Abdul Manaf bin Ahmad had a dream to build his own home, but this seemed an illusion due to financial constraints.
As a rubber tapper in Baling, his income was meagre and inconsistent. Most months, Abdul Manaf only made RM300, barely enough with a family to feed.
Determined to eke extra income, Abdul Manaf and his wife turned to lemang making.
Traditionally, lemang is eaten during Hari Raya and is synonymous with the celebration, but now, the well-loved glutinous rice dish can be found all year round. Travel along the byways of connecting towns in Malaysia and you can often spot a lemang stall with smoke billowing from the signature bamboo lined fence propped up against an open fire. Inside the bamboo sticks is a concoction of perfectly well-seasoned glutinous rice with coconut milk and salt.
Incidentally, Abdul Manaf lives near a forest with an abundance of bamboo. “Every few days I harvest a few logs and load it up on my motorbike. At home, I clean the logs and prepare these to be stuffed with rice,” he said.
Abdul Manaf does all the heavy lifting, while his wife took charge of the cooking. “We work well as a team,” he chuckled. “We started small. Twice a week I will load up my motorbike basket with lemang and sold a few sticks at the side of the road,” he said. He was still tapping rubber on the other days.
Business was slow initially, but every time Abdul Manaf sold lemang, it would sell out by the end of the day. “People around my kampung came and bought from us. Sometimes I also sold it at shops,” he said of his pioneering days.
The pair also sold accompaniments. “We also make our own serunding, a family recipe that’s been passed down for generations,” he said.
Serunding is a very popular dish among Malays. The dry shredded meat dish is infused with herbs and spices, and it pairs nicely with rice.
Sales started picking up but Abdul Manaf was still spending a significant amount of time in the rubber plantation. “I was making some money from our lemang sales and I wanted to stop rubber tapping, but I did not know how to scale my business. I have been a rubber tapper all my life,” he said.
While he was toying with the idea, Abdul Manaf heard about Program empowerNCER, an entrepreneurship training at Baling district funded by Yayasan PETRONAS through its Program MEKAR (Memampankan Ekonomi Asas Rakyat) and decided to apply for it. “I was so surprised when I got accepted to the program!” he said.
With the knowledge and practical tools gained from the training, Abdul Manaf took the leap to fully invest his time and effort on growing his lemang business.
“My wife and I decided that we should open our stall every day. We bought a canopy, some tables and chairs and picked a spot along the main road to set up our stall,” he said.
The duo learned the importance of consistency and building a presence with their stall.
They also experimented on different variations of lemang, veering away from the traditional plain glutinous rice. “My customers love our special slow-cooked pumpkin-filled lemang,” he proudly claims. The signature peach coloured lemang is inviting to the eye and sensational in flavour.
‘Pak Manaf’s Lemang Stall’ grew in presence and sales. Cars can often be seen parked along the road and Abdul Manaf began receiving catering requests to supply lemang at various events.
During the festive season, particularly Hari Raya, Abdul Manaf can earn up to RM2,600, a huge leap from his rubber tapping days. On other non-festive months, his income averages between RM1,200 – RM1,500.
He used to make 30 sticks of lemang every week, now he makes up to 100 sticks per week.
The increased and consistent income has allowed Abdul Manaf to put his dream in motion. “I want to continue to grow my business and fulfil my dream to finally own my own home,” he said. He is currently renting but has started building his house which is now halfway to completion.
“My 8-year-old son always wanted a bicycle and I am so happy I was able to give him his dream present,” he added another joy.
The impact of helping one person will put in motion a ripple effect of positive outcomes. Abdul Manaf and his family now enjoy a better quality of life and his children have a better start at creating their own successes.
Who can you help today? Remember, all you need to do is make a difference in one life, and its effects are far reaching.