PETALING JAYA: The simmering “Rendangate” controversy over the judging of a dish during an episode of MasterChef UK has boiled over with more comments from politicians, the public and the British judges.
It all began when judges during the reality TV cooking show “roasted” the chicken rendang made by Zaleha Kadir Olpin, 48, a Malaysian contestant.
Gregg Wallace complained that the chicken skin was not crispy enough.
“I like the rendang flavour, there’s a coconut sweetness; however, the chicken skin isn’t crispy. It can’t be eaten and all the sauce is on the skin I can’t eat,” Wallace said.
Adding salt to the wound, another judge, John Torode, said Zaleha’s rendang was a mistake.
“It hasn’t had enough time to cook down and become lovely and soft and falling apart. Instead, the chicken is just tough and not really flavoursome,” he said.
On social media, Malaysians questioned whether the two judges are qualified to judge Asian food.
Social media users who watched a YouTube video of the MasterChef UK episode said the judges had “no idea” how chicken rendang was prepared.
“All the judges need cooking lessons from Chef Wan,” Lapi Zaini said, referring to Malaysian celebrity chef Datuk Redzuawan Ismail.
“If you don’t know anything about rendang, then I think that you should rendang (dunk) your own head first,” Azuan Annas wrote in a comment directed at the judges.
Chef Wan himself was cited in a local daily as saying it is impossible to make what is essentially a stew with spices and coconut milk while maintaining a crispy chicken skin.
He added that making the meat any softer would be “overcooking” the rendang.
On Zaleha’s Instagram, Jam13_wong said it is the judges who should be eliminated.
Even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak weighed in on the simmering controversy, saying on Twitter: “Mana ada orang makan rendang ayam ‘crispy’? #MalaysianFood” (Where do you find people eating crispy chicken rendang?)
It took this issue of national food pride to “unite” Najib with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who tweeted: “Maybe you (Torode) are confusing chicken rendang with KFC.”
Chicken rendang is a dry curry where the chicken is stewed in coconut milk and rich spices until the chicken is tender, and “crispiness” is not part of the recipe.
British High Commissioner to Malaysia Vicki Treadell stirred her comments into the mix yesterday by tweeting that chicken rendang served with nasi lemak is “never crispy”.
She added that it should not be confused with fried chicken, which is sometimes served with nasi lemak.
Treadell, who was born in Ipoh, Perak, also said rendang is an iconic Malaysian national dish and should not be confused with the Indonesian variant.
However, Torode did not take the online flaming lying down. Instead, he further stirred the boiling pot by suggesting that rendang could originally be from Indonesia, rather than Malaysia.
“Maybe Rendang is Indonesian!! Love this!! Brilliant how excited you are all getting .. Namaste,” Torode said in tweets to irate Malaysians.
“Thank you so much for your input, we could of course argue as to its origin and whether it is classic or an adaptation.”
But if the tweaking of his response was meant to make Malaysians and Indonesians engage in yet another food fight (like the one over popiah versus lumpia) over the true home of a dish, Torode had the opposite effect.
Social media users from four countries in the region where rendang can be found – Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei – were surprisingly “united” in defending the dish and slamming Torode.
Twitter user SunshineSt@NadirahOthman said regardless of the origin, no rendang was crispy or came with sauce on the side.
Klubbkidd turned up the heat on Twitter by writing: “Stop embarrassing yourself mate. Human to err. Ask any Malaysian or Indonesian what chicken rendang really is. Have something authentic. You might not be wrong, but only because you don’t know the real thing. So don’t go ‘namaste-ing’ away.”
Fitrani Puspitasari said this was the first time she saw Malaysians and Indonesians united over something.
“He actually tried to dodge it by saying rendang is Indonesian, NAMASTE! Well, you know what? Indonesians don’t eat crispy rendang either!!! And we don’t say namaste, that’s India,” she said in a Facebook post that was shared by thousands.
Another twist in the tale is that Torode had actually presented a 10-part series, John Torode’s Malaysian Adventure, for the UK’s Good Food channel which aired in 2015.
Torode did eat duck (but not chicken) rendang (only the sauce, though) on his food travel show, saying he did like its creamy texture.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman congratulated Zaleha for managing to unite Malaysians from all sides of the political divide.
“You have succeeded in a way that many of us politicians could not, i.e. to unite Malaysians in the most divisive of times,” he said in a statement.
On Instagram, Zaleha said she stands by her traditional way of cooking the dish and would not change it for the world.