My dad bought a motorbike a couple of months ago and, reverting to the 20-something year old version of himself – which was the last time he owned a motorbike before my mother insisted he got rid (bit of a worrier my mum!) – he has fully (re)embraced the biker boy lifestyle. Insistent on sharing the exciting on-the-road culture with me, we headed an hour and a half outside of KL (in the car – I decided to save a high-speed, anxiety-inducing, fear-to-my-life journey for another day) to one of his recently discovered biker hubs.
After driving for what felt like a lifetime along the winding, cliff-flanked highway, we hit the town of Bentong – located north of Kuala Lumpur in the Genting Highlands – and bustling town life reemerged. Bentong has a population of only 104,000 people, however, there is a great vibrancy to the town’s bijou community. Tourism doesn’t seem to have hit the town quite yet. I was pleased to be the only person wandering around with a camera and getting strange looks as I photographed what I’m sure to the locals were fairly banal elements of their daily life.
Lemang To’Ki sits on the main road towards the far end of the town. Concealed by a line of lush green trees, it’s easily missed if you don’t look up for the sign. We arrived just after midday and already there was a queue of 20 people eagerly awaiting their lemang and ayam bakar (sticky bamboo rice and BBQ chicken): the restaurant’s specialities. The drifting chargrill-infused scent of barbecuing meat and delicate coconut aroma escaping from the rice-stuffed tubes of bamboo were drool-inducing.
When we reached the counter, I ordered our plates in the very best Malay I could manage (along with a little pointing and nodding, I was understood). Each set menu consists of the famed lemang, plus either BBQ chicken, or beef or chicken rendang (a typical Malay richly-spiced, dry, coconut-based curry). The rendang had been extremely popular that day and was no longer available. I didn’t fancy the less common chicken version, so stuck to the grilled chicken, whose blackened skin looked too good to miss.
A boy of perhaps 13/14 years old was in charge of the rice. He rhythmically took a length of bamboo from the coals, stood it upright on the counter, confidently slammed a rather large cleaver onto the top end to split the wood, plied apart the tube and tipped out the steaming rice. Machine-like in his method, he then sliced the leaf-wrapped cylinder of rice into cm-thick rounds and placed an identical portion onto each plate.
A short slide across the counter and we arrived at the meat station, where the same well-oiled production line was in place: coals-counter-slice (another intimidatingly large knife)-plate-sauce-go!
Off we went, meals in hand, and found a cool spot beneath one of the ceiling fans to enjoy our feast. I decided to have another attempt at eating with my hands and getting wonderfully intimate with the food. Although my mastery of technique was still considerably lacking, this time I didn’t find myself with food half-way up my arms (see my banana leaf dining experience), although I did burn my fingertips a few times, too impatient was I to wait for the hot-from-the-coals food to cool down.
I alternated mouthfuls of crispy-skinned juicy chicken dipped in the fragrant spicy liquor and nuggets of coconut-infused sticky rice, until only strips of green leaf and bones were left on my plate.
Lemang To’Ki is a wonderful place to soak up Malaysian culture, where the Bentong community gathers around great food to share time with family and friends – you’ll feel right at home even if home is miles away.
T: +60 9222 1587
Open 7:15am-00:00am (Tues-Sat); closed Mondays