacy and are very rarely cooked by modern households. It's conveniently purchased from those enterprising enough to make them.

It’s an age old way of cooking somewhat a novelty now.Without lemang on the table on the first day of Hari Raya makes it somewhat incomplete.

I had the privilege of seeing how lemang was made sometime late last year. Mo, my old buddy brought me to a village on the outskirts of Kuala Pilah about 100km from Kuala Lumpur. Apparently he had cooked lemang there a few times before. He had mastered the delicate procedure and was happily demonstrating it to me.

 Image:1 The uncooked rice is washed clean. The water is drained and the rice is then left to dry

 Image:2 A small piece of the banana leaf is cut and folded.

 Image:3  It is then pushed down to the bottom of the bamboo. This forms the base

Image:4 The cutting of the banana leaf is the most delicate part. It is the cutting of a specific size of the leaf. This has to done by someone already skilled in doing it. It is considered a rare skill to be able to delicately cut the leaf to size to be pushed into the bamboo.

Once cut it is wrapped around a split stalk. It is then nicely pushed in. It is slowly pushed down the whole length of the bamboo. The stalk is then slowly retracted /withdrawn with the nicely cut leaf left inside

I tried to do the cutting of the leaf just to learn. But I tore just a wee bit maybe half a cm of the leaf. This was not acceptable. A slight tear would allow the coconut milk (later to be poured in) to run out

Leha, Mo's wife had in the meantime poured the dry uncooked glutinous rice to about half full into each bamboo stock. This was followed with the coconut milk to about 5cm below the brim of the bamboo.

Image:5  Mo is seen here pushing a small piece of folded leaf to cover the top before taking them outside to the backyard.

Image:6 The uncooked lemang are then arranged by Pakcik to be placed alongside hot embers. The ashes seen here are remnants of embers from an earlier batch. The cooked earlier batch are the ones behind Pakcik.

Image:7 Pakcik will later rekindle the embers with more dry wood..What cannot be seen are big logs in front of Pakcik cut into the right size as the base. It has to be the right amount of heat to make sure the filled bamboos are nicely cooked and not burnt. The filled bamboos are to be constantly turned around so that each side is evenly cooked. This may take a few hours. I cannot recollect how long now.

Image:8 The bamboo is split open and the lemang nicely cooked is cut into 2 halves placed on a porcelain plate

Image:9 One then picks a piece to be taken with 'rendang' a masala-like hot beef preparation.

Note:1  Mo is now in Birmingham. He left in early August in time to celebrate Hari Raya there with his grandchildren. He'll be back sometime in spring next year. Maybe I'll persuade him then to have another round of lemang making for the fun of it. I too would  like to learn the skills of lemang-making myself, oops!
Note!2 There were attempts to mechanize the process of heating the lemang. Somehow the proto- types were not commercially pushed into the market.

Written for d'Verse OpenLinkNight week 63


  1. wow that is pretty cool...i would def try some, it looks rather like sushi a bit---there are just some things that cant be mechanized as well...its just not the same...

  2. Wow way different than the way they make food now, all rushed and full of garbage.

  3. BRIAN
    You are right! Not just looks like but even tastes like! The sushi rice is rightly glutinous. Only difference is our toppings are flaming hot. Not unlike the mustard that zings through the nose though!

    Yes,the fun is in the waiting. At other times a lot of catching up through the nights on news and people (the ones shown here was during the day)Lots of fun and lots of sweat too! Just the same!


  4. You have to love what you do to go all through that to do it. I can see why they would try to modernise the making of it to speed it all up and commercialse it but, somethings not even modern day can improve upon.
    I love all of the technique you described here. It sounds more like art to me than cooking. Fabulous pics and read :)

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Don't know why I left a duplicate comment, looks like I have hiccups ;)

  7. BREN
    I've deleted duplicate comment


  8. Thanks for a most interesting post. I enjoyed the read.


  9. Yes, I have tried this kind of food in the past...I now miss rice cakes and purple yams smoked during the holidays ~

  10. Hank, this seems like quite a difficult skill to master. I wonder how many of the younger generation will learn this. Very interesting!

  11. One reason why I wanna go home. I miss our native delicacies... This is awesome!... Send one for me Pare!... Hehehe...


  12. BREN

    Actually there are 2 stages to consider.1) the cutting of the leaves and the preparations before heating them, cannot be mechanized 2) The heating process is akin to grilled chickens. A special oven-like container and programmed duration can do the trick. Thank you all!


    The coconut milk can make it stale after 48hrs. A better option is to stop over on your way back! This is just stating a fact.I know you're not serious. Thanks Pare!


  14. So green and looks Delicious! k.

  15. Wow...a great share, very cool.

  16. Yes, artisan cooking at its best. There are some things that require time, skill, and patience but are so worth the wait. Great pictures and description.

  17. oh wow...very cool...would love to try it..sounds like a tricky thing to prepare what makes it all the more precious if it can't be done mechanically..

  18. Love lemang, and ketupat pulut (daun palas) too. The latter is our special dish in the North maybe you'll post about this some day, Hank..


  19. This got better and better as it went on! It ended quite mouth-wateringly, I thought. Thanks for sharing this this with us.

  20. K

    That's how it had been done traditionally. We get the natural goodness of embers heating that retain the familiar taste. The current generation is invariably not bothered to learn the technique. They look for substitutes.


  21. MAMA TIM
    It may come sooner now that you've mentioned it. Aidil Adha is around the corner. Shadah (a Kedahan) already talking about it just now.

    Thanks Dave! Ordinary to us but new to you. Only needs a little imagination on my part!


  22. There's something almost spiritual in tedious cooking. It requires concentration and being in the moment - a meditation of sorts.

    It's interesting how many different ways there are to use banana leaves in cooking. In Puerto Rico, we make a meat pie that is wrapped in the leaf then boiled. Doesn't sound good, but it's delicious.

  23. Sounds delicious, Hank. Does the younger generation learn this as well?


  24. tagged you in already for poetics today...smiles...

  25. Terima kasih infonya gan.....
    infonya sangat bermamfaat.....
    salam kenal dan salam sukses..
    jangan lupa berkunjung kembali..

  26. I always want to try to make this..
    Useful info