Malaysian food lovers in a flap over ‘crispy’ chicken rendang

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A British television cooking competition caused a stir among southeast Asians, with judges being ridiculed for their ignorance of Asian food.

Malaysian-born chef Zaleha Kadir Olpin served up a helping of the regional favorite chicken rendang as part of her culinary entry in the show MasterChef UK.

The chefs had been asked to prepare a meal that was important to them, and Olpin chose to serve the chicken dish with nasi lemak, an aromatic rice preparation. Rendangs usually contain chicken or beef, and are cooked slowly in spices for hours.

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However, the dish wasn’t to the liking of judges, who griped that the skin was not cooked properly. 

“The chicken skin isn’t crispy, it can’t be eaten,” said judge Gregg Wallace, complaining that all of the sauce was on the skin, which he couldn’t eat.

The response, which saw Olpin knocked out of the contest, drew fierce criticism in Malaysia and several other countries where the dish is eaten. The hashtag “rendanggate” was soon trending.

Accusation of ‘whitesplaining’

All were keen to point out on social media that the chicken in chicken redang is never crispy.

“Saying chicken rendang should be crispy is like saying that hamburgers should be boiled,” said KF Seetoh, a street food expert based in Singapore.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also chipped in to say that nobody eats crispy chicken rendang.

And Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman went as far as to accuse the judges of “whitesplaining.”

“It is hilarious when a foreigner tries to teach a Malaysian about their own traditional food,” said Aman. However, ahead of a hotly-contested general election in Malaysia, Aman congratulated the BBC program for managing to “unite Malaysians in the most divisive of times.”

Indeed, the furor also brought together Malaysians with chicken rendang lovers in Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei, who all agreed the chicken should never be crispy. The row even, for a while, overshadowed an ages-old debate between Malaysia and Indonesia about where the dish originates.

rc/jm (Reuters, AP)

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