THURSDAY, JULY 17, 2014 - 09:02
Muhamad Gunawan says preserving the art of cooking rendang the traditional way is an important part of Malaysian culture. — Picture by Mohd Izzul Elyas
RENDANG, the essential Ramadan and Hari Raya comfort food with its unmistakable aroma and moderately spicy, has evolved in its preparation methods throughout the years.
This includes different states having their own “secret” way of cooking it.
Celebrity chef Muhamad Gunawan Jamil — affectionately known as Chef Obie to his fans and clients — said the variety of rendang is due to differences in personal taste and cultures, across different states and ethnicities.
He said the original form of Malaysian rendang (rendang kunyit) came from Negri Sembilan, where shallots and ginger are usually boiled to get a strong aroma.
The people in Perak, on the other hand, prefer the Javanese style of using tamarind to make rendang tuk, a more spicy and tangy version of the dish, while the Johor and Selangor methods use lemongrass and additional lengkuas (galangal).
“In Malacca, kaffir leaves are added into the dish for added fragrance,” he said.
Muhamad Gunawan said that when Indian immigrants came to Malaysia, they took rendang and added more spicy elements to make the dish more “fiery” to suit their taste.
“The differences usually only affect the aroma of the rendang, which may or may not influence the taste of the food, although the basic ingredients are always the same,” he said.
Rendang can also be eaten with a diverse range of sides, with the most popular being ketupat palas (pulut), which is either boiled or fried in Terengganu or Kelantan.
According to Muhamad Gunawan, Negri Sembilan folk prefer eating their rendang with lemang, while Johor residents like to have their rendang with nasi impit wrapped in banana leaves, which also goes well with another Johor delicacy, lontong lodeh.
New ways of preparing the dish have also been introduced as a result of changing times, which is seen in the emergence of ‘fusion rendang’, which can be made on a wok in just half an hour.
‘Fusion rendang’ involves stewing the rendang mix in oil until the mixture is fragrant, following which the meat is placed in the wok along with the coconut milk to fry.
“This method is fast gaining approval, especially among hotel chefs who need to prepare a large number of dishes in a short time. Believe it or not, the taste of the rendang cooked with this method actually tastes very similar to the more traditional ways of cooking rendang,” Muhammad Gunawan said.
However, he prefers the semi-traditional way of preparing rendang, which takes about 90 minutes. “The rendang has a more authentic and lasting taste to it,” he said.
The third and original way of making rendang involves more herbs and spices, black pepper and buah pelaga (cardamom), and cooking the blend for four to five hours over a low fire.
“This method was especially popular during the periods of war in Malaysia as the rendang could last for days without becoming stale or losing its taste,” he said.
For Muhamad Gunawan, the secret to the widespread demand for rendang among Malaysians lies in the “family-friendly” taste of rendang.
“Good rendang is not too spicy, not too salty, and not too sweet. The young and the old can enjoy rendang. Rendang is for everyone,” he said.