BENTONG: The rumble of the high-powered motorcycles is heard as convoys ply the Karak Highway heading to Bentong for a short weekend getaway.
The slopes and sharp corners they encounter provide a refreshing adrenaline rush for a temporary break away from a mundane week of work and tasks at the office.
The panoramic view along the road heading to the East Coast soothes the eyes.
However, for many of the motorcyclists who embark on such convoys, the biggest attraction is what awaits them along the way.
When in Bentong, don’t miss the popular traditional Malaysian delicacy ‘lemang’ (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo).
POPULAR AMONG MOTORCYCLISTS
Forty minutes away from the Gombak Toll Plaza lies Lemang To’Ki restaurantsituated on the main road to Bentong-Kuala Lumpur and Bentong-Kota Baharu.
News of the business had spread by word of mouth in past two years and had lured at least 500 motorcyclists to make a stop over the weekend.
Its owner, Mazlan Ramli, 50, clocks in early to ensure everything would be ready in time for his loyal patrons who usually arrive between 9.00am to noon.
The village-themed restaurant faces the main road and is shaded by big trees, providing customers a comfortable environment to dine in.
Mazlan despite being assisted by 10 other workers finds it hard to keep up with the crowds who come for the restaurant’s star dish, lemang and rendang.
Besides the good food, the native of Felda Lurah Bilut’s friendly disposition is also the reason why the people keep coming back for more.
On weekdays the shop will prepare at least 150 sticks of lemang and this number will multiply on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays when demand is highest.
His wife, Norizan Maarof, 43, cooks the rendang as well as her special roast beef and chicken with ‘air asam’ (dipping sauce), a delicacy much sought after by the patrons.
Mazlan said promotion by word of mouth within the biking community, in addition to social media such as Facebook, kept his shop busy.
“Motorcycle groups have a large network and they are always looking for a nice place to eat where they can relax and chat as well.
“In 2012, we had a few motorcyclists dropping by but the number has since increased to the point that we could not keep up sometimes,” he said.
THE ORIGINS OF LEMANG TO’KI
When the restaurant was first set up in 2006, it tested the market by only opening its doors to customers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Following the positive response received, Mazlan decided to allow Lemang To’Ki to operate daily except Mondays.
“We open at 7.00am until late at night and we offer breakfast, lunch and ala carte dishes at night. Our lemang is available until 5.00pm,” he said.
Mazlan, a graduate of Mara Polytechnic in Kuantan, Pahang, said he learned to make lemang from his brother-in-law’s father who hailed from Perak.
“The recipe for our lemang is my own, but I just had to learn how the people of Perak make it.
“And that is where we got the name To’Ki. It is a combination of terms referring to the elderly people, Tok in Perak and Aki in Pahang,” said the father of five.
In maintaining the quality of his lemang, Mazlan only allows one worker to mix the coconut milk and salt with the glutinious rice while another worker is in charge of cooking the lemang over an open fire.
“If any of my workers is on leave I can do the whole process myself from start to finish,” he said.
As a brand becomes stronger, expansion is also inevitable, so Lemang To’Ki opened another outlet in the Benus area by the roadside between Bentong-Karak.
Officially opened to the public on March 31, the second restaurant has helped ease the droves of customers.
Moreover, patrons of the new outlet need not worry about the quality and taste as everything on the menu is cooked at the original restaurant and despatched to the branch.
“Our customers still prefer the one in Bentong, maybe because the new outlet does not have many trees yet,” said Mazlan who plans to open another branch in Raub within the next two years.
Currently he is working on diversifying the business to produce frozen products such as lemang, rendang and dipping sauce.
“It is not impossible that one day To’Ki food products will make its way to Mekah, Madinah and around the world,” said the man who always tells himself to dream and think big.
Adam Shah Jerry Abdullah who frequently rides to the restaurant said the lemang served there tasted perfect as its creaminess and saltiness were well balanced.
“Hot lemang and rendang is so satisfying,” he said, adding that the roasted chicken and beef were also must-eats.
He said the trip was a regular weekend activity with his friends from the Narco Bikers motorcycle club.
“I like this place because it’s not far from where we live in Kuala Lumpur.
We usually go there for breakfast then head back home and this is how we get to spend some time on our motorcycles,” he said.
Among other motorcycle clubs which have visited the restaurant are TTJ Bikers from Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, in a convoy of 30 motorcyles.
TTJ Bikers President Mohammad Azizi Abdullah said he found out about Lemang To’Ki through Facebook and feedback from friends in other motorcycle clubs.
“The first time we went there we were not disappointed, and the owner is friendly too. That’s a plus point!” he said. – Bernama