We can confirm two things, which excite and unite Malaysians, not just those in Malaysia but also those residing and working overseas. They are makanan (food) and sports.
When Lee Chong Wei picks up his badminton racquet to spar against an opponent, especially in overseas tournaments, Malaysians, would be glued to their television sets to cheer him on.
In early April, two English judges, John Torode and Gregg Wallace, in the British Masterchef cooking competition sampled the selection of dishes which Malaysian, Zaleha Kadir Olpin, had cooked, and the two men were not inspired.
The men may have been less than impressed, but Malaysians were furious. They immediately took to Twitter and Facebook to lash out at the judges. Even expats, throughout the world, took to social media, to defend the cook and the humble rendang.
Torode disagreed with Zaleha’s choice of chicken rendang as an accompaniment to her nasi lemak, whilst Wallace opined that the chicken skin wasn’t crispy enough.
The degree of unity showed by Malaysians, and global rendang lovers was unprecedented. Even the leaders of the two main warring political parties, in Malaysia, PM Najib Abdul Razak and former PM, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, were united in their condemnation.
The British High Commissioner, Vicki Treadall, who was brought up in Ipoh and the American ambassador to Brunei, joined thousands of rendang lovers from Indonesia, Singapore and other countries, in the global conversation about rendang.
With egg on their faces, the judges backtracked after their earlier claims that the ayam rendang was inedible because the chicken skin was not crispy, but smothered in sauce. They then claimed that the chicken was uncooked, but the damage had been done. Torode and Wallave’s reputations had been seared.
Such is the power of this simple makanan rendang (rendang dish).
KF Seetoh, founder of Makansutra, and an Asian street food expert based in Singapore, said, “Chicken rendang should be authentic. And it is just stupid for it to be crispy.
“Saying chicken rendang should be crispy is like saying that hamburgers should be boiled.”
Rendang is traditionally made with chicken or beef that is slow cooked with Asian herbs and coconut milk.
Haikal Johari, the 41-year-old executive chef of Michelin-star restaurant Alma by Juan Amador in Singapore, admitted that he had never heard of chicken rendang being crispy.
“Chicken rendang is a dish that many of us grew up with. And to have an angmoh (caucasian) tell us how the dish should be like is a smack on our face”.
If the judges yearned for crispy chicken, they could always go to KFC, to satisfy their cravings. In fact, Kentucky Fried Chicken posted an instagram post with a bucket of their classic fried chicken, which said: “The only thing that should be crispy is our fried chicken.”
A friend who owns a mamak stall in Ipoh said that if the judges were to visit Malaysia, they would be most welcome to visit at his shop and sample his MFC – Mamak Fried Chicken, which he said, is more spicy and crispy than the usual fast food chicken variety, and that his MFC, would win any Masterchef competition.
One person attacked the judges and said, “Perhaps it is wrong to expect the Masterchef judges to have a vast knowledge of the foods of the world. At first, I was happy to give Torode the benefit of the doubt, as he may have been unaware that rendang is slow cooked in spices and coconut milk.
“So, when he tweeted that rendang originated in Indonesia, that was it. If that was not bad enough, he then ended his tweet with ‘namaste’, which is an Indian greeting. Do mat salleh judges consider all the various Asian ethnicities to be Indian? A Thai is different from a Japanese or someone from India, or China.”
A housewife said, “What would the judges have said, if they had been served Perak’s rendang tok? Would they have been upset by a massive chunk of beef which is neither crispy nor swimming in gravy?”
So, should judges understand the dishes, or should they show a bit of humility and ask the cook, how the dish should be prepared and served, instead of making assumptions based on their own limited culinary experience?
One wonders what the judges would have said, if Zaleha had served them torpedo soup, a spicy dish with slices of meat. Would the judges have complained that the meat was a bit turgid?
What about Bombay Duck? They would have disqualified Zaleha, and said that her dish had gone off as it tastes fishy. They might also wonder whether the duck that was served was of poor quality as the flesh was somewhat flaky.
It would probably have been a bad idea to have served the judges thousand-year-old eggs, because the two judges would think that Zaleha was trying to poison them.
The Brits have their toad in the hole, but no toads are involved. The Jamaicans claim that the Jamaican mountain chicken, which is actually frog, is the sweetest meat they have tasted.
The Sabahan sago worm is a delicacy, and after a surfeit of “local delicacies”, the two English judges would not have the stomach to try any more dishes.