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One of the traditional foods of Malaysia, lemang is a delicacy containing glutinous rice and coconut milk that's roasted inside a hollow bamboo stick. Extremely popular in Malaysia and some parts of Indonesia, it is considered a special food and is widely eaten during holidays such as Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Hari Raya Haji, when Muslims break their fasts. Numerous roadside lemang stalls spring up during the festivities to sell these bamboo tubes in large quantities. Aside from roadside vendors, this dish can also be found throughout the year in numerous places.
The major ingredients in this dish are hollow bamboo sticks, banana leaves, sticky rice, and coconut milk. Preparations involve washing and soaking the rice for a few hours prior to cooking to soften it. The bamboo stems used are typically 50 centimeters (19.7 inches) in length and have diameters of around 8 centimeters (3.1 inches). To prevent the rice from sticking to the bamboo, they are lined with prewashed banana leaves that are rolled and placed in such a way that they cover the insides completely. They are filled with rice until they are about three quarters full and topped with coconut milk.
Cooking lemang isn't easy; the bamboo stems have to be roasted over a slow fire for around three to four hours and turned from time to time so that the rice inside cooks evenly. After it is cooked, the bamboo tube is split open, and the rolled banana leaf containing the mixture is removed. Once it cools down, it is cut into even slices that vary at around 2 centimeters (about 1 inch) in thickness. It's possible to find lemang with black rice or even with some corn or beans added to it. The rice tastes very strongly of coconut milk and also carries the more subtle flavors of both banana leaf and bamboo.
Lemang normally goes well with different types of curries. While it is typically eaten with chicken curry, it may also be served with grilled fish or serunding ayam, which is a spicy beef floss. In places such as Terengganu, Pahang, and Kelantan in Malaysia, this dish may be served with ikan masin, or salted fish, while in other locations, like Kuala Lipis, it is served with a special type of sambal made of starfruit. The best combination for lemang involves eating it with a type of spicy curry called rendang, which may contain mutton, beef, or chicken as the main ingredient.
While lemang has been a traditional dish in Malaysia for many years, it seems that more and more people are turning it into a signature dish that is open to interpretation.
I have had lemang made with rice flour, some that had pumpkin mixed in and even some that featured banana, corn and various fruit additives. It seems that just using sticky rice has gotten boring for those that are wishing to experiment.
Whenever I have tried lemang that deviated from the popular recipe it was always a young person creating the dish. I think that the ability to make the old new again is gift given to foodies by young chefs making their mark.
Lemang is a great thing to try if you have the chance to travel in Malaysia as it is available quite cheaply throughout the holidays. It is not uncommon to be able to sample lemang for under a dollar.
For those that like the sticky rice cakes popular in places like Japan and Korea, the texture of lemang rice is identical. It is chewy and when perfectly done, melts in your mouth without sticking.
I personally loved lemang, but I have always liked rice cakes and coconut. Finding the two of these things together made for an amazing day. There is nothing like warm lemang with some coconut milk to wash it down.
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