Rendang



Rendang is a popular dish made with meat stewed in coconut milk and spices. Commonly found in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, the dish has a long history in the region with distinct versions unique to individual Malaysian states. The different versions of rendang use different ingredients for the rempah (Malay for “spice mix”), thus resulting in differing flavours to the meat.1

Description
The meat – usually beef but sometimes chicken or mutton – is stewed in coconut milk with spices such as ginger, chilli, galangal (blue ginger), lemongrass, garlic, shallot, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric. A wide pot is preferred to a deep one so as to allow the milk to evaporate during a slow boil of up to three hours. Skill is required to ensure that the heat is sufficiently low to prevent overboiling and the milk from curdling. On the other hand, the meat could burn if the fire is too low. When cooked the right way, the liquid will thicken into the distinctive rendang gravy.2


The cooking process serves several purposes. It adds flavour to the meat, which is braised in the spices. It also softens and tenderises the meat as the dish dries up. In addition, it helps to preserve the dish, allowing it to remain fit for consumption for two to three days without refrigeration, and up to two weeks in the refrigerator.3

The dish is best eaten with rice or ketupat (steamed pressed rice).4 It is often sold at hawker stalls as one of several dishes in nasi padang.5

History
Rendang is believed to originate from West Sumatra, Indonesia, where water buffalo was traditionally used as the meat. The dish symbolised the wealth of a person or community that could afford to sacrifice an entire water buffalo for consumption. Meat from water buffalos, however, tend to be tougher than beef.6 To make the dish more palatable, buffalo meat was braised in coconut milk and spices on low temperature over a long period of time until it became a dry curry.7 The dish was typically cooked in large quantities using an entire buffalo, often in a large wok.


In the olden days, rendang was wrapped in plantain or banana leaves for consumption on long journeys.8 Today, the dish is considered a celebratory meal, served during special occasions such as Hari Raya and Malay weddings. It is usually eaten with rice, lemang (glutinous rice cooked in a hollowed bamboo stick) or ketupat.9

Early variants
The common ingredients of the rempah (spice paste) for rendang were often described in 19th-century newspaper reports on Malay curry.10


The description of a fish curry dish cooked by Malays appeared as early as 1775. The dish was made by stewing fish with roots and greens in grated coconut milk; the Malays called it “curry”.11 Thomas Forrest mentioned a similar dish, which was cooked in a large iron pot for some 100 sailors.12 Preserved pork and beef were thrown into the pot with pickles, roots, sour crout and vegetables. Coconut milk and chilli were also added to the stew.13

Charlton Maxwell considered the Malay curry as having originated in Penang, where the confluence of different races brought their respective spices to flavour the dish. He also noted that it was a dish served in towns rather than villages because a variety of imported spices were required. A “curry stone” was also necessary for making the dish, with reference possibly to the batu giling, or grindstone, for grinding the spices.14

Other early mentions in the newspapers of similar stews included one of beef sambal. The recipe used buah keras (candlenut) and stipulated that limau purut (kaffir lime) leaves be added only towards the end of the cooking process.15

Colonialists familiar with Indian curry often considered the Malay spice mix a poor cousin to the Indian version. Unlike Indian curry, Malay curry used coconut milk and did not include curry leaves. Isabella Bird, the author of The Golden Chersonese (1883), noted in her book that “curry is at each meal but it is not made with curry powder. Its basis is grated cocoa-nut made into a paste with cocoa-nut milk, and the spices are added fresh”.16

It was also in the 19th century when Jonas Daniel Vaughan observed that the Malays cooked a particular curry that had several spices, including turmeric, onion, garlic, chilli and coriander pounded together with tamarind. The mixture was then fried in oil with meat or vegetables, followed by the addition of some coconut or a souring agent like lime juice.17
 
Regional variants were also mentioned in various early travelogues. In his book, Life in the Forests of the Far East (1862), Spenser Buckingham St John described chicken rendang cooked in Borneo, Burma (now Myanmar) and Siam (now Thailand). The curry paste for the dish was made by pounding chilli, turmeric, coriander seed and white cumin together, following which some finely sliced onions were browned and fried with the curry paste and a little water. Chicken was then added to the mixture, along with coconut milk, and cooked for some time. In the Burmese version, ground chilli was mixed with turmeric, onion or garlic. Some sour juice was then added along with coconut milk, and the meat or fish stewed in it. The Siamese version had ginger in the mixture. All three versions were eaten with rice.18

Modern variants
The version of rendang found in Kelantan, Malaysia, is known as kerutub daging. With a unique spice mix known as kerutub, the meat is slow-cooked with just a little water. Coconut milk is added only when the meat is tender. Toasted coconut (locally known as kerisik) is added towards the end of the cooking process, along with some palm sugar.19


In Pekan, Pahang in Malaysia, the opor daging is a dish that traces its origins to the Riau islands. It is made with buffalo meat cooked in a rich spice mix, resulting in a dark red meat stew.20

The rendang tok of Perak, Malaysia, is believed to have been created by the royal cooks of Perak who were able to acquire spices that were typically inaccessible to the general population. The dish is made with one of the most extensive lists of ingredients for rendang, including many Indian spices commonly found in Indian curry as well as unusual additions such as lemon grass and cekur root. Unique to the dish is the addition of gula melaka (palm sugar) and dry-fried coconut, which enhances the flavour. As santan (coconut milk) is not added, the resulting dry rendang is not as intense as versions found in other parts of Malaysia. A simplified version of this dish, known as rendang pedas, excludes gula melaka and some of the spices.21



Author
Bonny Tan



References
1. Mowe, R. (Ed.). (1999). Southeast Asian specialties: A culinary journey. Culinaria: Konemann, pp. 199, 280. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 SOU)
2. Mowe, R. (Ed.). (1999). Southeast Asian specialties: A culinary journey. Culinaria: Konemann, pp. 199, 280. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 SOU)
3. Oseland, J. (2006). Cradle of flavor: Home cooking from the spice islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. New York: Norton, pp. 102–104. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 OSE)
4. Mowe, R. (Ed.). (1999). Southeast Asian specialties: A culinary journey. Culinaria: Konemann, pp. 199, 280. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 SOU)
5. Eu, G. (2009, August 29). Padang palate. The Business Times. p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Oseland, J. (2006). Cradle of flavor: Home cooking from the spice islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. New York: Norton, pp. 102–104. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 OSE)
7. Mowe, R. (Ed.). (1999). Southeast Asian specialties: A culinary journey. Culinaria: Konemann, pp. 199, 280. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 SOU); Oseland, J. (2006). Cradle of flavor: Home cooking from the spice islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. New York: Norton, pp. 102–104. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 OSE)
8. Oseland, J. (2006). Cradle of flavor: Home cooking from the spice islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. New York: Norton, pp. 102–104. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 OSE)
9. Faridah Begum. (2009, September 13). Must-have rendang. The Star Online. Retrieved 2017, April 18 from The Star Online website: http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2009/09/13/musthave-rendang/
10. Forrest, T. (1780). A voyage to New Guinea and the Moluccas, from Balambangan [Microfilm no.: NL 25740]. London: G. Scott, p. 114.
11. Forrest, T. (1780). A voyage to New Guinea and the Moluccas, from Balambangan [Microfilm no.: NL 25740]. London: G. Scott, p. 114.
12. Forrest, T. (1792). A voyage from Calcutta to the Mergui Archipelago, lying on the east side of the Bay of Bengal [Microfilm no.: NL 5722]. London: J. Robson, pp. 134–135.
13. Maxwell, C. (1931, August 5). A history of curry. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Forrest, T. (1792). A voyage from Calcutta to the Mergui Archipelago, lying on the east side of the Bay of Bengal [Microfilm no.: NL 5722]. London: J. Robson, pp. 133–134.
14. Maxwell, C. (1931, August 5). A history of curry. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Marian. (1933, February 11). Tropical recipes. Malayan Saturday Post, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Bird, I. L. (1883). The golden Chersonese and the way thither (p. 233). New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Retrieved from Internet Archive website: https://archive.org/details/goldenchersones02birdgoog
17. Dennys, N. B. (1894). Meals. In A descriptive dictionary of British Malaya (pp. 234–235). London: London and China Telegraph, p. 235. Retrieved from BookSG.
18. St John, S. (1862). Life in the forests of the Far East (Vol. 2). London: Smith, Elder, p. 43. Retrieved from Internet Archive website: https://archive.org/details/lifeintheforestsfa02johngoog
19. Faridah Begum. (2009, September 13). Must-have rendang. The Star Online. Retrieved 2017, April 18 from The Star Online website: http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2009/09/13/musthave-rendang/
20. Faridah Begum. (2009, September 13). Must-have rendang. The Star Online. Retrieved 2017, April 18 from The Star Online website: http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2009/09/13/musthave-rendang/
21. Faridah Begum. (2009, September 13). Must-have rendang. The Star Online. Retrieved 2017, April 18 from The Star Online website: http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2009/09/13/musthave-rendang/



The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Ethnic foods
Cooking (Meat)--Southeast Asia
Ethnic Communities>>Food
Cookery>>International and regional cooking>>Southeast Asian