The succulent and tender spiciness of beef rendang is often the highlight of anyone’s foray into experiencing Malaysian cuisine when taking a holiday in Malaysia.
A spicy meat dish, rendang is sometimes referred to as a ‘curry’. In Malaysia particularly, the term can refer to curried meat dishes but authentic rendang is in fact more of a dry dish.
A firm favourite among both locals and international visitors alike, 35,000 people voted ‘rendang’ as their number one dish in a CNN International ‘World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods’ survey. Sampling this delicious dish should be at the top of the list for people wondering what to do in Malaysia.
Food in Malaysia can often have many variations so although rendang is most often cooked using beef, it can also be made using chicken, mutton, water buffalo, duck and some vegetables including jackfruit or cassava.
Rich in a variety of spices, rendang is commonly created using coconut milk and a ground spices paste. This normally includes ginger, chilli, Kaffir lime leaves, garlic, turmeric leaves, lemon grass, shallot and galangal. In duck or mutton rendang, tamarind is also added but is cooked for a shorter amount of time.
Its heritage extends to the Sumatran Minangkabau ethnic group of Indonesia where it was traditionally prepared and served by the community during ceremonial and festive occasions to honour guests. But its sumptuous taste meant its popularity spread to other nations including Singapore, Brunei and southern Thailand.
The use of rendang in Malaysian cooking first made its appearance in regional Malay cuisine after coming across the strait to Malacca and Negeri Sembilan. Today rendang is considered a local dish for those residing on both the Sumatran and Malay peninsula.
Cooking a quality authentic rendang requires time and patience as it can take up to four hours. This involves slow-cooking the meat in coconut milk and the spices at a certain heat until the meat has absorbed all of the liquid. Once this happens, you then need to alternate between boiling and frying as the last remnants disappear which requires a lot of attention. The benefit of this extremely slow cooking process is extremely tender, delicate and flavoursome meat.
For people wanting to know what to do in Malaysia and want to experience more re of food in Malaysia, taking a cooking class can be particularly fun. Penang is often known as the food capital of Malaysia due to its various ethnic influences and there are many food tours in Penang on offer.
Rendang is often served with steamed rice, ketupat (a compressed rice cake), or lemang (sticky rice barbecued in bamboo tubes). Popular accompanying vegetable side dishes include boiled cassava leaf, cabbage gulai and red or green chilli pepper sambal.
According to Minangkabau tradition, Padang rendang (dry rendang) is the true version. Hours are spent stirring and boiling until the spices are absorbed into the meat creating a dish that is dark brown or even black in colour. Many culinary experts argue that this version is the most sumptuous given its intensity of unique flavour,spice combination and succulent meat.
Wet rendang or Kalio
Wet rendang, more commonly known as kalio, is a type of rendang that is cooked over a shorter period of time. Subsequently the main difference from dry rendang is that the coconut milk has not completely been absorbed into the meat. Rather than the dark colouring of padang rendang, kalio is paler and has a light golden brown color.
Normally in Malaysian cuisine, rendang takes on more a kalio consistency. Regional differences to the spices and cooking method used have resulted in several Malay variants of the dish such as Kelantan rendang and Negeri Sembilan rendang. A toasted coconut paste is often used to thicken the spice paste to avoid the hours needed to evaporate the coconut milk. However in Malaysia, the Rendang Tok dish from Perak is considered a dry version.
For people taking a holiday in Malaysia, trying beef rendang for the first time will be an enjoyable experience. Cooking classes can be really fun and give you the skills and knowledge to recreate this meal at home. Taking a food tour in Penang is definitely a great activity if you are in the region as you will be able to also learn how to make a number of other popular Malaysia dishes.
Keeping in line with responsible travel, visitors to Malaysia are encouraged to foster respect for other cultures. Booking cooking classes with genuine local people is a great way to enjoy an authentic Malaysian experience while helping support small business operators through ethical tourism.
Malaysian Beef Rendang Recipe
Serves about 4-6 people
1kg braising steak
80g desiccated coconut
3-4 fresh kaffir lime leaves, torn
1 additional stalk of lemongrass ‘bruised’
1 tbsp lime juice
500ml coconut milk
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
3-4 medium sized red onions
4cm ginger, peeled and sliced
6 cloves garlic
4 stalks lemongrass (remove outer layer and slice finely)
4 tbsp dried chilli flakes
- Cut the beef into 3cm cubes
- Toast the coconut over a low heat without oil until golden brown (for roughly ten minutes)
- Let it cool and then grind it in a small food processor – the coconut should ooze oil and become sticky (set this aside)
- Place all of the the spice paste ingredients into a food processor or blender until they have combined to create a fine paste. Some water may be needed to help the ingredients stick together better.
- Heat a little oil in a large pan and fry the spice paste for a couple of minutes. Then add the beef (there is no need to cook the beef before).
- Add the water and coconut milk to the pan
- Bring to the boil and simmer for 1.5 hours. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated
- Once the curry has reduced, add toasted coconut, kaffir lime leaves and lime juice
- Bruise a stalk of lemongrass and add it to the curry
- Cook for another 30 minutes to an hour – depending on how wet or dry you would like your curry
For a truly authentic Malaysian cuisine experience, serve it with rice and roti canai (a Malaysian / Indian ‘pancake’).