Malaysians riled up over 'crispy chicken rendang' controversy

Nasi lemak, a Malaysian dish of coconut rice, with chicken rendang. MasterChef UK judges were taken to task for their comments on the dish.
Nasi lemak, a Malaysian dish of coconut rice, with chicken rendang. MasterChef UK judges were taken to task for their comments on the dish. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR • Angry Malaysians yesterday defended a Malaysian-born chef who was knocked out of a British cooking competition television show after judges said the chicken dish she served was not crispy enough.

Prime Minister Najib Razak and the British High Commissioner to Malaysia Vicki Treadell also jumped into the controversy.

Bristol-based Zaleha Kadir Olpin, 48, had cooked nasi lemak, a beloved traditional Malaysian dish of coconut rice, served with chicken rendang in the quarter-final of BBC show MasterChef UK, in which contestants were asked to prepare a meal that was important to them.

Judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace turned their noses up.

"The chicken skin isn't crispy, it can't be eaten. All the sauce is on the skin I can't eat," Mr Wallace said.

Mr Torode, an Australian chef, said the chicken had to be "really, really soft, and falling apart".

The hashtags "Masterchef UK" and "rendanggate" were trending on Twitter as furious Malaysians attacked the judges for not knowing how spicy chicken rendang should be cooked.

"Don't tell us how to cook a dish that comes from this part of the world when you don't have a clue," travel writer Anis Ibrahim wrote on Twitter. "Chicken rendang is never crispy."

Mr Torode riled Malaysians even more by suggesting on Twitter that chicken rendang was from neighbouring Indonesia, and ending his tweet with "namaste", an Indian greeting. "Maybe rendang is Indonesian!! Love this!! Brilliant how excited you are all getting... Namaste," he wrote.

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Ms Treadell, perhaps not surprisingly, came out diplomatically on the side of her hosts.

"Rendang is an iconic Malaysian national dish not to be confused with Indonesian options... It is never crispy and should also not be confused with the fried chicken sometimes served with nasi lemak," she said.

Ms Treadell has Malaysian roots, having been born in Ipoh, Perak.

Malaysian politicians could not resist commenting on the issue too.

"Who eats chicken rendang that is crispy?" Datuk Seri Najib asked on Twitter.

Malaysia's Foreign Ministry was not going to be left out. "It is amusing when foreigners try to teach Malaysians on their own traditional dish. It prompts us to ask whether this is a form of 'whitesplaining' on social media," Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said in a Facebook post.

Ms Zaleha, a former accountant, wrote on her Instagram account that while she was "gutted" to have been eliminated in the contest, she stood by her traditional way of cooking nasi lemak.

"I will not change it for the world," she said.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2018, with the headline Malaysians riled up over 'crispy chicken rendang' controversy. Subscribe