PEKAN: The decision to allow Hari Raya visits and open houses this year comes as a relief for lemang daun lerek sellers who had been out of business for the past two years.

Wan Mohd Jabrullah Wan Zulkefli said this traditional Hari Raya dish has been a source of income for him and his five close friends since seven years ago.

The six of them, aged between 23 and 44, have been kept busy as orders have been coming in non-stop over the last few days.

“From last Thursday until Hari Raya eve, we have prepared and cooked over 1,000 sticks of lemang, as some customers want to have it to break their fast or to bring back to their hometowns … Alhamdulillah we are able to earn some money again this year,” he told Bernama.

Lemang, a traditional must-have Raya dish made from glutinous rice, coconut milk and salt, is cooked in a bamboo tube coated with banana leaves, to prevent the rice from sticking to it.

“We had to sacrifice our sleep to ensure our customers’ orders were ready on time, especially after we got to know that Hari Raya was earlier than expected,” he told Bernama when met at his house in Peramu Jaya here yesterday.

Wan Mohd Jabrullah said lemang daun lerek was special because instead of banana leaves, lerek leaves are used to line the bamboo tube.

Usually, he said, they would all go into the forest in search of lerek leaves, but due to the huge number of orders, they had to get their supply from the Orang Asli community living around Sungai Lembing, Kuantan, where they are sold at 50sen a piece.

The idea to use lerek leaves was suggested because it was a simpler process as there was no need to scorch the leaves first as with banana leaves, and cutting the leaves to fit inside the bamboo was also much easier.

“Lemang daun lerek is also much easier to serve and eat as it has a stem which can easily be pulled out without having to use a cutter to split the bamboo,” he added.

The only snag with lerek leaves, according to Wan Mohd Jabrullah, was that the base of the leaves must always be submerged in water to prevent them from wilting, while the glutinous rice and coconut milk must be immediately poured into the bamboo stick before the leaves begin to wither.

After the leaves are picked they can last for a week if they are properly handled, he added.

To facilitate the work process, tasks have been divided among the group, with one person in charge of lining the bamboo stick, while the three others fill the bamboo sticks with the glutinous rice and another oversees the cooking process and takes care of the fire.

Due to the high demand this year, 200kg of glutinous rice and 600 coconuts have been used, while the bamboo sticks were bought from suppliers in Muadzam Shah, Rompin.

“Apart from the lerek leaves, our lemang recipe is the same as the traditional recipe. However, to ensure it is not too soft yet creamy in taste, the quantity of glutinous rice and coconut milk must be accurate and the flames of the fire must be steady to ensure the lemang is evenly cooked,” said Wan Mohd Jabrullah.

As for the coconut milk, he said only fresh coconut milk is used and the milk is extracted from grated coconut as and when required to maintain its freshness so that the lemang can last much longer.