Spicy fun over 'crispy rendang' flap

A screenshot of the SCDF's Facebook post.
A screenshot of the SCDF's Facebook post.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/SCDF

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - South-east Asians have united to defend the "chicken rendang" dish that was knocked out of a British cooking contest on television for not being crispy enough, but the debate on the origins of the dish rages on.

The TV judges' criticism stirred fury on social media, triggering a #CrispyRendang hashtag and causing a viral debate in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei, where the spicy dish is widely loved.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force was among those that jumped on the bandwagon on Wednesday (April 4), using the uproar to remind Singaporeans not to leave their cooking unattended.

A cheeky post on its Facebook page shows a cartoon drawing of a smoky kitchen with a boiling pan with the caption: "Don't leave your cooking unattended." An arrow pointing to the pan says "le 'crispy' rendang".

The incident bubbled over after Malaysian-born chef Zaleha Kadir Olpin was booted out of the quarter-final of BBC show MasterChef UK on Monday for serving nasi lemak accompanied by a side of chicken rendang. Judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace turned down the chicken accompaniment, saying that its skin was not crispy.

Rendang is traditionally made with chicken or beef that is slow-cooked in coconut milk and with Asian herbs.

On social media, Malaysians questioned whether the two judges were qualified to be criticising Asian food. "They are not worthy to be judges if they are not knowledgeable about Asian cuisine," YouTube user Are Fiq said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak waded into the debate on Tuesday, saying no one eats crispy chicken rendang, while his arch-rival and predecessor Mahathir Mohamad responded to one of the chefs on Twitter, saying: "Maybe you are confusing rendang chicken with KFC."

Companies, too, quickly capitalised on the social media furore, with fast-food giant KFC posting on Instagram a photo of a bucket of its fried chicken with the headline "Not Rendang". The photo's caption says: "The only thing that should be crispy is our fried chicken".

Meanwhile, regional ride-hailing service Grab has offered promotions, asking users to tweet #RendangIsNeverCrispy.

Foodies in Singapore weighed in as well. "Chicken rendang should be made authentic. And it is just stupid for it to be crispy," said Asian street food expert K.F. Seetoh. "Saying chicken rendang should be crispy is like saying that hamburgers should be boiled," the Makansutra founder added.

But the jury is still out on which country owns the dish, with Indonesia also claiming it. Some suggest the first version of rendang came from Padang in Indonesia's West Sumatra, some 600 years ago.

Mr Torode further riled Malaysians by suggesting on Twitter that chicken rendang was from Indonesia and ending his tweet with "namaste", an Indian greeting.