Southeast Asians Unite As Beef Over ‘Chicken Rendang’ Rages On

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KUALA LUMPUR, Apr 4 – Southeast Asians have united to defend the hugely popular “chicken rendang” that was knocked out of a British cooking competition television show for not being crispy enough, but the longstanding debate on the origins of the dish rages on.

Malaysian-born chef Zaleha Kadir Olpin cooked nasi lemak, a beloved traditional Malaysian dish, served with chicken rendang in the quarter-final of the 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 down the chicken accompaniment saying the skin wasn’t crispy, stirring fury on social media and a viral debate in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei where the spicy dish is widely loved.

“Chicken rendang should be made authentic. And it is just stupid for it to be crispy,” said K. F. Seetoh, founder of Makansutra and an Asian street food expert based in Singapore. “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, 41, executive chef of Michelin-star restaurant Alma by Juan Amador in Singapore, said he had never heard of chicken rendang being crispy.

“Chicken rendang is a dish that many of us grew up with. And to have a Caucasian tell us how the dish should be like is a smack on our face,” said Haikal. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak also waded into the debate on Tuesday, saying no one eats crispy chicken rendang — and veteran leader Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for once agreed with his arch rival.

Corporates were not to be left out either. In a cheeky Instagram post with a bucket of their classic fried chicken, KFC said: “The only thing that should be crispy is our fried chicken.” — Reuters

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