More than just a dish, rendang’s fascinating history is rooted in culture and tradition.
The centrepiece of any sumptuous Eid spread in the Malay archipelago is rendang – meat slow-cooked in coconut milk with a blend of herbs and spices like turmeric, lemongrass, galangal, star anise, kaffir lime leaves, and fennel seeds, as well as grated coconut and chillies among the many ingredients. The result – a rich and complex dry meat dish, caramelised by a spectrum of spices, and with meat so tender it can fall apart at a touch!
The history of rendang dates back hundreds of years to the highlands of West Sumatra, Indonesia, home of the Minang people. Known for their culture of merantau (going abroad to seek greener pastures), the Minang sowed seeds of their rich culinary heritage in the places they settled, which included different parts of Indonesia, Singapore and most notably, the state of Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia.
Over time, these overseas Minang communities crafted their own variations of rendang, but four key ingredients remain at the heart of the dish: meat, coconut, chillies and spices – all of which carry rich cultural significance. Meat personifies clan leaders, coconuts symbolise intellectuals, chillies represent holy men and spices epitomise the Minang community as a whole. Even the time-consuming process of preparing and slow-cooking rendang bears philosophical meaning for the Minang – wisdom to choose the right spices, and patience, as well as persistence to constantly stir the ingredients for up to seven hours till the dish is ready.
Today, you can find myriad rendang, with ingredients such as jackfruit to marsh clams in place of beef. While varieties abound, each is unique in its own way – a culinary legacy of the Minang.
Did You Know?
Minang men carried rendang as reserves on their long journeys across the Malay archipelago. Aromatics like ginger, galangal and garlic are natural preservatives, which allowed rendang to be consumed for up to weeks without refrigeration.
TRADITION WITH A TWIST
Here are some unconventional creations that offer a twist on traditional rendang.
Malaysia’s myBurgerLab debuted the Nasi Lemak Ayam Rendang burger in 2017 – a juicy chicken patty with peanut butter, crunchy anchovies, sambal (spicy relish), cucumber, a sunny side up egg and a generous spread of rendang sauce, sandwiched between charcoal buns.
Some Singaporean eateries like Pasta Mania and Krave are combining rendang with the Italian staple – pasta. For a uniquely Asian twist, savour spaghetti served with melt in the mouth beef rendang.
DoubleTree by Hilton Jakarta’s signature dish – Pizza Rendang – is a thin crust pizza featuring flavourful Padang-style beef rendang topped with mozzarella cheese.
Lemang with Chicken Rendang
Celebrate Aidilfitri on board with chicken rendang, a festive favourite enjoyed in Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The dish features chunks of boneless chicken slow-cooked with herbs and spices, and served with fragrant lemang (glutinous rice infused with coconut milk and traditionally cooked in a banana leaf-lined bamboo culm). Topped with serunding (chicken floss), the dish is a balance of textures and aromatic flavours. Available on board AirAsia Malaysia and selected AirAsia X Malaysia flights.
Roasted Dalandan Chicken with Pimiento Sauce
Crafted by Filipino celebrity chef JP Anglo for AirAsia Philippines, Roasted Dalandan Chicken with Pimiento Sauce is a spin on a local favourite – orange chicken. The fusion dish showcases tender slices of roast chicken and Malagos chocolate-infused pimiento sauce, atop a bed of aromatic garlic rice. Available on board AirAsia Philippines flights.
MAKAN AT TUNE HOTEL klia2
Makan, Tune Hotel klia2’s newly-refurbished restaurant/lounge, serves up an array of mouth-watering Asian favourites and Western delights in a vibrant, contemporary setting. On the all-day dining menu are signatures including Half Boiled Eggs + Kaya Toast, homemade toast served alongside kaya (coconut jam) and two half-boiled eggs; The Frequent-Fryer, a sumptuous platter of crispy beef bacon, chicken sausages, hash browns, grilled tomatoes, house-made sourdough or brioche, and eggs (poached, fried or scrambled); Nasi Lemak, fragrant coconut rice accompanied with spicy sambal, crispy fried anchovies, peanuts, a hard-boiled egg, cucumber slices, and delicious chicken rendang; and Prawn Pesto Pizza, pizza liberally topped with basil pesto, garlic sautéed prawns, and mozzarella. Linked to klia2 via a pedestrian walkway, Makan at Tune Hotel klia2 is easily accessible, and open 24/7! tunehotels.com/makanandminum
Zongzi (steamed glutinous rice parcels with various fillings) are often savoured during Duanwu (Dragon Boat Festival), which is observed by Chinese communities worldwide on the fifth day of the fifth lunar moon. Wrapped in bamboo leaves, the sticky rice packets have a variety of fillings, which range from mushrooms to abalone. The tradition of zongzi is often associated with the ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan.
This year, the Dragon Boat Festival falls on June 18. Join the festivities at the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival, which takes place from June 22 to 24.
Origin of zongzi
According to legend, Qu Yuan, an adviser in the court of Chu drowned himself in the Miluo River (in present day Hunan, China) after he was exiled. Upon hearing news of the patriotic poet’s death, locals rowed their boats along the river in search of his body. Unable to find it, they hit the water with their paddles and beat drums to scare evil spirits away. The locals also tossed lumps of rice into the river to feed the fish so they would not eat Qu’s remains. Today, zongzi is no longer tossed into rivers, but savoured in honour of the poet.