Filling a lemang craving in China

BEIJING - Craving for the traditional lemang cooked in bamboo for Hari Raya, Abdul Ghani Abu Hassan decided to make his own a day before the celebration.

The 59-year-old is here with his wife Zurina Ariffin, who works as the assistant attaché in the Immigration Department (Visa Section) of the Malaysian Embassy here.

He spent almost five hours under the searing afternoon sun in the garden of the staff quarters to cook the lemang over a charcoal fire.

"I used 3.5kg of glutinous rice for nine sticks of lemang. Since we could not get fresh coconut milk here, I had to make do with santan from cartons," said Abdul Ghani.

He said his recipe for the lemang was based on his memory of Raya celebrations during his childhood in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan.

After labouring for hours, the mouth-watering lemang was then sliced and served during a potluck party among employees of the embassy on the first day of Raya on Thursday.

For many of the embassy staff who had to celebrate Hari Raya far away from home, the party was as close to a family gathering as they could get.

Aliza Zainal Omar Shakri, 32, said her colleagues were like her family in China.

"Although I am sad that I cannot go back to Segamat in Johor this year, I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to celebrate the festival with many friends here," said Aliza, who is in Beijing with her husband and three children.

Azamam Samad, 39, said he sought forgiveness from his parents and siblings over Skype early in the morning. This was his fifth year celebrating Hari Raya in Beijing.

The administrative employee in the defence office lives here with his wife and six children, aged between one and 13.

"I still remember the first time that we had to celebrate Raya here in 2009. We're a close-knit family so I felt really sad, having to be away from my family members.

"I would be lying if I say I did not shed tears back then. But now, the Internet has helped us to frequently keep in touch."