Lemang is quintessential Malay holiday food, impossible to find throughout the year, impossible to avoid come Hari Raya. Lemang is glutinous, or sticky, rice cooked in coconut milk inside a length of bamboo and roasted over an open fire. The work involved in making it is considerable. First, locate and chop down a giant piece of bamboo. Giant bamboo of this sort is covered in fine hairs that are very itchy, like fiberglass insulation, so the bamboo sections need to be handled carefully and scrubbed to get the hairs off. Then the bamboo is chopped at the joints to open up the hollow chamber. If the rice and santan were just poured in directly, the sticky mess would be impossible to get out neatly, so a peice of banana leaf is rolled up and slid into the chamber first. Once the chamber is loaded, the bamboo is set upright on a bed of coconut-shell charcoal and roasted. No surprise that most city folk don't bother to make their own!
Luckily, living at the edge of the city in the direction of the forested uplands around Mt. Serapi, I'm a short drive from where the big lemang operators set up. Our favorite vendor has a dozen people working the fires – that doesn't include whoever is in the back prepping the bamboo. He claims he sells 15,000 batang a year, with virtually all of that in the month of Shawal.
Springing the lemang out of the casing isn't so tough; after roasting over the fire, the bamboo is pretty weak and cracks open. The mixture inside has fused into a long tube of creamy, chewy ricey-ness, and the banana-leaf lining peels away as you slice discs off. Lemang is great with rendang or peanut sauce, or if you are a seven-year-old of my household, pretty good for munching as is, too.
Enjoy your lemang everybody! Selamat Hari Raya // Eid Mubarak.